Tag Archives: Food

Summer Cooking


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.





This week has been, admittedly, a tad boring on the food front. A is gone, so I haven’t really been motivated to make anything of note for dinner (in fact, every night this week I’ve eaten a banana with sunflower seed butter, broccolini and mashed cauliflower that I made on Tuesday and ate from the whole week). Additionally, as my body has been trying to heal itself, I’ve been sleeping A LOT and have been lucky to get in some sort of smoothie for breakfast, which I’ve taken sips of in between taking the dog out, putting my makeup on and packing my work bag for the day.

Without really realizing it, I went three days without consuming anything but fruits, vegetables and nuts/seeds, which, in hindsight, that kind of super clean eating, probably aided in my body’s repair as well. I have found that the last month or so, I haven’t really been very hungry on most days, either, and while I’m not sure what that’s about (maybe just aging?) the extra rest and good things I’ve been giving my body the last few days have felt a little like pressing a big reset button.  While I don’t eat unhealthily pretty much ever, I think I want to focus more on meals that don’t rely so much on wheat and dairy. I think I just feel generally better without these items.

Anyway, now that “healthy talk” is out of the way, let’s talk about what I’m cookin’ up this weekend, shall we?  Tonight a good friend, L, and I are going to the American Craft Brew Fest at Boston’s Seaport. I went last year with A, and it was so much better than I had anticipated, I was super excited to attend again this year. Last year, as newbies to the event, we didn’t realize that it’s practically UNHEARD of not to attend with a necklace made of pretzels, so L is hooking us up with some fine, edible jewelry for this evening’s adventure. I’m sure I’ll have pictures.

Since she’s clearly staying over after a nice of beer consumption, I planned to make us breakfast in the morning. We might try to hit a hot yoga or a spin class beforehand, but we’ll play it by ear.  I’ve really missed my morning eggs this week, so I’m looking forward to the spinach & tomato scramble I’m going to cook up and serve alongside some healthy, green smoothies.

Later in the day, my friend B is coming over for early dinner before we head over to the Museum of Science to check out the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.  Since it’s so hot, I wanted something bright and colorful, but, since an early dinner will likely take the place of both lunch and dinner, I wanted something that would also be a little hearty.

I’m going to throw together an arugula salad, a tomato salad, and some bright green spring vegetable risotto (cooked with brown rice; recipe to follow). After the museum, we’ll indulge in some berries, cream and lemon curd, because after making my own a couple weeks ago, I’m obsessed.

So many colors!

So many colors!

Because, it's nice to get a different perspective...

Because, it’s nice to get a different perspective…

Now I just need to think of something healthy and a little special to cook up for A when he gets back on Sunday. Any ideas? What are you cooking up this weekend?

Spring Vegetable Brown Rice Risotto

Serves 4

 *1 cup short or medium-grain brown rice (or, Arborio rice if you’re anti-brown)

*2 tablespoons good quality olive oil

*2 small leeks, white part only, chopped

*1/2 small fennel bulb, chopped

*1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

*1/2 cup dry white wine or water

*between 4 and 6 cups of warm stock (vegetable or chicken), or water, in a pinch

*2 -3 cups of your favorite spring vegetables (I like fresh, shelled peas and asparagus, though I’m using broccolini this weekend since B doesn’t care for asparagus)

*1/2 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

*2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

*1/3 cup mascarpone, quark or formaggio blanc, optional

*1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional

*4 tablespoons chopped chives

Step 1:  Set up a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Blanch any of your fresh vegetables that you’ll stir into your risotto later by letting them boil 2-3 minutes until slightly tender and bright green. Remove with tongs to preserve the water and place in an ice bath to prevent further cooking and to capture the color. Set up a small pot and fill with your stock and set over medium-low heat to keep warm. You’ll use this a little bit later.

Step 2: In your already boiling water, stir in your brown rice and let simmer for 10-15 minutes to get the brown rice a little bit more tender. Drain. NOTE:  If using regular Arborio rice, skip this step. Brown rice, as the whole grain, takes longer to soften.

Step 3: Put oil in a deep skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the chopped leeks and fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and softened, about 3 minutes.  Add in your rice and tarragon next, stirring until slightly toasty and covered in oil, about 5 minutes. Next add the wine, and stir until the liquid bubbles away.

