Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Five: Ultimate summer eats

You deserve a little something special today!  For what?  For making it through the first week of school in one piece and with all of your sanity.  A lesser woman would suggest a pat on the back, but we both know that won't do.  A cookie will suit ya much better :)

Whether you're a parent, student, teacher, or spouse/sibling/friend of any of those three, new schedules tend to require a little shuffling of daily routines, so it's a relief to have a long weekend to regroup.  One of my cousins headed off to college this past week and, boy, does the entire process sound exhausting.  If that's the case for you, make it two (or three) cookies!

It's going to be an extra long weekend since Monday is Labor Day, and I took Tuesday off as well.  Pitt college football kicks off its season on Monday night, so I snagged an extra day to relax and soak up what will hopefully be the first of cough many cough wins this season.  I've looked forward to tailgating for months, and our group is sticking with a simple summer cookout theme for this game.  Much to Matt's delight, hot dogs are on the menu!

Since Labor Day is the unofficial end to summer for many folks, I started thinking about what foods I absolutely must have one last time before my brain shifts to comfort foods and pumpkin anything.  It's that thought that inspired today's Friday Five.  Here goes!

1. Tomatoes - As soon as I have the first farm-fresh tomato of the season, I'm both overjoyed and saddened.  Overjoyed because there is nothing sweeter or more delicious than an in-season tomato!  And saddened because... there is nothing sweeter or more delicious than an in-season tomato.  Sigh.  I'm determined to get my fill of tomatoes in any form while they're at their peak.  Check out my latest tomato recipes for inspiration!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Homemade fish sticks

As it turns out, I've spent the past week or so strolling down memory lane.  Thanks for joining me, by the way!

It's funny how themes sometimes present themselves in my cooking without any intentional effort.  The back-to-school feeling has been tough to ignore, so I stopped fighting it and went with my gut and embraced it.  (My stomach really wears the pants in our relationship.)

Growing up, weeknights at our house were pleasantly chaotic, like Grand Central Station meets a taxi stand.  Phones ringing off the hook, backpacks and duffel bags carried to and fro, and garage doors that looked more like revolving doors.  Bless my parents' hearts for being so incredibly supportive and patient with my sister and me!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Andy's BBQ chicken

Thanks to the back-to-school vibes everywhere this week, I'm feeling pretty nostalgic.  No matter how old I get, late August will always stir up the same feelings in me that it did nearly 7 (yikes!) years ago.  "I don't want to go back to school work.  Nooooo.  More summer!  More ice cream!  More fun!"

Similarly, my urge to travel becomes impossible to ignore in early August since it's around that time when family traditionally vacationed.  Most years, we headed to Ocean City, MD, or Myrtle Beach, SC.  A week of sun, sand, water, and family fun was something we looked forward to every year!

But, what we really looked forward to were things like sending postcards to and picking out gifts for friends back home.  My parents did the same for coworkers and neighbors, too.

Don't you love that agreeing to water someone's flowers or collect newspapers and mail while that person is away pretty much guarantees you a box of salt water taffy?  Nothing says thank you quite like food, right?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Chicken, blueberry and brie grilled sandwich

Raise your hand if you miss picking out a first day of school outfit.

Me, me, meeeee.

Around here, it's back to school for most students.  That means more than the onset of college football season (hooray!) and longer lines during lunchtime at Panera (I'm looking at you, hungry Pitt students).  It also means Matt resumes his long work days.

Since he teaches during the day and coaches in the evening, it's often after 8 o'clock when he walks in the door.  Despite packing snacks for him to eat on his way from school to the pool, he's usually famished by the time he gets home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fast Friday: Three bean salad

Fri-i-day, and I'm feeling goo-oo-d.  This has been a mighty (I know "mightily" is correct, but it just sounds weird, doesn't it?) productive week.  Despite a super busy and very fun weekend, I managed to hit the ground running on Monday and haven't stopped since then.  It's fascinating how I seem to be more productive the busier I am.  Yet, on days when I only have one or two things to do, I dilly dally around and wind up with a to-do list that's void of any check marks.  Eek!

During weeks when I have lots on my plate, I try to stay ahead of the game and plan meals that are big on flavor, small on prep, and will benefit us for a few days.  Sometimes it's main dishes like a big batch of burgers or a pot of hearty soup.  This week, however, it was a side dish that really delivered, night after night.

Inspiration for dishes comes from so many sources.  Friends, restaurants, and, not surprisingly, food shows.  But, surprisingly, the idea for this rockin' three bean salad came from a show solely dedicated to sandwiches.

Told you sandwiches were making a comeback.

But this bean salad?  It may seem humble, but it was on my mind days after seeing it made on Sandwich King.  Cool, crunchy, and light with a dressing that looked off the hook delicious.

