Making Vanilla Extract to Give to a Crowd

dsc01924Vanilla extract only has two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. Mix those together, give them some time to marry, and you have an incredibly potent elixir to bake with. If you’re going to go through the little trouble it takes to make extract, it is barely any more effort to make a big batch of it. Start that batch now, and you will have an excellent gift for friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors for the holidays. It fits into all kinds of diets, doesn’t go bad, and is one of those things that people don’t usually make so it seems more impressive than it is. To make a single batch you need a handle of vodka (nothing too fancy), about 25 vanilla beans, and some jars for gifting. The up front expense seems high (vanilla ain’t cheap), but it works out to about $5 a bottle (4 oz) for a homemade and actually useful gift. (I’ve seen nice vanilla extract go over $10 for 4 ounces.)

I follow the formula laid out here of 1 vanilla bean for every two ounces of vodka. This year I wanted to make a lot to give out, so I bought two 25 packs of beans, and two handles of vodka. The last few years I’ve used the US Kirkland Vodka from Costco, but any lower to mid-range vodka should work (not the worst, not the best). I use quart mason jars to make the measuring easy – just count fourteen beans for each jar, split them, put them in the jar, and then fill it up to the 28 oz line. A handle of vodka (750 mL) is just under 60 ounces, so that would fill two 28 oz mason and make about fourteen 4 oz bottles. This year I put fourteen beans in three quart jars and filled them, so I had about a half handle of vodka leftover from the two. I’ll use that to make a second batch with doubled-up used beans after Christmas that I can use myself. I have eight beans leftover that I’m saving for other cooking projects, as they are far cheaper bought in bulk like this.

dsc01927The shortest amount of time I’ve let them sit before gifting is five weeks, but longer is better. Order beans and vodka now, put them to steep, and by the holidays you will be all ready. How is that for lazy gift making? Past years I’ve bought twelve packs of Boston round bottles which are economical and just the right size, but I’ve found they leak a bit so I’m searching for a better sealed option.

I like to check up on them and give the bottles a shake every few weeks, but that is mostly just for fun and observing the process. The change in color is dramatic, especially after the first few days. I took these photos just two days after I started my jars and look at the difference already!


So many gifts and celebrations around the holidays focus on rich foods and sweets. I like giving something that can help create decadence later on, but does not need to be consumed on top of the already collected mountain of extravagance. Someone can tuck it away in a cabinet and maybe not use it for months without the quality or usefulness being compromised. Start a batch now, and you can take care of your giving list before Halloween!

Last Week I Cooked….

20161014_181909This Friday the farm staff was invited over to one of our volunteer’s home for a Cowboy Cafe. This volunteer and her family regularly host these nights for friends where they cook entirely in cast iron over a fire. We had beans with bacon, onions, and garlic, stewed tomatoes and okra, grilled chicken breasts, blueberry streusel, steak, and salads. The food was incredible, and we had so much fun hanging around the fire while everything cooked. It made me want to cook everything in cast iron over a fire, but since that isn’t as easily achievable, at least come up with an easy party theme that I can execute reliably so entertaining is never a second thought. (Maybe meatballs?) While I didn’t help cook there, I still fit in a few other meals in this short week.

20161010_090050Almost full Irish. It’s tough to find blood sausage around these parts, and I did use use streaky bacon in place of rashers…but otherwise this has all the important bits. Bangers, mushrooms and tomatoes (cooked in bacon fat), an egg, toast, and Worcestershire. Simply cooked ingredients that are fantastic in combination.

20161012_195654Autumn vegetable soup with sausage and green lentils (from Flour, Too). This soup is not one you just throw together. There are a lot of ingredients, and they all need to be prepped and ready for the right time. I found myself pushing the soup pot off the burner a few times to give myself a bit more time to get the next step ready. All that work though, and it made for a great, flavorful soup. I loved all the spices (cumin, curry powder, fennel, smoked paprika, bay, oregano, turmeric, and cinnamon!), the mix of vegetables, flavor from the sausage, and lentils. Worth the time, but next time I will make it on a Sunday.

20161013_190837Roasted eggplant and za’atar pizza. I’ve been making this pizza for years, and it is always worth returning to. Two cookings makes for extra creamy eggplant, which always pairs well with tahini and feta.

20161015_105513-2Scrambled eggs with goat cheese, along with sauteed kale and tomatoes, and toast. Getting in the last of the cherry tomatoes!

Last Week I Cooked…

20161002_192936Lamb and eggplant moussaka. This was a big hit in the house with roommates, who it should be noted, are not quite as eggplant obsessed as me. There are a few steps here to make multiple parts, but the results are the perfect seasonal crossover dish.

Sweet cherry tomato and sausage bake. Why did I wait so long into tomato season to make this?! I even wrote about how excited I was to make it in August. It is dead simple, perfectly balanced sweet from the tomatoes, tart from the balsamic, and fat from the sausage.

Leek potato soup. An old favorite that is delightfully leeky.

20161004_192022-2Spaghetti squash noodle bowl with lime peanut sauce. I also made some brown rice to make these a little heftier. Tofu, veg (I used collards instead of broccoli), a zingy sauce, and herbs are always a win on this dinner table.

20161007_201554Two pizzas and a salad: butternut squash with goat cheese, red onion, and bacon; pepperoni and hamburg; greens with cucumber, pepper, and a champagne vinegar dressing.

Breakfast tostadas with egg, cheese, spaghetti squash, and black beans. I follow the basic method here, but topped with extra spaghetti squash (from the bowls earlier in the week), black beans, and hot sauce.