Step 4: Begin adding stock a ladle-full or two at a time (until rice is just covered in your skillet) and, stirring throughout, let the liquid evaporate almost completely. When it’s nearly evaporated, it’s time to add another ladle or two or hot broth. Keep at this for about 15 -20 minutes, until the rice is just tender and the mixture is looking creamy and then add in your lemon zest and blanched vegetables. Cook a little longer, adding more broth if necessary, until rice is fully tender.

Step 5: Off the heat, stir in your lemon juice, mascarpone and Parmesan (if using) to add additional creaminess and tang. Serve hot with a sprinkle of fresh chives and cracked black pepper.

You DO Win Friends with Salad!


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!



Brie Cheese


Cheese is my greatest weakness. Any diet I have ever started has always failed because of cheese. Until I became an avid runner (I suggest this, if you’re an avid eater, by the way), I always had somewhat high cholesterol, and, truthfully, I blame it on the cheese.

One cheese in particular has always had a uniquely special place in my gluttonous palate, and that is the achingly smooth, sinfully buttery brie cheese. I haven’t met a brie I haven’t liked, and this is why anytime I’m invited over to a dinner party or family affair, there’s always a rather generous wedge of brie and some disembodied voice cries out from the kitchen, “Rachel! That brie is for you! I know how much you love it!”  Even if I wanted to count calories, how could I not indulge in something someone thoughtfully purchased and displayed just with me in mind? And so I have just a little nibble, which, with a little wine, and very little self-control when it comes to culinary delicacies I have deemed a “favorite,” I somehow manage to choke down a substantial hunk of the glistening, cream colored treat.

A Wheel of Brie

I firmly believe I have my father to blame for my particular penchant for brie cheese, as he introduced it to me when I was just barely stumbling into toddlerhood.  This was when he, my fiery-haired mother and I used to live in Los Angeles and headed to the Hollywood Bowl every so often.  We would arrive early, and at some picnic tables on a hill behind the amphitheater, we would hurriedly feast on gleaming, succulent red grapes and tender brie cheese. I’m sure there was some cheap, but good enough, bottle of wine bought at Trader Joe’s, which my parents would share, but I, at the ripe old age of 2 ½ , was mostly fixated on the rich yet mild cheese.

All three of us would savor the moldy wedge, but my mom, would always peel away the opaque white “skin” that covered the creamy interior of the brie, and my dad, whose favorite part of brie is this “skin,” would eat her discarded bits. As a young girl, I strove to emulate my mother as closely as I could, and would demand my brie be served to me in skinless pieces too; convinced I hated both the taste and texture of this formaggio’s exoskeleton.

As I got older, we moved away from L.A., and my parent’s relationship faded, as did my own relationship with my father, and while cheese wasn’t enough to patch my parents back together, I’m fairly certain it was that same cheese we shared at the Hollywood Bowl so many years earlier that started to strengthen the bond between me and my dad again.

The summer he moved out of our family house and into his own apartment was the same summer I moved away to Boston for college. When I came home for Christmas break later that year, I begrudgingly made dinner plans with my dad and his girlfriend, Gretchen, and I remember the walk to his grungy building as though it were a death march. When I arrived, I was greeted by the usual sheepish grin and awkward, paralytic silence characteristic of my father, but there was also a peace offering already out on the table: the ubiquitous slab of brie cheese.

“It’s brie cheese,” he stammered, obviously proud of himself. “You love brie cheese. I got it just for you.”

I think I rolled my eyes, and, in a moment of teenage-angst-induced resolve, refused to eat any of his “peace cheese”, or to take it with me at the end of the night, when he carefully wrapped the untouched piece in plastic wrap and handed it to me, his eyes sad.

It would be several more years, and many more chunks of cheese, before I appreciated how much my dad actually cared and before I saw him as a human being, one with raw, deep emotions. One day, at lunch, I was served a sandwich with brie, skin still attached. I was still squeamish about the skin, but gave it try, and discovered I actually loved the earthiness and complexity this outside layer added to the whole brie experience. I suddenly had a new appreciation for the depth food could harbor. Maybe this was why it was my dad’s favorite part – unable to communicate the depth of his emotion, he relied on the cheese, deliciously smeared between two crusty slices of French bread, to speak for him.