Tag Archives: cooking

Summer Cooking

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Summer time makes me want to eat constantly, consuming as much fresh fruits and vegetables as possible before the season is over and all you have left at your disposal is a whole mess of questionable imported produce.  Which, don’t get me wrong, I love being able to buy Peruvian asparagus in mid-February, but there’s something just a *tad* different in flavor and freshness when the asparagus only had to travel a couple miles to my dinner plate.

So everyday recently I’ve been a veritable vegetable vacuum, hoovering up massive quantities of cherries, peaches and strawberries, corn-on-the-cob, fresh English peas, asparagus, scallions, watermelon, beets, carrots, and tons of other goodies. It certainly makes meal-planning a cooking a cinch. It almost makes summer cooking a little boring: fire up the grill/grill pan, throw some protein on there for a few minutes and then let the fruits and veggies on the plate do most of the work for you. Half the time they don’t even need cooking, just a squeeze of some lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of salt. Dinner served.  Creativity in the summer months is usually limited to “should I use hazelnuts or pine nuts in my pea pesto today? ”

Which has been great given the utter insanity of my schedule this summer, but I’m sort of missing the creative flair that’s needed to pull of a really fresh, healthy, well-rounded winter meal. There’s thought and time involved. The root vegetables that take over our plates in the colder months take a little more care and attention to make them sparkle (especially without using cheese as a crutch). It takes a little more effort to make me excited for a turnip the same way I get all giddy over peas.

I guess what it boils down to is that I enjoy eating more in the Summer and cooking more in the winter.  Roasting, stewing, braising — these things are slower and more soulful. Blanching, sauteing, barbecuing — laid-back and impersonal.

But a few summers ago, bored with the usual suspects for dinner, I created a peanut-noodle dish that brings a little creativity back into the kitchen with it’s no-cook sauce, and choice of mix-in vegetables and noodle type. It’s still a low-heat dish (essential for hot-weather meals), particularly if you use my suggestion of using fresh pasta,  which only takes a measly 2-3 minutes to boil.

Whole wheat pasta and broccolini, topped with homemade peanut sauce, and sliced and sauteed snow peas. YUM.

Whole wheat pasta and broccolini, topped with homemade peanut sauce, and sliced and sauteed snow peas. YUM.

Spicy Peanut Noodles

Serves 2

*2/3 of a pound fresh whole wheat fettuccine (or your favorite pasta/noodle — rice noodles or soba noodles would work well in this dish)

*2 small bunches of broccolini or one small head of broccoli, cut into florets

*a generous cup or more of snow peas, thinly sliced

for Peanut sauce:

*1 clove garlic, minced

*1/4 cup chunky peanut butter (I use Skippy natural)

*a few good squirts of Sriracha (more, if you like things spicy!)

*a splash of rice vinegar (or regular white vinegar/apple cider vinegar)

*a splash of maple syrup

*1/3 cup of soy sauce (I use Coconut Aminos since I’m allergic to soy)

Step 1:  Stir together all of the sauce ingredients except the peanut butter. Once mixed, add in your peanut butter and, using a whisk or fork, blend until peanut butter is incorporated. This may take a little bit of work, but it does come together! Taste a little bit and add a little more of whatever you think it might need (if too salty, add a splash more of vinegar and a splash more of maple syrup; if too sweet, add a little more soy sauce and a little more vinegar; if not peanut-y enough, stir in more peanut butter)

Step 2: Heat up a small pan and add your sliced snow peas with a splash of water. Let saute, 2-3 minutes until bright green and they’re sizzling.

Step 3: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions. When there’s only 2-3 minutes left, throw the broccolini in with the pasta to blanch (if using fresh pasta, throw everything in at once).

Step 4: Drain your pasta and vegetables and then throw back into the pot. Pour your sauce in and toss to coat everything. Serve in bowls and top with the sauteed snow peas.

Enjoy!

You DO Win Friends with Salad!

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I think Homer and Bart are wrong! At least if you bother to make your own salad dressing.

My regular lunch-time salad at work. This week's dressing was a spicy mustard vinaigrette.

My regular lunch-time salad at work. This week’s dressing was a spicy mustard vinaigrette.

 

Store-bought salad dressing is probably one of my least favorite things. Most of them don’t taste very good and they are usually way too full of preservatives, soy, sodium, sugar and other not-so-great ingredients, turning your well-intentioned salad into something little better than something from the chip-and-cookie aisle.   Whatever store-bought dressing you’ve been indulging in, I promise you can make a homemade equivalent that tastes better and is better for you.

The good news is that it’s super easy and fast to make your own dressing in a variety of flavors with just some basic oils, vinegars and spices you likely have in your pantry anyway. This last week along I made a deliciously sweet fig balsamic vinaigrette, a cool and creamy chive and basil dressing and a tangy  spicy mustard vinaigrette.

The formula for a basic balsamic vinaigrette is pretty easy, and then you can grow from there.

For a balsamic vinaigrette, just combine:

*about 1/4 cup of your balsamic vinegar

*a squeeze of a dijon mustard (trust me on this one. It takes the bite out of your vinegar without leaving the dressing tasting remotely mustardy)

*a generous amount of olive oil, drizzling while whisking to combine everything. You’ll know when to stop when you reach the consistency you’d like in your dressing.

 

Right away this formula is easily changed up by using lemon juice as the acid instead of vinegar for a light, lemony dressing. Or use a flavored vinegar for something a little different. Add some garlic or herbs to give it some earthiness and depth. Mustard vinaigrette is just a lot more dijon with a splash of clear vinegar before you add your oil.

If you decide to stray away from the vinaigrettes and decide to try something creamy or cheesy that’s really just one additional ingredient:

*1/4 cup of Greek yogurt or sour cream for a creamy dressing; 1/4 cup of the crumbled cheese of choice for a cheese-based dressing (blue, feta)

*a splash of a clear vinegar (white wine, apple cider, champagne, etc) or lemon juice  (if using a cheese, you’ll mash the cheese into the acid until it forms a liquid-y  paste)

*a tiny squeeze of dijon

* a generous amount of olive oil (sometimes you may want to add some buttermilk, regular milk, etc at this step, too, if you want an ultra-luxurious ranch or something)

*any herbs or spices that give you the flavor you want

 

See?  Simple! It literally takes about 2 minutes to whisk together a dressing, and, if you want to just up the amounts, you can store them for up to several weeks in the fridge, especially any that aren’t dairy-based.   So the next time your reach for the Hidden Valley, try making your own first — I think you’ll enjoy the results!

 

What’s your favorite store-bought dressing? Leave it in the comments and I’ll try to recreate it at home!