Mixed citrus salad with feta and mint (~4 servings)

I know I've said this before, but every damn smittenkitchen recipe I make is fabulous. Deb is some sort of culinary sorceress; each recipe comes out perfectly seasoned and intensely flavorful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never been let down by any of her creations. Now if only I could replicate her photography skills...

Here in Durham, the last two days' weather has been the meteorological equivalent of a cold, soggy sponge abandoned in the kitchen sink by an inconsiderate roommate. Days like this beg for happy, invigorating recipes like this one. Its vivid colors and succulent flavors are like optimism on a fork. They'll have you longing for sunnier days, warmer temperatures, and carefree afternoons with friends.

Then, perhaps, you'll remember pollen allergies. And mosquitoes. And sunburns. And stifling Carolina humidity. And sweaty thighs singed by car vinyl. And sinus headaches just ahead of summer thunderstorms.

You decide that maybe, for now, you're content with summery recipes and can wait on the other junk.

You will need:

  • 2 scallions
  • 4 pieces of citrus (I used a ruby red grapefruit, one blood orange, a navel orange, and a tangelo)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard (Read the label carefully if you're going for gluten-free)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ~3 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped or slivered

Steps:

  1. Thinly slice the green parts of the scallions into the bottom of a tall bowl. (I used my herb scissors for this step and for slivering the mint later on. Thanks, Mom!) Place a strainer or colander over the bowl.
  2. Next, you want to cut the peel off each piece of fruit and then slice it horizontally into 1/4"-thick wheels. The goal is to cut the white pith off (Oh, you pith off!) to avoid any bitterness. (Honestly, the best way to explain the cutting method is to provide this video, which illustrates the process beautifully. Pluck out any seeds as you go.)
  3. Place the slices of fruit in the strainer, which is now resting over the scallion bowl. The acidity from the juice will mellow the scallions. Allow them to drain a few minutes while you clean up your cutting board and find a shallow serving dish.
  4. Spread the citrus wheels out on the dish, overlapping the pieces as necessary. Use a fork or slotted spoon to fish the scallion slices out of the bowl; scatter them on top of the fruit, leaving the citrus juice behind in the bowl.
  5. Add the lemon juice, Dijon, and olive oil to the citrus juice in the bowl. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk well.
  6. Drizzle the dressing over the fruit, then sprinkle with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Serve chilled.

This is a true appetizer: one that whets the palate without weighing it down with anything fried, bloomed, or stuffed. (Not that there's anything wrong with fried, bloomed, or stuffed, but there's a time and place for everything, you know.)

Smoky-spicy bar mix (~3.5 cups)

I don't know about all of you, but if I'm ever going to be caught off guard by a social event or expectation, it's going to happen in November or December. Between thoughts of, "That party is this week?" and, "I thought you were getting the hostess gift," I find myself scrambling at least once a week from now until after New Year's.

And yes, I do recognize the irony of working part-time as an executive functioning coach while I struggle with time management and organization myself.

But anyway, whether you're fumbling to figure out what to serve as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, bring to a friend's holiday housewarming, give to your coworker for a Secret Santa gift, or present to that tough-to-shop-for relative, I've got the solution: A jar of crunchy, salty, smoky, spicy nuts and seeds from Oh She Glows. The recipe is dairy-free and vegan, and it can be made gluten-free by swapping out the soy sauce for coconut aminos. And it takes almost no time to put together!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted cashews
  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted almonds
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or chips (Something like this -- not traditional sweetened, shredded coconut)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or hot sauce (I used chipotle-flavored hot sauce)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
  2. Mix the cashews, almonds, coconut, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl (or even a mug), mix the remaining ingredients with a fork or small whisk.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients over the nuts mixture and toss to coat evenly.
  5. Spread the mixture out on the baking sheet in a thin layer.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes; stir, and then bake for another 10 minutes, or until the coconut flakes are golden brown.
  7. Allow to cool; store in an airtight container (if it makes it that far).

