Don’t Make it More Complicated than it Should Be

On my way out the door at work, I asked a coworker, “What can I make for dinner tonight that is quick, but isn’t frozen pizza?”

She told me pasta, and went on to describe the most beautiful dish with halved cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and Parmesan.  She told me to pair it with a big salad, and that it wouldn’t hurt to have really yummy garlic bread on the side.

Voila!

pasta alla Natalie

Pasta alla Natalie.

Dinners should be easy.

Don’t overthink them.

p.s.  Dessert was sliced banana and chocolate peanut butter Whips, another co-worker fave.  If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out.

Keep it Simple

Dear readers,

It’s Saturday.

I had lunch with a friend today.

Then I got my hair colored and cut.

Then I got my toes painted.

Then my husband left to go watch people hit each other with his friends.

And I was left alone.

On the couch.

With the entire first season of The Mindy Project on demand.

tomato, honey, ricotta bruschetta

Today was simple.

Today was perfect.

And with that, a simple and perfect snack (inspired by).

To make tomato, ricotta, and honey crostini, you will need:

  • 1 baguette, sliced into about 1/2-inch pieces, and toasted
  • 1/2 C ricotta (please use something like this, it’s so much silkier than chain-grocery store ricotta)
  • 2 or 3 farmers market tomatoes, small-diced
  • honey
  • sea salt

Spread ricotta on each slice of bread.  Top with tomatoes.  Drizzle with honey, and top with sea salt.  Snack all night.

The Mushy Part

Oh man did I love Full House growing up.  I’m not sure what it was about that show, but I couldn’t get enough of it.  Seriously, when my mom needed a solid punishment, taking away the new episode on Tuesday was about as rough as it could get for me.  And as Wooden Nickels watched over my shoulder more days than she’d probably care to admit, she noted that each show contained a “mushy part,” a vignette in which the synthesizer soundtrack kicks into high gear, and one of those adorable Tanner daughters realized the error of her ways.

Aside from a 90s sitcom or two (Dear readers, Steve came back!), I am not the most emotional person, which worked in my favor whilst I searched for an emotionally stable life partner.  I found one, we got married, and my world has continued to spin, mush-free, ever since.

With the exception of one little tradition.

drinks

Every year, we eat at the same place we ate (and loved) on our honeymoon.

It’s a tradition I look forward to all year.

And this year, I had the most amazing salad.

peach salad

Peaches,

Arugula,

Ricotta,

Country ham,

Salted pistachios,

And vanilla black pepper vinaigrette.

When I saw it on the menu, it reminded me of these, and I knew I had to have it.

market peach

And then it was a matter of time before I had to make it for myself.

peach salad

I couldn’t make it exactly as it was put before me back in North Carolina, but I came pretty close.  I swapped out the country ham for prosciutto, and the vanilla vinaigrette for honey.  It was a beautiful way to savor what summer has to offer.  And when we ate it, my icy-cold heart got to indulge in a little more mushiness over again.

I don’t have an exact recipe, but I’ll tell you what I did.

Place a generous schmear of ricotta (this is my fave) on a plate.  Pile a heap of arugula on top.  Tear up a piece of prosciutto and drop over top of salad.  Cut peach into large chunks, and nestle into greens.  Dress with this vinaigrette, sans shallots and garlic.

The Secret

Do you remember when Oprah found out about The Secret and all of a sudden, much like everything Oprah touts, it was everywhere?  I didn’t read the book but I remember watching the show and hearing that the basic premise is, if you put good juju into the universe, if you visualize the things you want, the universe will give them to you.

I think it means if you want people to be nice to you, you have to be nice to people.

I think it means if you want big things, you have to start taking little steps towards getting them.

I think it means if you want Jay Z and Justin Timberlake tickets for your birthday, you have to ask Wooden Nickels to get them, you can’t expect the universe to read your mind.

taco salad

Wait, what?

I’m sorry.

