Summer Cooking

I neglected my Weekend Cooking posts for most of the summer but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t cooking!  I had the great fortune of having friends and family staying with us which meant I was able to draft menu plans keeping in mind my guests preferences (ages ranged from 8 to 80 years old), some dietary intolerances (read: gluten) and get creative so as to leverage the summer produce. 

I did not have a camera on hand all the time e.g. my pictures for my daily baking classes with my nieces but we did capture a good bit.  Here are some of the highlights.

Summer Salads: Of course, we were blessed tasty produce all summer. I started to invent more ways to use lettuce, zucchini, beets and corn.

Zucchini Batons with Pecorino, Basil and Crushed Almonds
Beet and Apple Salad with Pecorino and Pistachio
Corn Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Feta
Beet, Grapefruit and Avocado with Basil Salad
Lettuce Salad with Shallot-Mustard Dressing
Fresh Pico de Gallo with Blue Corn Chips

Baked Goods: Here are some snapshots of my contributions to Independence Day and neighborhood parties, and baking with my nieces.

Independence Day Treats: Homemade Twinkies and Mini-Lemon Cupcakes
Coffee Cake with Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Topping
Cornbread with Honey Butter
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Warm Dishes: I missed Asian food so made a few on my own over the summer. I also loved using the fresh summer produce simply mixed in with pasta.

Matcha Soba with Vegetabe Tempura
Mixed Tempura (Eggplant, Zucchini, Carrots, Onion, Shiitake)
Fried Wontons with Cream Cheese and Chives
Farfalle with Corn and Feta
Mixed Grill: Halibut, Hot Italian Sausages, Green Peppers and Vidalia Onions
Beef Gyoza with Steamed Rice

Cold Dishes: I don’t know how many Caprese sandwiches I ate this summer but no other sandwiches seemed to exist when fresh tomato and basil were in such abundance. I also loved using cucumbers in maki rolls (again, sating the Asian food craving).

Baguette with Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil and Olive Oil
Kappa Maki and Miso Soup

I can’t wait for fall!

Weekend Cooking

I happily pondered recipes and meals as we spent the weekend with our friend S. S is an omnivore but most days were hot and sultry (i.e. HUMID) and so making cool dishes was top of mind.

As mentioned in a previous Weekend Cooking post, I am intrigued by Mokonuts and found a recipe for labneh with Swiss chard, black olives, and za’atar. As Swiss chard is not in season, I left it out and modified accordingly, but I can see how a green would fortify this dish as well as provide color.

Labneh with Black Olives and Za’atar

Last week’s CSA included garlic scapes and so after perusing a few recipes, I decided to make a pesto. I did not use any nuts but maybe I will next time.  It was a bit sharp and the fat from something like walnuts or pine nuts would have helped. That said, I was generous with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pesto always makes a great dip and it added such a vibrant green to the table. And it was great to mix with the labneh dip.

Garlic Scape Pesto

Waste not, want not. I had a fennel bulb I needed to use. And I wanted something a bit more hearty and so went with a pretty traditional French-inspired lentil salad.

Lentil Salad with Fennel and Carrots

And finally, it’s lettuce lettuce everywhere and so tossed some Boston lettuce with a shallot-mustard seed dressing.

Boston Lettuce Salad with Shallot-Mustard Seed Dressing

For sweets, I had been wondering what tahini cookies tasted like so made this batch. Overall, I found the tahini taste too strong for me. Some people compare tahini cookies to a peanut butter cookie, but while I would eat a pb sandwich, and spread peanut butter on a cracker or even just eat a few spoonfuls from the jar, I just do not do that with tahini. Next time, I would add chocolate or something else to complement the strong sesame flavor.

Tahini Cookies with White and Black Sesame Seeds

I really love cooking for friends and feel fortunate that they are open to my road-testing recipes on them!

Weekend Cooking

As I have mentioned before, I love making menus. We had a friend, J, in town from LA and staying with us to attend a wedding, and I immediately peppered her with questions about food preferences.  While she is an omnivore, she was making more plant-based dishes. Perfect! I had a stash of recipes I was hankering to try.

Since J would be with us in the morning, I made two types of granola/cereal. My go-to recipe is one specifically to help with workouts which may or may not happen but I really like the flavor. The cacao nibs contain seratonin for mental focus; dates for immediate energy; oats to prolong muscle function; and flax and chia to enhance burning fat.  I added matcha to half the batch for the additional nutritional boost.