Last Week(s) I Cooked….

Apartment hunting and a weekend with friends visiting made for delayed blogging! I feel as if I now finally have time to truly devote to cooking again, and of course my favorite produce is on its way out. At least there are still greens, squash, and apples to embrace!

Spaghetti squash tacos with black beans. The first time I ate spaghetti squash was in these tacos. Ignore any notion you may have that spaghetti squash can only be used as a spaghetti replacement, and try these out. The squash shines in its own way with a punchy lime chili powder sauce.

Sweet potato nachos with black beans. I don’t know if I would call these nachos…loaded fries seems more apt. Either way, it was an excuse to pile beans and cheese on fries and call it dinner. I didn’t have smoked cheddar on hand, so I used a shredded Mexican blend. Easy and gratifying.

20160924_103331Pesto polenta with tomato and egg. I actual made this for dinner, with sauteed greens and garlic topped with an egg, and the leftover polenta became breakfast the next day with tomatoes instead.

Tomato cheddar galette. This galette was GOOD. Incredibly flaky crust, a thin layer of mustard, a dense cheddar base, and sweet tomato slices. It was like a great tomato grilled cheese….but with more butter. We had it alongside an eggplant salad, and to bulk the meal up a bit for lunch I made hard boiled eggs.

Vegetable soup with chickpeas and greens. This soup was entirely born out of the things in our fridge and a desire to clean out the freezer. I started the soup with a chopped onion, carrot, and pepper, and then added in 3 minced cloves of garlic. Then went in a couple quarts of stock, chickpeas, and a big pinch of salt. That simmered for a bit, then I added a huge bunch of chopped greens (kale, collards, and chard) until just wilted. Served with grated parm, a dollop of pesto, and toasted crusty bread.

20161001_165724Fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah. I didn’t actually try this since it was a gift, but I’ve made it before and it was delightful. It comes together including baking in about 3 hours, the directions are incredibly easy to follow, and then you’ve made challah! I don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook, so I start the dough in the food processor and run it until the motor starts to get annoyed.

Spaghetti with vodka sauce. This barely counts as cooking because I took half a box of noodles out of the pantry, topped them with jarred vodka sauce that had been evicted from our freezer, and then finished with cheese. But you should know that I don’t always feel like cooking with much exertion.

20161001_105059Apple Dutch baby. An impressive breakfast without all the fuss of flipping. I skipped the step of cleaning the pan, reheating it, and then putting the apples back in. I just poured the batter in and stuck the whole thing in the hot oven and everything was fine.

A repeat breakfast recently has been toast, a swipe of Dijon mustard, fried tomatoes, and a fried egg.

Last Week I Cooked…

In the last days of summer I’ve been focusing on just letting the vegetables around and my pantry dictate my cooking (especially things that need to be cleaned out of the freezer).

20160912_182927Pasta with pesto, goat cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes and summer squash. This was a meal of found fridge and pantry things. I had some pesto, but not quite enough for a full pound of pasta (at least to achieve what I consider an appropriate pesto:pasta ratio). I slow roasted the cherry tomatoes at 350F for about an hour, and roasted the summer squash at 425F for 30 minutes. When the pasta was cooked, I reserved a bit of the cooking liquid, then added in about 1/2 cup of pesto, 1/4 cup of goat cheese, and about a 1/4 cup of cooking water. Then I stirred to combine everything and added in the vegetables. Easy, summery.

Quesadillas with pinto beans, sauteed peppers and onions, and a quick tomato salsa. These were basic, but such a satisfying quick dinner.

Rice noodles with roasted tofu, roasted eggplant, sauteed collards, and peanut sauce. I marinated and roasted the tofu and eggplant a la Thug Kitchen, chopped up a huge bunch of collards and quickly sauteed them, and defrosted the peanut sauce from the last time I made a batch.

Composed salad with lemon caper dressing. The most work here was thinly slicing and roasting potatoes (425F, about 30 minutes). While that happened I hard boiled a few eggs (1 per person), made the dressing, sliced up a couple smaller tomatoes, and grabbed some dilly beans and a can of tuna.

Cast iron crisped potatoes with collard greens and fried eggs. This was a camping meal! I did all the potatoes, chopped small, on medium in some olive oil. When they were cooked I added in the collard greens and tossed them to wilt. Then I transferred the potatoes and collards to a plate while I fried up eggs. 1 pan!

A question of taste

20160913_080501I hear the summer blockbusters were disappointing, but the new non-fiction at my local library has been jumping into my book bag every week. Not every book gets read, but I prefer to have options so I can pick the book I most prefer in the moment. A great recent find was You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice about the psychology of taste. Not so much why we all have different tastes, but how we decide what we like, how other people’s decisions affect our taste, and even how presentation and order can determine our preferences (if you are being judged in a competition, do your best to go last).

Our tastes define who we are, and it is disheartening to think that what we like is so easily changed by what is around us and how often we are bombarded with something (for instance that pop song you hated at first but starts to grow on you after the umpteenth play…) (102). But it happens. When presented with foods conventionally or with a bit of flair, we like the foods better with the extra flourishes (23). Or when tasting/judging many things in succession, we prefer the things presented to us later because we have all the previous experiences to judge it against (the “direction of comparison effect” 189). This psychology stems from our origins as humans surviving in a dangerous and often unfamiliar world. New things (especially foods) could often be deadly. So it was supremely to our benefit to remember and recognize foods that were safe, which maybe you wouldn’t have seen since it was last in season a year ago (or maybe longer).