I have never liked salad.  I have always liked ice cream.  But I’ve also never really liked how much I struggle to button my jeans when I’ve over-indulged at the beach for two weeks, so I envisioned myself as someone who liked salads.  Because surely people who like salads never struggle to button their jeans.  Or if they do, only a couple green meals stand between them and squeezing back into their pants.

taco salad 2

I have tried salads on enough occasions that I’ve made them–or the universe has, you pick–palatable.  And when you mix in enough foods I love, to the point that you can barely spot a lettuce leaf in between all that goodness, I even enjoy them.

taco salad 3

Ree posted her chicken taco salad earlier this summer and I dreamed of it every night till I went to work putting it on our (beach) table.

taco salad 4

This salad falls squarely under Option 2 of this post.  It’s the kind of dinner that requires a fair amount of chopping.  If you’re handy with a knife, it won’t take long to get this on your table solo, but why not invite some friends and have them help you?  My husband was sous chef on this one (sorry, SCL, I miss you!) and I loved having a second set of hands to make light work.

taco salad 5

Though I’m including the recipe below, please put your own spin on this.  I’m tagging it as a vegetarian option because Wooden Nickels seemed to like it just fine without the chicken.  My husband and I liked it just fine without the chips, which we completely forgot to add.  Go where the spirit moves you.

To make taco salad for 4, you will need:

For the salad:

  • 1 bunch of your favorite greens (we went with Romaine)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 2 ears corn, cooked and kernels removed
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 2 avocados, large diced
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced (while on vacation, I bought pre-cooked)
  • 1/2 C shredded cheese of your choice (we had cheddar on hand)
  • 1/2 C chopped cilantro
  • crushed tortilla chips for serving (if you want)

For the dressing:

  • 3 parts Ranch dressing
  • 1 part salsa
  • 2 T chopped cilantro
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Get a huge bowl out and pile on the lettuce.  Add tomatoes, corn kernels, scallions avocados, chicken, cheese and cilantro.  Give everything a huge toss.

In small bowl, mix dressing by combining all ingredients.

Pour over salad and toss.  I’m always cautious with my dressing at first.  Then I toss, taste, and add more if need be.  A word to the wise that this is a situation where you can easily add more dressing, but once poured, it’s quite difficult to add less.

Scoop into individual bowls, and top with crushed tortilla chips.

*A note – if you have picky eaters, or people who can’t stand cilantro, you could easily serve this taco salad a la taco night.  Place all the ingredients in bowls and give everyone a bowl full of lettuce.  Let your picky tablemates create the salad of their dreams and everyone goes home happy.

 

Pesto Week – Wednesday

Dear readers, welcome to pesto week here at A Glass of Milk.  I’m hoping your garden is bursting at the seams with basil, just like K’s.  Since she asked me what to do with all that green, we’re spending the week talking about my favorite herb, and my favorite sauce.  Which also means taking a trip down memory lane.  Enjoy the ride!

I’ve never been one for salads held together by mayo.  More often than not, I’ll find a way (hello Greek yogurt!) to swap it out and replace it with a much more palatable ingredient.  And somewhere along the way I noticed that people were using pesto to hold salads together, where mayo might have been used before.

It works beautifully mixed with chicken and placed in heaping proportions on this sandwich.

It keeps people coming back for more of this potato salad.

It’s fun and different when mixed with spinach and edamame in this perfect weekday lunch option.

And my all time favorite pesto salad is one I invented myself, with quinoa and almonds.  See below.

This above all.

To thine own self be true.

I absolutely love Ina’s green beans with crispy shallots, and find that it will complement just about anything you could dream of putting on your table.  So on a never-ending quest to eat more fruits and vegetables, I turned it into a salad, complete with pesto, toasted almonds, and quinoa. Now it’s a meal unto itself.

Now, I make a big bowl on the weekends, and finish it off for lunch throughout the week.

Know what you love, and build on it.  A simple side dish could become a meal, a salad, a casserole, and who knows what else?

Let yourself get crazy in the kitchen.

To make Green Bean Salad with Almonds, Shallots and Quinoa, for a couple days, you will need:

  • 1/4 C sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 or 3 shallots, minced
  • 1 lb. haricot verts, trimmed
  • 1/2 C pesto
  • 1 C cooked quinoa (or other leftover grain like couscous or barley)
  • 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
  • A couple splashes of white wine vinegar, if you’re into that kind of thing

Saute the shallots in a tablespoon of olive oil till they are crispy, about 8 minutes.  Remove shallots and set aside, leaving oil in the pan.  Saute green beans till nice and hot, and as cooked through as you like them.  For me, that’s about 4 minutes.  Dump the almonds, shallots, green beans, and quinoa in a bowl and toss till mixed.  Stir in pesto and white wine vinegar, if using.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pesto Week – Tuesday

Dear readers, welcome to pesto week here at A Glass of Milk.  I’m hoping your garden is bursting at the seams with basil, just like K’s.  Since she asked me what to do with all that green, we’re spending the week talking about my favorite herb, and my favorite sauce.  Which also means taking a trip down memory lane.  Enjoy the ride!