Matcha Cacao Pre-Workout Performance Cereal
Date and Cacao Pre-Workout Performance Cereal

Later in the day, I had mistakenly thought that there was a friends ‘n’ family dinner on the eve of the wedding and so was planning a simple lemon pasta. When I found out J would be able to join us, I wanted to make something a bit more substantial. I had the ingredients to make a salad from some of the greens from our CSA, gyoza and steamed rice. Menu set!

Arugula and Lettuce Tofu Salad with Ginger Dressing

I made a filling of ground beef, napa cabbage, ginger, garlic, chives and a bit of sesame oil. And then it was time to make the dumplings! We made about 50!

Beef Gyoza at Dusk

The next day, I was thinking about salads and had earmarked this one from Melissa Clark. I like halving most recipes I try for the first time to see if I like it.

Salad Close-Up
Farro Salad with Chickpeas, Currants and Frizzled Leeks

The oven-roasted leeks added more flavor than I expected. I really liked it and will definitely make it again.

Another recipe I had been wanting to try is one from the amazing Mokonuts duo — the Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies — as shared by Dorie Greenspan. I modified it with what I had on-hand and used currants instead of cranberries and chocolate chips instead of chopping up bittersweet chocolate. I also reduced the amount of poppy seeds as I admit I was nervous about the volume. Overall, the modifications still resulted in a super tasty cookie and I am keen to try it using the intended ingredients.

Rye, Currants, Poppy and Chocolate Chip Cookies (yes I had half of one before I remembered to take a picture)

A great weekend of cooking made possible by inspiration from friends!

Weekend Cooking

The weekend was a parade of rain clouds and sometimes just clouds.  Maybe that was why it was hard to do anything that required too much fussing, as well as fussing over.  

About every six to eight days, I need to make our dog, Miette, a batch of homemade meatballs. It started when she was about 5 months old and discovering she had a bit of a sensitive stomach.  We started to keep her meals to dry food supplemented with meatballs of ground chicken, brown rice, sweet potato and occasionally chopped spinach to keep her regular. It has been working so I whip up a batch almost every week.

Miette’s Meatballs

A hearty and comforting lunch of chili was up next. Over the years, I have tried a bunch of recipes, from regional ones like Cincinnati chili, to trying different peppers like chipotle but I think I like the straight-up ground beef chili with green peppers, beans and the usual suspect spice list like chili powder and cumin the best. Maybe it’s because I like the toppings of chopped red onion, sharp cheddar cheese and the occasional dollop of sour cream, so having the chili be flavorful but overly powerful is ideal.

Two-Bean Chili with Ground Beef and Peppers

Cookies were calling our name and the original plan was to make oatmeal raisin. I busily browsed for thin crispy but slightly chewy versions. On Serious Eats, I saw a recipe mimicking Tates cookies which I thought would be worth trying. I started measuring out ingredients and was actually more than halfway through before I realized this recipe was actually for chocolate chip cookies (bad tagging it seems).  So I rolled with it as I had some Valrohna chocolate chips in the pantry. The recipe called for using cane sugar and using a food processor to mix chopped cold butter chunks into the flour mixture, which is different from room temperature butter sticks and creaming it with sugar.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Like I said, I was not up to fussing too much so using  a spoon (versus an ice cream scoop) and putting one row too many on a sheet, resulted in a batch of ‘rustic/artisan’ cookies.  They were indeed chewy and a little crisp around the edges. Glad I made only half a batch which still yielded almost two dozen cookies.  They tasted very similar to Toll House cookies but maybe more flat.

Now despite using butter and eggs in this recipe, I had actually been trying to minimize dairy use as allergy season gets going. I made some almond milk to put in coffee.

Almond Milk

Using leftovers from chorizo patatas and roast broccoli, I decided to make empanadas.  I searched high and low for a dough recipe that would not yield a tough exterior. I also did not want to use puff pastry.  I found a recipe with rave reviews with words like ‘flaky’, ‘ best,’ and ‘delicious.’ It called for vinegar which I found interesting and a few reviewers who had tried several empanada dough recipes called this specific ingredient out as being the game-changer.  

Chorizo-Potato and Broccoli Cheese Empanadas

I only had biscuit cutter rings which were too small so just hand-rolled out the dough and used fork tines to crimp them closed.  I also used an egg wash (some recipes called for melted butter but I worried that it would burn).