That risk has almost entirely dissipated. Only the extreme minority are foraging their every meal, and an even smaller portion are trying something for the first time to determine that it is food. In fact humans are hard core generalists, and able to survive on an incredible variety of diets (Unlike, say…pandas. Bamboo or bust!) (18). Most of what we eat has been specifically cultivated for human consumption (often over many, many generations). Yes, there are new ways of preparing foods influenced by new technologies and all the foods that were prepared before them. But we have a basic understanding of what keeps food safe: not cross contaminating, keeping foods stored at certain temperatures, how light damages food, what temperature foods need to be cooked to to make them safe, etc, etc, etc.  So must things that are “new” are created within these constraints of safety and availability. They are all things we could put the USDA GRAS (generally recognized as safe) stamp on, even if they haven’t been specifically tested.

So why are so many people neophobic (afraid of new foods)? Convinced that they have a concrete definition of what they like, and anything outside of the lines isn’t welcome in their mouth? Presenting people with foods they’ve never had or previously declared not to like is a regular part of my job. I most often work with kids who one would expect a certain amount of reluctance with, but I’m still surprised by the number of adults that declare hatred of something or refuse to try it. Sometimes this is in adult classes, which is mostly to their own detriment (but can also unfortunately influences the other adults), but dishearteningly it also often happens with teachers or parent chaperones with kids. “Do as I say, but not as I do” is far, far less effective in these situations (and, well, most of the time).

Vanderbilt points out that the single factor most likely to predict whether or not someone will like something is the fact that they’ve had it before (24). Our psyches are constantly working counter to our tongues. But no one comes into the world with a defined palate. Yes, we are born with certain general affinities like those for sugar, salt, and fat (19), but we all develop unique preferences based on the things we’ve tried. Every food that we love, we had to try for the first time. Our tastes change over time as we try more and more new things, have foods prepared in different ways, we develop or lose tolerances to certain flavors, or our bodies fluctuate along with our physical and psychological health, major happenings like pregnancy or menopause, or just simple aging. Do you like all the same foods you did 2 years ago? 10 years ago? 20?

Our tastes should be like our personalities: constantly changing as we experience more and try to define ourselves and our place in the world. None of us will ever like all foods, we naturally have preferences for some over others. Since I first tasted them, I’ve had an aversion to caraway in just about any quantity and strong instances of fennel. But…while they are not my favorite flavors, I still try foods containing them and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some.

The list of foods I used to not eat is embarrassing for a food blogger. Pasta with tomato sauce (though I would eat meatballs with sauce….). Lobster. Coffee. Beets, summer and winter squash, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, cauliflower, EGGPLANT. Tofu. Eggs in any form (WHO WAS I??).The list of foods I used to eat is probably even more embarrassing. Taco Lunchables with meat you squeezed out of a tube. Smore’s Pop Tarts. Cheese steak Hot Pockets. Snackwells cookies (Thanks, low-fat craze of the 90’s!). Over time I’ve become much more conscious of my health and experienced so many more foods that my palate has broadened and evolved for the better.

As some of my favorite childhood foods illustrate, this willingness to try is only as good as the foods one samples. It doesn’t benefit our bodies to be constantly trying all sorts of processed, sugary, salty, fatty foods. As long as you eat primarily fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains (real food), you are likely on the path to health. Even within the limits of real food, there are almost infinite flavors and food combinations. Encouraging variety also increases the likelihood that you will get all the vitamins and minerals you need from foods.

I’m working on my methods for making new foods less scary. I’m getting better at pairing new things with familiar things, so they are less of a shock to people. Presenting items with flair. Giving people more choices.  Introducing them to something new that they will love and incorporate into a healthier diet. But also accepting that sometimes I’m just one step in a long path of learning to like something.

Don’t let neophobia win. Fully embrace your generalist nature. Try foods you thought you hated. And not just once, or always prepared in the same way. You might be surprised. And liking more things means there are more delicious things in the world to eat. No matter how old you are, there are still new foods to try and ways your taste can change. As Vanderbilt describes again and again, our tastes are in constant flux and being aware of how they can be influenced and changed can be to our benefit. Know your mind is working against your mouth, but that it doesn’t have to win. The world would be a boring place if we all liked everything, but each of us could benefit from liking a few more things. Explore tongue first.




Last Week I Cooked….

After a month of busy work and vacation, I felt like I was finally back in the kitchen again. I had barely cooked any eggplant this season, so this week I piled on the eggplant recipes; mostly old favorites, but a few new as well. Even though the month has changed, it is still very much summer at the farmer’s markets!

Eggplant parm. This is a many step dish…but it is ALWAYS worth it. Helpful if you have another set of hands (or 2) to help with the breading and frying portion. Reward yourself partway by eating some pieces of fried eggplant. And maybe with a glass of red wine.

Chana dal with collards and tomatoes (from Vegetarian India). The original recipe called for spinach, but the collards leaping out of my garden right now called for a substitution. The chana dal does take over an hour to cook, but requires no soaking. I loved the starchy, spiced sauce it created that coated the greens. This was a good seasonal transition meal; full of summer produce, but a bit more warming for slightly cooler nights.

dsc01882Gratin of tomatoes, eggplant, and collards and kale (from Vegetable Literacy, photo taken before baking). I made this with collard and kale instead of chard (Do you need any greens? I have extra!). There is some work upfront to prep the eggplant and greens for the gratin, but the assembly is as easy as layering. I used feta instead of mozzarella, and served it with my friend Zach’s roasted garlic sourdough….both excellent choices.

dsc01884Eggplant parmesan pizza with crispy capers. I constantly post this recipe because it is my go-to pizza dough…but now was finally the time to make it in full! The eggplant melts into the pizza crust, and the crispy capers are brilliant bits of salty goodness on top.