As (usually... and thankfully!) turns out, it tasted even better than it looked!  Having never had three bean salad before, this set the bar mighty high.

Shall I count the ways I love this salad?

To start, it's easy.  Like, making oatmeal kind of easy.  One bowl, minimal chopping, and a simple toss to mix everything.

Also, it's c-h-e-a-p.  Green beans are roughly $1.50 per pound, a can of beans costs less than a buck, one shallot will run you less than a dollar, and the rest of the ingredients are inexpensive pantry staples.

It's hearty and oh-so-satisfying!  This is packed with good-for-you fiber and a surprising amount of protein from the cannellini and kidney beans that will keep you satisfied for hours.  Paired with a grilled chicken breast, simple grilled cheese, or bowl of summery tomato zucchini gazpacho, this meal packs a mean punch.

Last, but certainly not least, it's freakin' delicious!  That's really the only reason you need to make anything, right?  I never thought I'd say this about a non-dessert, but I couldn't get enough of this!  And it only got better the longer it sat as the beans soaked up all of the delicious sweet and barely sour dressing.

I sampled bites of this salad as I stood over the counter preparing the rest of dinner.  And when I was plating the food.  After I did the dishes, I snuck into the fridge and helped myself to a few spoonfuls of it later that night.  The next morning?  A spoon found its way into the container and into my mouth while my frittata cooked on the stove-top.  Just. So. Good!  Couldn't stop and wouldn't stop until there was none left.

What did I do then?  I mourned, gathered my thoughts, and went out to buy the ingredients to make another batch just in time for the weekend.  Meals?  Check.  Fun things?  Here we go.  Have a great weekend! :)

One year ago: Santa Fe BBQ chicken pizza
Two years ago: Ham & cheese puff pastry squares
Three years ago: Sour cherry pie

Three Bean Salad
(adapted slightly from Jeff Mauro's recipe)
-makes 6-8 servings

A few notes: In a pinch, you could use cut frozen green beans in place of fresh.  They won't have quite the snap of the fresh ones, but the flavor would be the same.  Simply thaw the frozen beans under cold running water, drain, and pat dry.

1/2 pound green beans, cut in half, ends trimmed and discarded
1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini or northern white beans, rinsed and drained
1 shallot, minced
1/4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Black pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Set up a large bowl of ice water.  Add the green beans to the pot and cook until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.  Drain and plunge the green beans into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the green beans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and honey; slowly whisk in oil until blended.  Add all drained beans and shallot to the bowl, tossing to coat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Leftovers can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Matt's ranch pretzels

I've been watching/listening to some baseball recently, which is weird.  I don't know if you've heard, but the Pittsburgh Pirates are kind of awesome this season, which is even weirder.

If I've learned anything from my brief bandwagoner interest in America's pasttime, it's that curve balls are a real thing.  In a game, they come from pitchers and really do curve.  Go figure!

In this instance, curve balls come from the universe.

I had an entire post written up and scheduled to publish about these pretzels.  And then, at the last minute, I read it and erased the entire thing.  Just wasn't feeling it.  So, let me start over.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tomato zucchini gazpacho

Hey there, sunshine!  For once, I'm going to zip my lips and let the pictures do the initial talking.

Isn't it breathtaking how bright and gorgeous summer fresh tomatoes and zucchini are?  Makes me think of Christmas.  Too soon, I know!  But those colors are just so vibrant; I can't help myself.  #sorryi'mnotsorry

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday five: Fantastic dairy-free desserts

Friday Friday, lovely to see you again!  And, lovely to see you as well.  Seems like I'm just happy to see everyone this week, especially Matt, who returned from his guys' beach trip late on Wednesday evening.  I could play it cool and say I had a blast ruling the roost and doing/eating whatever I wanted while he was away, but the truth is that all of that got old quickly.  Turns out that a) I can pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want anyway, and b) I really missed my husband and best friend!

Speaking of friends, have I ever mentioned that I've got the best in the world?  On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of accompanying one on her first trip to Sarris Ice Cream Parlor.  Though few people are as enthusiastic as I am, I can easily say she loved it.  Her combination of deep dish apple and peanut butter cookie dough ice creams was brilliant, too!

Later that night, we spent time at her house chatting with friends who stopped by.  (A sign that you're getting old: When talking around a kitchen table is a welcome and enjoyable Saturday night activity.)  One mentioned that she wished she could've joined us at Sarris but has recently had trouble digesting dairy.  After a pathetic attempt to make her feel better by saying that ice cream season is almost over (I tried!), I started thinking about all of the great desserts there are that don't contain any dairy whatsoever. Angel food cake, a rainbow of sorbets, and the myriad of summery cocktails that totally count as liquid dessert, just to name a few.