Most people have figured out that you can put pesto on pasta with darn good foolproof results.  But pesto has a multitude of other uses, and one of my favorites is as sauce for a pizza.  Tomato sauce is so predictable.

Here’s my recipe for salami, ricotta, and tomato flatbread.

Here’s Giada’s recipe for heirloom tomato and basil tart.

And below is a look back at my flatbread with pesto.  I used arugula pesto for dipping, but any pesto works.

If you know how to utilize it, your freezer can be your best friend.  Say, for example, you have two friends coming over to watch the Real Housewives of New York reunion.  And you realize at the last minute, that if people come over at 7:00, they generally expect some kind of food.  That happened to me yesterday.  And my freezer was there for me.

Turn to your freezer and your problems are solved.  If you’ve stocked it correctly.  You see, every time you make some sort of sauce, or some sort of dough, every time you see meat on sale, stick it in the freezer.  Or at least, the leftovers when you’ve finished dinner.

Because that way, when you want to make an impressive appetizer, your problems are solved.  I had a batch of BC pizza dough left over in the freezer and some arugula pesto from the sandwich to top all sandwiches.  I also had these on the balcony:

So herbed flatbread with olive oil was born.

For it, you need

  • 1/2 recipe of Barefoot Contessa pizza dough (aka pissaladiere dough in Barefoot in Paris)
  • olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • chopped herbs (I used rosemary and thyme; 1 part rosemary to two parts thyme)
  • And some leftover pesto is optional for dipping

Preheat the oven to 450.  Roll out the dough and transfer it to a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal (so the dough doesn’t stick).  Poke the dough all over with your fingertips, to make it dimply, and drizzle with olive oil.

Sprinkle the dough with herbs and salt and bake for 12-15 minutes, until it is totally flat and crispy and wonderful.  As soon as it’s cool enough to touch, break it into pieces and serve with pesto.

This is the kind of food I could live on forever.  It’s simple, but not dumbed down.  It’s easy to make, and can be prepared in advance.  And then there’s taste.  This recipe packs so much flavor into each bite.  Who needs chips when you could be snacking on flatbread?

So far, project entertain and find excuses to make cakes and tons of other food has been coming along swimmingly.  I’ve got so much more to share in the days and weeks ahead.  Here’s to summer!

On Originality (Pesto Week – Monday)

One of the best things about cooking more and more is the level of comfort you have with certain dishes.  Over time, your favorites typically become embedded in your memory, so there’s no consulting of cookbooks, blogs, or pins before making dinner.  Such freedom also allows you to take your dishes in new directions, making small adjustments or substitutions depending on your mood.  This is where the real fun happens in the kitchen.  This is where original recipes are born.

table set

K asked me what to do with her overgrown basil plants this summer, and I’m afraid my answer here is anything but original.  Because my answer is make pesto!

That was also my answer when she asked what to do with her arugula.

I just really like pesto.  See #22 here.

I don’t blog about it quite as much as I used to because I blogged about it a ton back in the good old days.  My blog started in the summer, and in the summer I put pesto on everything.  We’re going to spend this week taking a trip back through memory lane, at least as far as pesto is concerned.  Starting with my recipe for homemade pesto, which I posted about one week into the life of this little blog.

Ready to get nostalgic?

Let’s go…

I ate the most delicious dinner last night.  And I’m sorry to do this to you, but you’re going to have to wait for the recipe.  Because before you can make it, you must master the art of pesto.  It is the easiest sauce to make.  Pesto is perfect for summer because at this point in the year, basil is taking over your garden (or your supermarket), and you do not have to heat a single pan to make it (okay, one).  This is my tried and true recipe, but you’ll need to experiment to find what works for you.

Pesto is another one of those dishes that has so few ingredients, quality really matters.  Real parmesan, fresh garlic, and extra virgin olive oil will make a big impact.