20160909_191621dsc01890Sichuanese “send-the-rice-down” chopped celery with ground pork and Hangzhou eggplant (from Every Grain of Rice). The original send-the-rice-down recipe calls for ground beef, but it works just as well with pork (and I’ve also made it with chopped turkey thighs). Spicy sauce, crunchy celery, and fatty meat make for a winning dish. I went for the Hangzhou eggplant instead of the usual fish fragrant eggplant so the meal wouldn’t be overwhelmingly spicy. Though they are similar preparations and it was certainly delicious, the sweet did not overtake my favorite spicy version.

20160907_083655Leftover rice, sauteed collards with garlic and ginger, a fried egg and chili garlic sauce. Why have I never thought to make this for breakfast before?!? I never seem to make exactly the right amount of rice, and often have an awkward extra amount leftover that isn’t enough for a full meal. Now it will always have a purpose.


Last Week I Cooked….

There wasn’t a ton of cooking last week as I spent a large part of it out of town and at the beach. Even though I had a full kitchen at my disposal, it felt great just to eat fruit for breakfast, and leave lunch and dinner in someone else’s hands (thanks, Mom!!!).

20160831_190204BLTs with melon. This meal came almost entirely from the farmer’s market and my laziness. The BLTs I made a few weeks ago were just so delightful, they begged to be made again this summer. We went a step further though, and at Will’s suggestion grilled the bread in the pan in some bacon fat. Maybe there’s time to fit these in once more before tomato season ends…. Just BLTs didn’t seem like a complete dinner, so I also cut up a tiny, sweet sugar cube melon to go alongside.

20160901_185636Burrito bowls. This was a meal to use up as many things in the fridge as possible. I had leftover beans from last week’s stuffed peppers plus pork loin that came home from the Cape with us, rice (made with chicken stock that needed to vacate the freezer), roasted corn, shredded summer squash, and topped fresh tomato salsa (tomatoes, hot peppers, salt, pepper, lime).

On Friday I brought a simple appetizer of melon wrapped in prosciutto to a family dinner. simple is best right now!


Last Week I Cooked…

20160824_082727Toast with mayo, sliced tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and deviled eggs. A delayed arrival home after a weekend away (caused by a distracting book store stop…) made me rethink my more lengthy dinner plans. Tomatoes from the garden made toast awesome, and deviled eggs are always welcome.

Zucchini feta pancakes and tomato salad. These were served at my friend’s awesome New Year’s brunch and it seemed like the perfect time to make them myself. Whipping the egg whites does make for a bit more work than your usual fritters, but it also makes these wonderfully light. I intended for these to be a light summer dinner, and it said they served 4-6…but that was definitely meant as a side. This served 3 for dinner and I would certainly make them again, just double for leftovers.

Beer bean stuffed poblanos with green rice. The stuffed poblano recipe came from The Sprouted Kitchen. I love chile rellenos, but this riff makes for a much more wholesome and easier meal. The one thing I would change is omitting the cinnamon added to the beans which I found overwhelming. For the rice I made 2 cups of brown rice and roasted 3 ears of corn. I removed the kernels from the cooked corn and added them to the rice, along with a mixture of chopped cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

20160824_190405Baked orzo with eggplant and mozzarella (pictured before the pasta cooks). While this does require turning on the oven, and a few cooking steps, it’s about as summery as you can get with a baked pasta dish. Eggplant, tomatoes, and mozzarella are virtually impossible to turn down together (at least for me), and I appreciate that you don’t have to cook the pasta beforehand.

Breakfasts this week included yogurt with fresh picked raspberries, nectarines, and granola (pictured at top), plus burritos with beans (I cooked extra when I made the poblanos) with sauteed collards and scrambled eggs.

Everyday Peanut Sauce

DSC01879Why aren’t we all making peanut sauce? Every day? To put on everything? These are big and important questions. Many a meal can be made from peanut sauce. It takes any combination of rice or noodles with vegetables and unites them into dinner. Or in this instance, takes a collection of vegetables and herbs from the garden/crisper, rolled up in rice paper skins, from a dry, protein lacking appetizer to a legitimate, hot weather dinner option (at least in these parts). This sauce is vegan, comes together quickly, freezes well, and can be easily adapted. It is mildly spicy on purpose, and I usually serve hot sauce alongside so people can increase heat at will. It is worth making a double or triple batch to stash in the freezer for dinner emergencies during heat waves.

Everyday Peanut Sauce

Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen. This makes enough for 2 meals to each feed 4. I usually freeze half because frozen peanut sauce at the ready is money in the bank.

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or peanut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 15.5 oz can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup smooth natural peanut butter (though I have used chunky in a pinch and blended it at the end)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha or other Asian hot sauce (omit if spice adverse)
  • juice of one lime

Heat the oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute a minute or two, until they are just fragrant. Add the other ingredients except the lime juice and whisk to combine (it may take a couple minutes for the peanut butter to loosed up and integrate). Simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Add the lime juice and whisk to combine. If you like a really smooth sauce, put it in a blender or food processor for a minute.

Last Week I Cooked….

This was our third week of farm camp, which is a wonderful but exhausting experience. I left most of the meals this week unplanned, and just allowed the wealth of produce guide them. Not planning led to much simpler endeavors, and just about every dinner this week was made in under an hour (who am I?!?!). It was great to let the veg do most of the work, and spend the rest of my evenings recuperating and preparing for another day of excited campers.