For her and for you, here are five of my favorite dairy-free desserts, just in time for the weekend.  Hope it's extra sweet!

1. Meringue "cloud" cookies - Light as a feather and sweet as can be.  Crunchy and chewy at the same time.  Omit the chocolate chips and try experimenting with adding other flavors, like mint or almond extract, or the zest of a lemon, lime, or orange.  A drop of two of food coloring will make these even more playful.

2. Frozen banana custard - Cool, creamy, and delicious!  Try it jazzed up with the addition of some strawberries or a scoop of peanut butter.

3. Coconut macaroons - These require only a handful of ingredients and are probably the easiest cookie recipe I've ever seen.  Crispy, chewy, and sweet.  All the things!  (Bonus: they're totally fat-free!)

4. Zucchini bread - Still can't believe I haven't made zucchini bread yet, but you better believe enough is enough.  It's funny that people, myself included, still think of this as a breakfast food when, in fact, it's totally dessert in disguise.  Oodles of brown sugar, warm spices, and yummy additions like nuts and dried fruit can't be wrong!

5. Pies - My favorite is the sticky sweet and crunchy pecan pie!  Made dairy-free with two simple swaps: omit the chocolate chips and use vegetable shortening in place of butter when making the pastry for the crust. Or sour cherry pie, the poster pie of summer.  If cherries aren't your jam (see what I did there?), take advantage of the huge bounty of fresh fruit in season and make whatever flavor tickles your fancy.  Like individual blackberry crumbles!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Turkey, onion & pesto panini

Somewhere in the middle of top notch chicken dinners and an infinite number of kale salads, I lost sight of one of the most satisfying meals ever: the sandwich.

Normally, a sandwich is the last thing on my mind when it comes to dinner.  Grander visions of soups, roasts, and casseroles monopolize my thoughts instead.  Something that'll stick to my ribs, you know?

Dinner's gotta be ultra hearty to stand up to our my raging post-workout metabolism, not to mention the "I'm so hungry I swear I haven't eaten for days" mentality.  And though it's certainly delicious, a quintessential PB&J that comes to mind isn't going to cut it.

(To be clear, I'm not discounting peanut butter.  Within 30 seconds of walking in the door, famished, I've usually made my way to the kitchen and helped myself to a spoonful of the stuff.  Peanut butter = essential to life!)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bacon, corn & shrimp chowder

It seems that I've fallen pretty hard for summer this year.  It's still no winter, but I've come around to this season of heat, humidity, and sun.  (I'm certain the endless supply of ice cream is partially responsible.)

That being said, hooray for rainy afternoons and momentarily cooler temperatures!

I've been waiting for months to make this perfect-for-summer-soup. Why haven't I made it yet?  Because it's simply been too hot for soup.  I guess there's a reason gazpacho is kind of a big deal around this time of year.

No offense to gazpacho makers and lovers out there, but if you can get past the whole temperature thing and make this -- dinner is hot nearly every night anyway, right? -- you'll have a new favorite summer soup.  This soup.  Because it's got bacon.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Zucchini cupcakes with lemon cream cheese icing

I can't believe we're nearly midway through August already.   Thankfully, there is still over a month left of summer.  Yes, summer goes until September 21st, don't you forget it!

This time of year is also known as the thick of vacation season.  I've all but given up keeping tabs on friends and family because they seem to be all over the place this year.  Weekend getaways, mid-week business trips extended for pleasure, and epic European adventures.  But I'm so happy to welcome 'em home and ooh and ahh over the hundreds and hundreds of pictures they've taken ;)

A traditional vacation wasn't in the works (so far, anyway) for me yet, but I've found other ways to enjoy a little R&R this summer.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Fast Friday: Shrimp & pesto pizzas

By the time this post goes up, I will have been awake for nearly 3 hours.  Even for an early bird, a 5:00 wake-up is a little rough.  I wanted to be awake to see Matt off for his guys' beach trip.  We checked his list twice and made sure he packed the big batch of cookies I made for the guys.  The things we do for love, right? :)

One thing I rarely do -- even for love -- is share my food.

Before you think I'm a total grinch, let me explain.  I love sharing dishes that are planned to be shared at the time of ordering.  And I regularly offer my dining companion(s) a bite of whatever I ordered for myself.  After all, food is love!

But that's where it stops.  You get one bite, sweetheart.  One.  Enjoy it.  Savor it.  Because the rest is mine.  Um, unless I'm full before my food is gone.  Then, have at it, friend!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chocolate gobs... or whoopie pies

I've got a serious question for you, and you best sit down for it.  Ready?  (That's not the question, smart aleck.)  Here goes:

Are you Team Gob or Team Whoopie Pie?  Or are you Team I-didn't-know-they-were-the-same-thing-until-now?  If the latter is the case, I've got a story for you.