  • 2 C of basil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ C pine nuts (pignolis)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ C parmesan
  • zest of ½ a lemon

This recipe has a lot of ½ C of this, ½ tsp of that.  I think SJP said it best when she said, “Sometimes a girl just needs a half.”

Put your pine nuts in a skillet (I like using non-stick here) and set your burner on a medium flame.  Medium-low if you have one of those scary-industrial ovens.  I am totally jealous if you do.  I bet your kitchen is really nice.

Pine Nuts Before

Let them hang out for just a minute before you start shaking the pan, pretending like you are a rock-star chef.  Put them back on the flame, then toss them again when you feel like it.  Do this for just a few minutes until the pine nuts start turning brown, and releasing a yummy scent.  Turn off the burner.  Pat yourself on the back.

Pine Nuts After

Put the basil leaves, garlic cloves (yep, whole!), salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor.  I like my little food processor for this.  It’s easier to clean.  Pulse a couple of times to loosen everything up.  Then, add the pine nuts you toasted.  Pulse again.

Food Processor

That’s it.  Well, almost.  Stream in olive oil as you continue to blend your pesto.  When you’ve reached a consistency you can live with, add the parmesan.  Do not pulse it.  Just stir it in gently.  Because you are blending the cheese with some strong flavors, this is an instance where you can use Parmigiano Reggiano that the dear employees at Whole Foods have already grated for you.

You’re done.  You made pesto!  I bet it was easier than you thought.

I like to make mine in the morning and let it sit in the fridge throughout the day.  It lets that raw garlic flavor mellow out.

If you find yourself with lots of time and lots of basil, make a bunch of batches.  Keep it in your freezer with a thin layer of olive oil on top.  Defrost a batch when you are looking for a quick pick up to your pasta or salad.

Presto

Timing is Everything

Do you remember being little and comparing bedtimes with all your friends?  Sous Chef Lauren barely had a bedtime past third grade, and I was the one whose parents made sure the lights were off by 8:00 p.m.  8:30 at the latest.  (Full House was on at 8:00, after all.)

In high school I remember waiting for winter and spring breaks to roll around because I was allowed to be out with my friends later than usual.

The problem was no matter how late I stayed up, I was awake by 8:00 every morning.

I’ve always been a morning person.

lemon ziti

This crazy idea hit me earlier this year and I felt like an idiot for spending almost 29 years of my life figuring it out.  The idea is simple: If you’re tired, go to sleep.

Whaaaaaaat?

It’s a liberating premise, I know.  I’m not sure why I was still holding on to the idea that it’s cool to go to bed as late as possible well into my adult years.  Yes, it was cool when you were 8.  But after that, who cares?  Isn’t sleep something we all wish we got more of?

lemon ziti

That’s how I feel about mealtimes too. (Also this picture keeps flipping sideways no matter what I do, and I really want to show you this, and I cannot seem to fix it.  #bloggerproblems)

There are people from all over the map who will tell you it’s not really dinner if you ate it before 7:00, or 8:00, or 9:00 (I’m looking at you Barcelona).  Growing up we ate at 6:30 on the nose each night.  When I found out a friend from college ate at 5:00 I thought he was crazy.

What’s the big deal?

When you’re hungry, eat.

Giada’s lemon ziti makes for a glorious late lunch.  But maybe it was just a really early dinner.  I tweaked it based on years of mac and cheese experience, and loved the way it turned out–creamy without being heavy at all.  Lemon will do that for you.

To make it, you will need:

For the casserole:

  • 1 pound ziti, or other short-cut pasta, prepared according to package directions
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 3 1/2 C milk (she says whole, I used 2%)
  • zest of two lemons
  • 3/4 C grated Parmesan
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 C fresh chopped basil
  • 2 T fresh chopped thyme
  • 1/4 C lemon juice
  • 2 C shredded mozzarella

For the topping:

  • 2/3 C breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 C grated Parmesan
  • olive oil, for drizzling (I used a basil infused oil here–fun!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In medium saucepan, melt butter.  Stir flour in, and cook on low heat for about 2 minutes, just to cook the flour a bit.  Pour in milk, and add lemon zest.  Cook over medium heat, stirring pretty constantly, till thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.  This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Add pasta to a 9 x 13 casserole dish, and pour in lemon juice, basil, and thyme.  Give everything a good stir so the flavors are distributed throughout the dish.  Pour cream sauce over pasta, and let settle into nooks and crannies.  Depending on the thickness of your sauce, you may need to help this along by giving it a stir.