Roasted corn, zucchini, and black bean enchiladas. It was in the 90s when I turned on the oven to make these. During the cooking process I questioned my sanity multiple times. But once they were on the table, all the sweaty cooking was forgotten. Still one of my favorite zucchini dishes.

20160815_193045Pesto pasta with green beans and tomato salad. I followed the pesto recipe from The Art of Simple Food, threw on some pasta, and in the last minute of cooking added in a pound of halved green beans. The tomato salad was a simple affair of basil, olive oil, mozzarella, salt, and pepper. This whole meal felt like summer done right.

20160816_183244Frittata with sauteed collards, roasted cherry tomatoes, and feta with buttermilk biscuits. This was a develop “dinner idea that requires no shopping on the 3-minute drive home and execute in an hour” situation. I halved the cherry tomatoes and roasted them at 400F for about 30 minutes (basically as long as it took me to pull the biscuits together and harvest, wash, and chop the collards). The collards went into the bottom of a cast iron pan, were covered, and sauteed for about 5 minutes until wilted. Then I scattered the tomatoes on top, covered that with 1/2 cup crumbled feta, and then poured 6 eggs that had been beaten with a dash of milk, salt, and pepper over everything. That went into the oven (still at 400F) for 10 minutes.

20160818_183010Tacos with black beans, corn, zucchini and feta. This was yet another dinner made without shopping. I simmered a large can of black beans with onion and garlic which the corn broiled. Then I used this taco seasoning to coat the corn once I cut it off the cob. Inspired by this other corn taco recipe I made a quick slaw with zucchini and lime, then topped the whole bit with feta and hot sauce.

Grilled chorizo verde with grilled zucchini, summer squash, and peppers, and cilantro slaw. The real star of this meal was the sausage (as usual). I made a quick green sauce with chopped cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to brush over the veg before they went on the grill (and saved more for after too). The slaw was red and green cabbage, sliced tomatoes, a handful of cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper. As was the surprising trend this week, this was all pulled together within an hour (with a little chopping help).

Last Week I Cooked….

20160807_17482320160807_172954Spicy tomato and pepper dip (ezme), yogurt with cucumber, dill, and garlic (cacik), Eastern-style focaccia, and stuffed eggplants with lamb, garlic, and tomatoes (karniyarik). All from Persiana. Each of these items was fairly simple to put together, and collectively made for a lovely summer meal. I love just about any version of a yogurt dip, and this one went nicely with the bread. I forgot I only had wheat flour on hand, which made for a heavier focaccia but it was still warmly spiced and a good vehicle for for salads. I should have left the eggplant in the over for longer, because even with the frying they weren’t fully cooked through. This made for even better leftovers once the eggplant was reheated.

20160808_195005BLTs. With Short Creek 7-spice bacon, Potter Hill tomatoes and lettuce, and my sourdough, this was everything I dreamt of in February. Worth the wait.

20160809_193607Zucchini turkey burgers with nectarine and tomato salad and leftover Eastern-style focaccia. So much summer on a plate!! I roasted the burgers instead of frying and then roasting them. They weren’t nearly as pretty that way, but so much easier. The slightly sour yogurt sauce with these is so good.

20160810_190504Lo mein with roasted tofu, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots. I didn’t have a real dinner plan, then saw this on Instagram and knew I had a way to use up some random veg in the crisper. I loved the easy lo mein from Serious Eats and had all the ingredients, so I went with that plus some roasted tofu.

Green scrambled eggs. Good thing I have a food blog, otherwise I might have forgotten about this delightful summer breakfast.

Nectarine and sour cream pancakes. When I made these, Will said “sometimes I think you spoil me.” Maybe true, but I also get to eat these pancakes…so it’s not selfless. The batter comes together quickly, but they take a little bit to cook. Totally worthwhile.

Eating in August

20160726_174607The best month of the year for eating is finally here. It feels like I’ve waited much more than 10 months for tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers from the garden and nearby farms. Here are a few recipes I hold off on making all year, because they are truly their best right now.

Tomato salad. There are hundreds of ways you can go about this. The classic version my mom always made was just chopped tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Dress and toss the salad a few minutes before eating, so the tomatoes can release some juices and create a dressing with the olive oil. You can of course add cucumbers, red onion, peppers, mozzarella, feta, balsamic….I could eat a version of this salad every day of tomato season.

BLTs. There is a reason people make this sandwich again and again. It is the perfect intersection of salty fat, mild acid, and crispness. And with so few ingredients, freshness and quality are everything. Now is the time!!

Sweet cherry tomato and sausage bake. I’ve raved about this before…and will continue to do so forever more. So simple, SO GOOD.

Eggplant parmesan pizza with crispy capers. While this can’t quite top a traditional eggplant parm, it gets damn close. The crispy capers are a brilliant addition of crunchy saltiness.

Roasted eggplant and za’atar pizza. If eggplant parm isn’t your thing, then give this pizza a shot. The creamy tahini base does wonders for herby eggplant and cheese.

Roasted corn, zucchini, and black bean enchiladas. This dish is a bit more involved, but makes a ton of food that you can easily reheat with a salad, freeze, or share. It is a main and vegetable in one and can easily stand on its own if you are too tired to make other things.

The tomato crostata, tomato jam, and tomato curry from The Yellow House’s most excellent tomato diary (which comes along with some wonderfully provoking thoughts on the local food movement).