I made a few tiny changes to the original recipe; I increased the cashews and almonds and decreased the liquid smoke slightly. The original author recommended running the range fan and opening a window, so that made me a little leery of using the full liquid smoke amount. Even with the smaller amount, it was still pleasantly smoky, especially since I used chipotle hot sauce in addition to the smoked paprika.

By the way, if you're on the fence about the coconut, don't skip it! Yes, it's unusual, but in the oven, it becomes crispy and golden, and it lends a beautiful flavor without being too assertive. I wouldn't say it tastes coconut-y at all, really!

Garlic butter roasted mushrooms (2 servings)

Sometimes, as an Eastern Pennsylvanian who has moved to North Carolina, I forget that people down here don't understand Pennsylvania Dutch terms. Of course, I'm not surprised that Southerners are unfamiliar with the blatantly "Dutchy" turns of phrase (Obviously, nobody here parts ways with, "Y'all come back now, vuntz!") but I was surprised to learn how many of the things I grew up saying without a second thought are actually part of a very specific regional vernacular. Admittedly, most of these linguistic lightbulb moments came to me when I was teaching. In a moment of frustration, I once scolded a group of restless pupils, telling them, "Stop rutsching and just do your work," only to have them respond with blank stares. (Hey, at least it shut them up momentarily.) Just the other day, I discovered that no one here says, "It's spritzing" when the rain comes down in fine droplets. I've also learned that "Hush your fussin'!" is the South's version of the "Stop grexing!" that my Mom-Mom sometimes hissed at me and my sister if we whined too much.

Image from http://suzyssitcom.com

But I miss the colorful local language of Lancaster and Berks County. Each time I go home, I hear less and less of the true Dutchy accent, as in "Meet me dahn at the Ranch Haas," or "I'm from Berks Cahney." Pennsylvania Dutch is, of course, not actually Dutch but a corruption and modernization of German. It's characterized by unique words and phrases but also for the order of words, as in, "Throw the cow over the fence some hay." (That one always makes me giggle.) As with modern German, Pennsylvania Dutch has some situation-specific, difficult-to-translate words. Some of my favorites are "nix nootz" to describe a trouble-making but good-hearted child, or "schusslich" to describe hasty, sloppy, last-minute actions.

However, the PA Dutch word I most miss, simply because it describes the action it names so well, is "fress." To fress is eat, but it's a specific kind of eating; fressing is like grazing or snacking leisurely throughout the day. We fress on holidays, when we're already stuffed so full of gustatory goodness but we don't want to hurt the host's feelings, so we pick at the cheese plate. We fress when it's hot outside and a heavy meal would make us lethargic, so we just eat a few bites of whatever we can find in the fridge. We fress at picnics and holidays, where there's so much temptation that choosing one or two main dishes is too difficult, so we take bits of this and that and load up our plates until they start to bow. In my understanding, fressing isn't so much about the quantity or type of food; it's more about a variety of small samples, often spread out over time.

Bryan and I are most likely to fress at the end of the week, when energy levels are low and leftovers are diverse. Usually, by the end of the week, I have an assortment of ingredients sitting around, either due to purposeful exclusion ("I don't feel like putting tomatoes in this dish tonight") or accidental amnesia ("What the hell did I buy this leek for again?") and "Fressing Friday" is a wonderful (wunnerful goot?) opportunity to use up those things. Friday evening is a time for dressed-up finger foods, dips, side dishes, and cut-up fruits. It's a chance to relax and unwind without going to any extra trouble. And one of my favorite last-minute fressing dishes is Smitten Kitchen's garlic butter roasted mushrooms. I halved Deb's recipe since it was just two of us.

(I know, I know -- you were just starting to think, "Soooo... is there a recipe in all this, or are you just waxing nostalgic this week?")