Top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan, and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until bread crumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling up to the surface.

Oh, This Meal

This gorgeous, gorgeous meal.

It sang of summer.  It was bright.  It was seasonal.  It was so easy.

You should make it, and soon.

Will you?  It comes together in less than a half hour.  It goes well with wine.

What other convincing do you need?

cherry tomatoes and fresh corn polenta

I’m not going to write a list of ingredients, nor will I bullet the directions for making this.  I’m going to write it like you’re in the kitchen with me.  Because I’d like you to be.  And because this would be a good one to make together.  It serves more than 2.  I liked it too much to say it serves 4.

To start, you want to get all the ingredients for this together in one place before you take to the stove.  This is something I never do, except when a recipe comes together in the blink of an eye, and you really have to.  So you kind of have to here.  Take the kernels off 2 ears of corn, and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  In an oven-proof stockpot, bring 3 C water or flavorful stock (or a combination of the two if you have one cup of stock left and don’t feel like opening another container, oh hello!) to a boil.  Stir in 2 T butter, 1 tsp. salt (but not if you’re going gung-ho with stock, then you can leave the salt out), and corn kernels.  Take 1 C polenta, and slowly whisk into boiling mixture.  Let mixture come to a boil again, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and stir constantly, till mixture thickens, about 5-7 minutes.  Cover, and place in oven to stay warm.  Then, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.  Chop a clove or two of garlic (whatever amount seems right to you) and let that heat up over medium heat, with a shake or two of red pepper flakes.  Add 2 pints cherry tomatoes, and get the heat going on high.  Let the tomatoes hang out in the skillet, stirring only occasionally, until their skins blister and pop.  This takes any number of minutes, and all I can tell you is that in one minute, you will be wondering if the blistering and the popping will ever happen, and the next moment, almost all the tomatoes will be ready to rock and roll.  Add a handful of julienned basil and stir tomatoes another minute or two.  You want about half of the tomatoes to have popped and be stewy messes and half to be intact.  Remove from heat, and grab polenta from the oven.  Make a bed of polenta in a shallow bowl, and top with cherry tomato mixture, Parmesan and more fresh basil.

On Udon

It is a well documented fact that Brother Bear was a picky eater in his formative years.  He survived on french fries, chicken nuggets, and chocolate milk.  He didn’t like pizza and I couldn’t fathom how that was possible for a child.  I actually still have difficulty trying to wrap my head around that one.  Who doesn’t like pizza?

udon panBrother Bear has since grown into a happy, healthy, 26 year old lad, who eats foods that young Brother Bear wouldn’t have ever deigned to go near.

udon bowlLike udon noodles.

Udon noodles are Japanese in nature, and made from wheat flour.  Healthy!  They are also quite tasty in this meal he frequently whips up for Wooden Nickels and Pops.  He got the recipe from one of our family’s favorite cookbooks, and has made it his own over time.  It calls for rice noodles, which I’m sure would be just fine, but BB insists on udon.  I’m not one to argue.

(my family is laughing now)

To make noodles for 4, you will need:

For the sauce:

1/4 C ketchup
2 T reduced sodium soy sauce
2 T lime juice
2 T brown sugar
1T rice vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

For the dish:

8 oz. udon noodles
1 T vegetable oil1/2 C diced red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C grated carrots
1/4 C chopped scallions
1/4 C chopped cilantro
1/4 C chopped, lightly salted peanuts

Prepare the sauce by combining all listed ingredients in a bowl.  Set aside.

Prepare udon noodles according to package directions, rinse, and set aside.

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add red onion and garlic.  Cook for just a minute, to take off that biting onion flavor.  Add carrots and cook another 30 seconds.  Remove pan from heat.  Add scallions, cilantro, and noodles, and toss till combined.

Portion your noodles into bowls, and top with chopped peanuts.

This is one of those beautiful summer dishes that is equally delicious hot, cold, or at room temperature.  Have it however you like it, or however the weather dictates.