If you haven’t eaten pasta with fresh pesto before the end of summer, then I will go so far as to say you haven’t really had a summer. if you have a food processor, then dig it out, otherwise a knife and a little time will do you just fine.

Baked orzo with eggplant and mozzarella. A delightful one dish meal.

Fish fragrant eggplant. After I read Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper last year, I dreamt of this dish for months. It is delightfully spicy and sour, plus makes excellent use of eggplant’s sauce absorbing powers.

Peach and tomato salad. Not the tomato salad I grew up eating, but one I’ve very happily added to the rotation.

It is National Farmer’s Market Week, a time of wonderful abundance, the perfect time to support farmers, and eat the most delectable vegetables.

Last Week I Cooked…

20160802_192344Beer brats with beer mustard (leftover from our Oktoberfest party) and sauteed red cabbage. This dinner felt like a cop out, even though I technically did cook it. Great sausage made things ridiculously easy. I’ve made this cabbage recipe a few times before. If you love the flavor of kraut and pickles, this dish is a delicious shortcut to those flavors.

20160801_191231Saag paneer with sauteed beets (from Vegetarian India) and brown rice. This was not technically saag paneer, because instead of spinach I used a mix of collards, beet greens, and tatsoi. I’ve made this recipe many times with all different varieties of greens, and it is always delicious. The beets had chili powder and tomatoes. I didn’t get quite enough beets from the garden to make a full recipe, but it was the perfect amount to be a little side dish. Next time I would use a little more chili to cut the sweetness of the beets, but I would still make it again.

Summer squash pizza and kale salad with feta and dried cranberries (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook) This didn’t feel like pizza. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, and used parmesan instead of the gruyere and no bread crumbs. It was pretty good, and certainly an efficient way to use a lot of summer squash at once. But if I was going to make another summer squash pizza soon, I would go for this goat cheese version instead.

Hash browns with collards and an egg. Yet another iteration of my breakfast favorite.

20160807_102845Potato and bacon fritatta (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook). There were a few steps involved, so I would reserve this for dinner or weekends, but it was a delicious all-breakfast-items-together dish. Along with a salad it would make for a perfect fancy brunch.

How to Throw an English Picnic Camping Party!

20160730_164413Wait, what kind of party theme is that?! A great one, actually. Most often I start with a food or drink and build my party theme up from there. This one started with Scotch eggs, which are one of Will’s favorite foods, but not something we come across often. For those unfamiliar with this delightful food, it is a hard boiled egg, completely encased in sausage, coated in bread crumbs, and deep fried. So not something to be consumed often, but that is nearly impossible in these parts anyways. In the last couple years we’ve only been able to find them from Myers of Keswick in NYC, and when we were in Ireland.

Scotch egg’s unfortunate rarity and Will’s love for them made for a perfect birthday centerpiece. I was already coordinating some of his friends to meet us for a camping trip, so a picnic theme was perfect for a party without a kitchen. Plus it was wildly different than the Mexican meal we had 2 years ago, and last year’s Southern rib party (it is way too soon for repeats). I pulled Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain off the shelf and got to planning.

The Menu


  • Scotch eggs with Coleman’s mustard
  • English cheddar and Stilton
  • Dilly beans (canned last summer…almost time to make more!)


  • English beers: I grabbed a growler each of Truell’s Best (an English Bitter) and Novacaine (and DIPA) from Cold Harbor Brewing. (Yes, a double IPA is more American than English…but they did create the style which was adapted and it is a delicious beer.)



  • Chunky Lola cookies from Flourwhich had oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut


I couldn’t find any English style sausage like bangers for the Scotch eggs, so I bought some ground pork and improvised a bit. I referenced this banger recipe, subbing pork meat, leaving out the added fat and beer (because I didn’t have fat and wanted a firm sausage since it wouldn’t be in a casing), and then loosely followed the rest of the recipe based on what spices I had around. Not exactly traditional, but I think I ended up with a better outcome than if I had gone with a readily available but imperfect substitute.

The actual Scotch egg process was surprisingly easy….minus peeling the eggs. I should have listened to Kenji and put the cold eggs into the hot water. Once that frustrating bit was over, I proceeded with my sausage through Jamie’s recipe and coated the eggs with flour, then sausage, then flour again, eggs, and bread crumbs. I heated oil in a smaller Dutch oven so I could use less oil but still have a deep pan, and fried them in batches of 2-3. With the oil at 300F, they took exactly 4 minutes as specified.

With so much effort invested in a single appetizer, the accompaniments had to be easy. Classic cheeses, and pickles to cut the richness from everything else rounded it out.

The sandwiches were all about the brisket cooked low and slow in a Worcestershire broth the night before. It was literally as easy as throwing everything in the same pot and then not forgetting to take it off the stove before bed.  I reheated the brisket in the broth over the fire, then shredded the meat. Then to serve you just throw together a simple cucumber salad with red onion and white wine vinegar, heat the bread, and put out with butter and mustard.

The salad was a perfect showcase for summer vegetables. I prepped everything but the apples (which I subbed for the pears) beforehand, and made the dressing in a jar to go. My one regret was that I made exactly the amount of dressing called for, and thought the salad could have used a little more.

The cookies may not have been English…but I wanted something easy to transport and they were delicious.

Schedule of Events:

This is assuming you have a party on a Saturday night (or have time to prep a day before). It could all be done in the same day if needed. If you’re truly having a picnic, you could put the salads together before leaving, and only assemble the sandwiches on site.