In college, my group of friends seemed to be interwoven like whoa.  Some people met living together in dorms, others had classes together and struck up friendships that way, and a few even went to high school together.  The way I met them was through a former high school classmate of mine, who also happened to be my roommate freshman year.  She befriended a guy in her intro to economics class and introduced us.  Got all that?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On (local) newstands now

Hiya, All Things Mini readers!

I've got some exciting news to share with you.  Recently, an editor for a local food magazine contacted me about doing a feature in an upcoming issue.  After calmly returning to my chair (not that I fell out of it or anything...), I responded and shared my story as well as some favorite recipes and photos with her.  At the end of last week, a special package arrived in the mail for me, containing two copies of this:

[image via Edible Allegheny]

Isn't that cover so bright and cheerful and just plain gorgeous?  Love it!  The editor with whom I worked is so sweet and even bookmarked the page she knew I'd first want to see:

Squeal!  So.real.  I should play it cool and pretend I haven't looked at that page at least 20 times since Friday, but I can't.  First, you know I'm not that casual.  And I'm terrible at lying.

If you're local to the Pittsburgh area, I recommend you pick up a hard copy of the magazine -- there are so many mouth-watering recipes and great articles about the ever-growing Pittsburgh food culture.  My favorite feature is the two page calendar spread in the front of the magazine, showcasing all of the fun culinary events happening in the area.  Farm to table dinners!  Garlic festivals!  Cooking classes!  It's enough to make anyone's stomach grumble.  You can find the magazine at local Barnes & Noble Booksellers, as well as Giant Eagle and Whole Foods locations. 

For the online edition, click here to jump over to the Online Dish feature of Edible Allegheny's website.

And, finally, a special thank you to all of you for reading, cooking, and supporting me on a daily basis.  You make this all possible and totally fun :)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Chicken, sweet potato, and pecan salad

By now, I think I've made it pretty clear that I don't actually hate salads.  As it turns out, I actually love them, especially the mile-long salad bars at restaurants.  (I'm looking at you, Hello Bistro and Eat 'n Park.)

Make-your-own salad bars are totally my jam these days.  There's always something that appeals to me, regardless of my mood and appetite, like fresh peppers and mushrooms, avocados, a bajillion varieties of cheese, and so.many.crunchy.things.  It's enough to make you question the presence of any lettuce in your salad at all!  (I've done it, so there will be no judgement if you do the same.)

But, a produce buffet my kitchen is not.  Unless I plan ahead and raid the bulk bins at the grocery store (they are the best for just the right amount of various toppings, FYI!), a salad will most likely consist of spinach, chicken, and dressing.  Any produce in our fridge is likely there because it's meant for another recipe, something Matt complains about again and again, but that's neither here nor there.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Five: What a woman wants (to eat!)

Happy Friday and happy August, friends!  I hope you've had a great week so far.  It's zipped by and been a pretty darn fun one on my end, weekdays included.  Thanks to the cooler temperatures, I've been on quite a baking kick.  And, on a slightly related note, I've been doing lots of running.  I've started incorporating more hills and speed intervals into my workouts, and it makes such a difference.  I'm extra sweaty (TMI, sorry!) and feel like I'm getting more bang for my buck.  Super satisfying!

This weekend, Matt and I are staying around here with no firm plans and lots of "want to do" things on our minds, like a trip to the mall to spend some birthday cash and a mystery date night.  The mystery is because I'm planning something  of which Matt knows nothing.  Sneaky!  We wanted to squeeze in a date before he heads to the beach for a guys trip next week.

I'll surely miss him, but I'm going to treat myself to some fun things while he's gone: quality time with girlfriends, yoga, walking just for the sake of walking (do all guys hate that?!) and stocking up on some foods that I love and he hates.   It's not that I don't eat these things when he's here; I merely have alternatives at home or enjoy them out at restaurants.  But, while he's kicking back with the guys and eating only pizza, wings, and beer for a week, I'm going to indulge myself.  Without further ado, here are my top five foods that I cannot wait to sink my teeth into next week!

1. Watermelon, arugula, and goat cheese salad - This is, hands down, my most favorite summer dish!  Fresh, colorful, and so tasty.  It's so good that I can eat and enjoy it in total silence without needing the TV on for background noise.  (Yes, we are totally a TV-on-at-dinner home.  Guilty.)  As far as the rest of the watermelon?  I will eat the entire thing and love every single bite of it.

2. Cantaloupe - Yup, another delicious melon.  That man just doesn't know what he's missing.  For breakfast, I'm going to enjoy an edible bowl with cottage cheese and blueberries.  Later, I'll slice the cantaloupe and wrap it with salty melt-in-your-mouth proscuitto for dinner.