You will need:

  • 1/2 pound medium sized button mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
  • Parmesan cheese

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Coat the insides of a small baking dish (you could even use a round pie plate) with a little non-stick spray or oil and set it aside.
  2. Place the mushrooms in a resealable plastic bag; add the garlic, vegetable/canola oil, and a dash of salt and pepper to the bag, too. Toss gently to combine. 
  3. Place the mushrooms, gill-side up, in the baking dish. Spread the butter pieces out on top of the mushrooms and sprinkle with a bit of parmesan. 
  4. Roast the mushrooms for 15-20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the buttery sauce around them is bubbling. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve warm.

These mushrooms are chewy, dense, and earthy. The garlicky-buttery juice they roast in is flavorful but not overpowering. I served this two Fridays ago with a sliced Fuji apple, some leftover roasted green beans, chunks of warm pretzel bread (Thank goodness for the Elysium that is A Southern Season), whole-grain mustard, and salty hunks of cheese. At the end of a long week, it was a feast for all the senses and a welcome respite!

Summer rolls (variable servings)

We just came out of a week without air conditioning (and lived to tell the tale). When it's hot, the last thing I want to do is cook. (The first things I want to do are whine and then shower.) Summertime is the best time for quick, light, vegetable-based meals that don't require much work, and translucent, veggie-stuffed summer rolls are a fun option.

If you've never made summer rolls before, I promise that the process is much easier than it looks. The versatility of the fillings, the speed of assembling dinner, and the healthy nature of the rolls far outweigh the challenges. Most of the work is front-loaded because you'll want to prep everything before you get rolling (pun intended). The toughest parts are finding the right ingredients and then folding the rice wrappers without tearing them.

The best wrappers we've found are made by Red Rose and look like this. Around here, they're sold at Whole Foods and A Southern Season, and I'm sure most Asian markets sell them too. (If you can't find them, you might want to ask someone at your favorite Vietnamese, Chinese, or Thai restaurant where you can buy them.) We found them in two sizes; the bigger size leaves too much tasteless, chewy wrapper around the filling, but the smaller size doesn't accommodate much filling, so you end up with much smaller rolls. (We affectionately called them "summer blorps.") 

For the noodles, you'll want something wispy and tangled like this.  The first time I made summer rolls, I opted for bean thread noodles, but I didn't find them to be soft enough. I think rice noodles definitely work the best, and the thinner the better.

As far as fillings go, you really have an infinite number of choices, and making these rolls is a wonderful way to use up a glut of whatever summer produce you have on hand. You can make them as appetizers by using mostly light, leafy vegetables, or you can make heartier summer rolls by including proteins like tofu or tempeh. The basic ingredients and method come from this Epicurious recipe, but what follows is my personal favorite fillings and my own tips. 

I know the ingredient amounts are vague -- Don't be nervous! -- but that's because you really have to play around to find what you enjoy best. Bryan and I have made these together three or four times now, and each time they've been a little different. That's what makes them fun, in my opinion!

You will need:

  • dried rice noodles
  • lime juice
  • rice paper wrappers (The same type of "skin" is used for both un-fried summer rolls and deep-fried spring rolls, so the package might be labelled for use with either.) 
  • fresh basil and mint leaves
  • grated carrot
  • broccoli slaw mix (I've used shredded napa cabbage and cabbage coleslaw mix, and broccoli slaw is definitely my favorite crunchy option.) 
  • freshly grated ginger root
  • tofu (I like mine pressed, cut into thin rectangles, and then sautéed in oil until crispy and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.)
  • chopped peanuts
  • other fillings you might enjoy: cilantro leaves, julienned bell peppers or cucumber,  slivered scallions, bean sprouts, toasted sesame seeds, sliced serrano or jalapeño peppers, or lettuce leaves

Steps: 