Day before:

  • Cook beef
  • Make cookie dough
  • Hard boil eggs (I didn’t do this the day before, and I regretted it)

Morning of:

  • Bake cookies
  • Prep veg for salad and make dressing
  • Make and fry Scotch eggs

Before dinner:

  • Make cucumber salad and let marinate for 30 minutes
  • Toss salad with dressing
  • Warm beef and bread


Last Week I Cooked…

It was Will’s birthday this week! I had trouble settling on a birthday meal, so the whole week became birthday meals. I didn’t tell him any of the meals and each night he would try to guess as I pulled ingredients out and started prepping. Buffalo cauliflower salad was guessed with only the chickpeas on the counter and the answer to “is it spicy?” (yes!). Burgers, fries, and falafel were easy ones, and the zucchini carb took the longest because I hid the cooked bacon under the zucchini. Now I’m jealous I don’t have a summer birthday…

20160725_201729Buffalo cauliflower salad. A perennial favorite. Cauliflower are starting to appear at farms in MA…get on it!

20160726_192038Bacon bleu cheese burgers with fries and salad. This was for Will’s actual birthday. Simple, but it is one of his favorite meals and perhaps the one I make least often at home. I mix some minced bacon into the ground beef with some salt and pepper, then cook in the cast iron since we don’t have a grill. They were topped with bleu cheese and some leftover buffalo sauce from the previous night’s salad. For the fries I followed the recipe in My Paris Kitchen. The salad is a mix of cucumber, beets, carrots, and radishes sliced thin and tossed with mint, basil, vinegar, and olive oil.

20160727_191725Falafel and pita. I was convinced that this would finally be the falafel recipe that I could fry without them disintegrating. Yet, I was wrong. As the first batch started to disappear in the pan I turned on the broiler and fished them out. Broiling wasn’t ideal, but it got them hot quickly.  Dinner was saved, and they were still delicious with the first tomato from our garden (!), lettuce, red onion, dilly beans, feta, and a lemon yogurt sauce.

20160729_193024Zucchini carbonara. Thankfully I didn’t wait until September to make this, as last year I used the last zucchini of the season to fit it in. It remains my favorite carbonara recipe, even if frying the zucchini is time consuming (you could always speed it up with multiple pans).

Last Week I Cooked….

This week I read via Dinner: A Love Story about how Brooks Headley describes the feeling of overwhelming options in the summer as “good anxiety.” Silly as it was, I think last summer it felt more like straight anxiety, because there were so many seasonal things I wanted to enjoy, and never enough time or meals in the day to do so. This year I’m taking it a little easier, and reminding myself as Jenny does: this is a good problem to have.

Sweet potato, chicken, and black bean tacos with radishes and avocado. This was a fast dinner made after returning from a long weekend (and without going grocery shopping). My mom made some extra spicy grilled chicken that I threw in, plus some radishes from the garden dressed in lime juice.

20160718_200642Taco salad. I used a bit more leftover grilled chicken, plus corn, black beans, cucumbers, and this spicy chipotle dressing.  One member of our house doesn’t love spicy or creamy dressings, so I made the dressing with the lime juice, cilantro, etc, and then added some olive oil to thin it out. I removed half, then added the yogurt and chipotle to make an awesome, creamy, and spicy dressing. This is one of my favorite salads, and an excellent option for easy summer dinners.

20160720_200943Toast with farmer’s cheese and zucchini (adapted from Vegetable Literacy) alongside kale, beet, blueberry, feta, and pine nut salad (adapted from The First Mess). This toast is one of those silly things that has been on my “to make” list since I got this cookbook…which was years ago. Sometimes I put off making absurdly simple dishes, because I always think I will have time to fit it in later. While I shouldn’t have waited so long, it was the perfect thing to make on a very hot night when I barely wanted to cook. I started off making the squash as directed (quick sear then steamed in the pan), but  since I was trying to cook more it became apparent that this would take way too long. I flipped on the broiler, tossed the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put it under for 5 minutes.

I used the exact salad dressing from The First Mess, plus her blueberry feta combo (though I used regular feta, since I had some on hand), and added in some blanched beets. Next time I would add a little more cider vinegar to the dressing to balance all the sweet things, but it was a delightfully summery salad.

Tofu bowls with shredded carrots and cucumbers, plus sauteed broccoli and collards and tahini dressing over brown rice. The old standby! I used the soy marinated tofu recipe from Thug Kitchenand the rest of the contents came from the farmer’s market and garden (including the broccoli!!).

20160721_200636Chorizo and potato tacos with zucchini from Michoacán (from Mexico the Cookbook). Tacos, again! It’s just too easy to throw some veg and protein on a tortilla and call it dinner. I simplified the taco recipe to just consist of sauteed onion, chorizo, and the potatoes. I mixed the zucchini with summer squash, and sauteed them in batches. Once they were all cooked I put everything back in the pan and added the cilantro, onion, garlic mixture. Then I topped everything with cheese (omiting the sour cream) and let it melt.

20160721_082747Breakfasts this week included basic toast with avocado or greens and feta, plus my favorite summer fruit use: Greek yogurt with maple syrup, raspberries, and granola.


Last week I cooked….

Summer! Is! Here! An oh boy, does it make cooking fun. This week included some evening extracurricular activities and a short vacation so I didn’t cook as much, but what I did fully captured the season.

20160711_195236Pizza with sausage, grilled summer squash, peppers, and onions. My mom gave me leftovers from a grilled meal over the weekend of many vegetables on the grill with sausage. I re-purposed then into pizza with a classic tomato sauce and mozzarella, and was mighty pleased with the result.