The results was a dozen of haphazardly shaped empanadas that were a tad too dry. The dough was not flaky but relatively tender.  I made up a mustard dipping sauce as well as a BBQ sauce to have something to moisten the empanadas. My husband pointed out that most of the empanadas he has had were dry so my batch fell in line with his expectations.  I was a bit bummed out as it was a lot of work, and that maybe just eating the leftovers would have been tastier than making them into fillings and making empanada dough. Lesson learned. Empanadas are not my thing.

Weekend Cooking

Some of the most fun I have in the kitchen is when I have focus, or purpose. This may come from concocting something from ingredients I want to use up in the pantry or fridge, or when I have a specific audience to cook for.

Bananas, so many bananas

I had never ordered bananas from Fresh Direct before but had placed a large grocery order in anticipation of my nephew’s stay over his Spring Break.  Of course, I ended up guessing at what he would like and ordered breakfast goods across the spectrum–yogurts, breads, granola and fruit.  And as for fruit, I figured bananas would be a safe bet.

The price for a single order was about $2 so I figured I would get about 3-4 bananas but what arrived was a bunch of over a dozen!  The week came and went. I was left with more than ten bananas.

I had a bag of vegan chocolate chips so decided to look up plant-based baked goods using bananas and chocolate chips and decided upon a recipe by Chloe Coscarelli. The recipe originally was for bread but I decided to make it into a bundt cake.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bundt Cake

So that used about three bananas.  I froze the rest of them to use in smoothies in the future. The vegan banana chocolate chip bundt was tasty but far too much to keep and so made some gift packages for friends.

Brownie cravings

The chocolate chips kindled a craving for more chocolate, specifically a chewy brownie. Instead of making the usual small tray, I decided to make mini bites.

Mini-Brownie Bites

These brownie bites are convenient as single bites but also easy to halve and spread a healthy layer of ice cream.  I have always loved ice cream with cake crumbs or in this case, brownie chunks. I prefer the larger cake crumbles to grainy cookie crumbs, sort of like the difference between panko to old-school sandy breadcrumbs. The texture is completely different!

Cooking lunch for the boys

Our friends’ sons were on their own for a few days and we got the call that they come do lunch on Saturday.  Of course, in high school time, lunch happens at 4:30pm.

I thought a bento favorite, chicken katsu would be easy, tasty and filling.  The usual accompaniment would be steamed broccoli but decided to roast them instead.  This, along with some Tamaki rice (my favorite brand) and a big bottle of bulldog tonkatsu sauce, completed lunch.  

Chicken Katsu

Brisk days

Spring has been struggling to emerge, and many days are still brisk and cold.  An easy go-to lunch soup is creamless tomato. I made a big batch to enjoy and to freeze for another chilly day, which would no doubt be far off.

Creamless Tomato Soup

Weekend Cooking

Weekends are my favorite times to cook and bake. I had a burst of productivity and cranked out all sorts of dishes.  

A friend came over for dinner on Friday night, and relied on making a menu that relied on ingredients on hand (pantry items, ground beef in the freezer and veggies in the crisper): North African-inspired meatballs, cinnamon-scented tomato sauce, roast broccoli/okra/radish and toasted basmati rice.  We started off with some fresh tortilla chips and tomatillo-chipotle salsa and ended with rasberry and apricot rugelach. My husband made it official with a menu.

Friday Dinner Menu

Of course I forgot to take pictures of most of this but I did made so much rugelach that I got a snap.

Rasberry and Apricot Rugelach

I have become a fan of cold-rise pizza dough so I made a ball early Friday morning  to get ahead for either Saturday dinner or Sunday lunch.

I was able to make a run to 8 Hands, a local farm and market, and picked up some freshly baked sourdough boule, eggs and I picked up a few links of chipotle sausage which I thought would be tasty on one of the pizzas.  The market was pretty active for a Saturday morning which gave me time to browse through all the prepared soups. I ended up grabbing a quart of lentil and root vegetable soup as well.

We awoke on Saturday to a light dusting of snow on the ground so I thought a warming soup would be ideal for lunch. I had various root vegetables on hand and ended up making a carrot-daikon soup sprinkled with chipotle chilis (for a bit of kick).

Carrot-Daikon Soup with Chipotle Chili Flakes
Pizza sauce using crushed tomatoes, garlic, as well as garlic and onion powders and a spoon of sugar
Crumbled Chipotle Sausage, Red Onion and Olive Pizza
White Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Garlic and Herbs

Sunday was a day of rest and leftovers!