  1. Place the rice noodles in a bowl and pour hot water over them. (We set our tea kettle at 180° F because a full boil can make the noodles too limp.) Let them soak for anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the brand. Test them every couple of minutes. When they're al dente, drain them and then toss them with a sprinkle of lime juice in a bowl. Use a knife or kitchen shears to make a few cuts so they aren't too long. Set aside.
  2. If the veggies aren't already shredded or chopped, do that now. Assemble a little prep station for yourself so you have everything ready to go. Assuming you're right-handed, I suggest this order, from left to right, with each ingredient in its own bowl or container:  a shallow dish or bowl wider than your rice wrappers (you'll use this to soak the wrappers), the basil and mint leaves, the noodles tossed with lime juice, some grated carrot mixed in with the broccoli slaw mix and tossed with a little ginger, the tofu, and then the chopped peanuts, followed by an empty plate to hold the finished rolls. (I really should have taken a photo of my prep station!)
  3. Pour some hot (not boiling) water into the shallow dish and then soak a rice paper wrapper for a few seconds to make it pliable. (There's a helpful video explanation here.) 
  4. Lay the softened wrapper on a non-textured cutting board or plate. Layer on a couple basil and mint leaves, a small handful of noodles, a bit of carrot and broccoli slaw, a few pieces of tofu, and a sprinkling of peanuts. Fold up the sides of the roll, and then fold over the ends. (Again, the linked video above shows the process clearly.) 
  5. Set the finished roll aside and start over at step #4, continuing until you've used up your ingredients. 

We like to cut the rolls in half and then serve them with peanut sauce and sweet chili sauce. Some recipes I've seen have also suggested plum sauce as an accompaniment. If you're ambitious enough, there are plenty of online recipes for making your own sauces, but I just use the bottled kind.

Making the rolls is fun, especially if you're working with a partner. The first couple will probably be oddly-shaped, but once you get into the swing of things, it's easy! Bryan is usually in charge of soaking the wrappers while I pile on the fillings and roll them up. After soaking, the wrappers become sticky and sort of gummy, which means they self-seal after you've layered in the fillings, but it also means they have a habit of self-sealing before you're done if you're not careful with them. We usually end up tossing one or two of them each time we make summer rolls, but considering each package comes with approximately 56,000 wrappers (roughly), it isn't much of a problem. 

So give it a try! It's basically just a funky way to eat a salad!

 

summer rolls 2.jpg

Mad-easy Caprese bites

caprese.jpg

Every once in a while, I see a recipe online and think, "DUH! Why didn't I come up with that one myself?" 

This recipe from mint love social club falls right into that category. These Caprese bites take almost no time to make and require only five ingredients, plus salt and pepper. Plus, no heat is needed to make them, so they're a great option for hot summer days. And they're gorgeous! I'm taking them to a dinner party tonight and can't wait to get a reaction from our hosts!

You will need:

  • grape or cherry tomatoes
  • fresh mozzarella
  • basil leaves
  • balsamic vinegar
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. First, prep the ingredients. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half. Cut the mozzarella into pieces roughly the size of the tomato halves. Slice the basil leaves into roughly one-inch square pieces. (I used a pair of kitchen shears.)
  2. Take one tomato half, top it with a basil leaf piece, and top that with a mozzarella piece. Stick a toothpick through the stack. Repeat until you've made enough Caprese bites for your gathering.
  3. Place the skewers on a serving plate. Drizzle them lightly with balsamic vinegar (a spoon helped me out) and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or stick in the fridge for later.

So easy! The original recipe suggests using a balsamic reduction, but I didn't feel like using the stovetop today.  You could possibly save a little time by buying bocconcini instead of one large chunk of mozzarella, but you'd need to cut the mozzarella balls in half anyway, and they're usually more expensive than the bigger chunks. Eh, it wasn't worth it to me. Besides, I like that my platter of Caprese bites don't look uniform; some of the tomato halves are bigger than others, some of the basil leaves hang over the sides, and the mozzarella pieces are in all different shapes. They look like they were made with love, and I like that about them.