20160712_193744Pasta and fried zucchini salad. The first time I made this salad was a couple years ago when Will and I had just started dating. I lived in an apartment with a super stuffy, long galley kitchen. He was helping make dinner, and I asked if he had ever fried anything. The answer was no, which did not stop me from handing over a giant bowlful of paper-thin squash to fry (he’s a quick learner). This time I fried the squash myself, and while I don’t mind a time consuming cooking project, I’m not sure it is entirely worthwhile. This dish is great, with a quick basil sauce, zing from the vinegar and capers, and hunks of mozzarella in an extremely summery pasta dish (plus I used fresh peas instead of edamame, because I could!). But next time, I will attempt roasting the squash slices and report back.

20160714_180712Beet, avocado, and pea salad (from Plenty More). The essence of this salad is sweet beets, creamy avocado, and a biting sherry vinegar dressing. From there I adapted it a bit, leaving out the peas, pea shoots, and cilantro, and adding thinly sliced cucumber and a bit of quinoa, and keeping the red onion, mint, and Tabasco. Beets are not my favorite vegetable, but I loved them thinly sliced and paired with some sour and spice.

Crostini with whipped feta and garlic collards

20160709_174408Collards get a bad rep. They are a vegetable that most consider married to one dish, and if that’s not a dish they cook, they don’t eat them. But I happen to know that collards are not married, or in a relationship of any kind. They are single as can be, and very experimental. Willing to partake in any meal of the day, and mix with a variety of ingredients.

This is my first year growing collards, and they’ve sprung up like weeds (even quicker than the kale!). If you want to make collards into a full meal, try them with peanut butter (really, it makes a quick peanut sauce!). Or make them into a salad (or try them in place of kale in any other salad). Or this cobbler I just discovered and will have to try soon. I’ve made this crostini for a couple parties recently, which is easy to transport, quick to assemble, and just another way to eat whipped feta. The leftovers have been enjoyed with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

See – collards are great! And versatile. Grow them, eat them, love them. People eating this appetizer won’t even realize they’re collards with all their predetermined baggage, and will fall in love with them too. Which is okay, because collards play the field.

Crostini with whipped feta and garlic collards

  • 1/2 lb collard greens (or 1 large bunch)
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 baguette or loaf of another crusty bread

Remove the stems from the collards and chop the leaves into bite sized pieces.

Put the feta and cream cheese in a bowl of a food processor. Turn on the blade for a few seconds to combine, then pour in the 1/3 cup of olive oil. Process until smooth and uniformly combined.

In a large saute pan that has a cover, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the whole, peeled garlic clove and allow it to brown slightly in the oil, flipping a few times so it doesn’t burn. When it is golden, remove the garlic clove and add the collards. Cover, and cook for 2 minutes.

Remove the cover, toss the greens, add the red pepper flakes, and continue to cook for a few minutes more uncovered until the extra liquid has evaporated.

When read to serve, slice the bread and toast under a broiler or on a grill. Slather with whipped feta, and top with the greens.

Last Week I Cooked….

20160704_194936Steamed and roasted chicken wings with garden salad. After a weekend of BBQs, we spent the actual 4th entirely at home (and it was glorious). I had contemplated a grocery store trip, but laziness prevailed and instead I made dinner with ingredients found in the freezer and garden (which is what I should be doing now anyways). I started by steaming the chicken wings (a la Alton), and then roasted them in cast iron with rosemary added halfway through (inspired by incredible wood-fired chicken wings I had at Jack’s Abby). They were made into a real meal with a salad of cabbage, collards, and kale with a lemon vinaigrette.

20160705_191249Pizza with garlic scapes, squash blossoms, and basil. I used my usual crust, brushed the base with olive oil, then put the veg (I roasted the chopped scapes for about 5 minutes in the oven to parcook them, and sliced the blossoms). On went shredded mozzarella, then into the oven at 500F for about 10 minutes, and after sprinkled with chopped basil and crushed red pepper flakes.

20160706_195228Big salads with radishes, cucumbers, quinoa, beans, and lemon tahini dressing. On an incredibly hot summer day head to your local farmer’s market. Grab some lettuce, and a selection of whatever else looks good (radishes are still great, cukes are starting to come in). Once at home, read in the shade for a while because it is still too hot to do anything. Then when you can muster it, throw half a cup of some kind of grain on the stove, prep your veg, add some legumes if you have any, and make a dressing with the dregs in the tahini jar. Summer dinner: done.

20160707_194815Cold noodles with miso, lime, and ginger. This is an ideal hot weather dinner. I didn’t like the miso dressing as much as the peanut sauce I used on cold noodles a few weeks ago, but it was certainly quick. I used radishes, cucumbers, a handful of snap peas and some small turnips.

20160709_102904Shakshuka. I followed a tip from Ottolenghi this time around and started by dry toasting some cumin seeds in the pan before adding oil, sauteing onions, etc. It made for pervasive, toasty cumin flavor (which I’m a big fan of).

Coconut lime popsicles. These are life changing. Before this week, I hadn’t hit on an everyday popsicle recipe. I mean, I’ve made some really good ones, but they were too indulgent for regular cooling. But these. Oh man. Three (3!!!) ingredients, about that many minutes to pull together, great texture once frozen, delightful flavor. Easy enough to pull together before dinner when you know scorchers are in the forecast.

Summer berry crisp. Sometimes I think about making pies…and then I think, why would I do that when I can make a crisp? Much better fruit to grain ratio, and so much faster. I loved the addition of port, which made for a dark and jammy fruit layer. I used blueberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries.