Welp, there it is. My first grass covered sneaker Saturday morning – the first of plenty. Cutting the grass is one of those chores that I not only don’t mind, but actually kind of enjoy, especially at the beginning of the season. I get so tired of the gray by the end of the winter. When all the green starts returning I kind of turn into this
(Just ignore the fact that these were taken in winter – dogs just get excited all the time – they don’t know any better.)
The spring air and the influx of color definitely give me an energy boost.
I feel the same way in the stores at this time of year. New green abundance shows up – asparagus, watercress, fiddleheads (here in the North East, anyway – idk about other parts of the country), artichokes, peas. So yum and inspiring! There are so many great ways to use these, in salads, pastas, dips, sandwiches. Today, though, calls for pizza. It’s a weekend afternoon, we’ve worked hard and now it is time for some tasty, healthy comforting spring on a plate. When you try this out, feel free to use your favorite pizza dough recipe,or alternative – cauli-crust, gluten free, etc – or use this one that I like. Hopefully you can eat it surrounded by green and flowers and with your grassy sneakered feet up.
About 10 thin or 8 large stalks of asparagus, woody ends cut or snapped off, stalks shaved or cut thinly
1 ½ cups watercress
2-3 oz prosciutto
3 radishes, thinly sliced
1 scallion, sliced
Several tbsps chopped fresh dill
Heat oven to 450. Stretch and/or roll out the pizza dough into a circle or rectangle and place it onto a lined or oiled pan. Brush some olive oil over the pizza then spread the ricotta over it. Crack some pepper all over the cheese. Next, pile on the asparagus and watercress. Place the prosciutto around on top of the vegetables then sprinkle on the dill. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned in spots. Remove from the oven and scatter the radishes and scallion over the top before serving.
Note: I have written this in a way that is meant to work in any kitchen with any supplies. If you have a pizza stone and peel or backyard pizza oven or some other perfect set up, then by all means use your best available method. This pizza (as any, imho) would be delicious on the grill.
Do you ever want something, but not really that thing, but kind of that thing, so you have to come up with a new thing? Like when it sounds good to be lounging on the beach in the warm sun with an over the top cocktail but it’s winter and vacation is months away so you sit under your strongest lamp with a rum and pineapple juice that has a crazy Lego thing cobbled together to approximate an umbrella? No? Just me? Ok, how about when you see an outfit combo that hits all your “THAT’S what I’m talking about” buttons but it comes with a price tag that hits your bank account’s “look away” alarms? You don’t give it up – you adjust and recreate. You take the spirit of the thing and drape it over your own interpretation. You work it for yourself. It was kind of like that when I came up with this recipe. I saw someone mention a smoothie with apples, lemon, celery, and parsley. That sounded intriguing, except for the smoothie part, so I tossed around the flavors until I hit on this non-chunky-liquid way to enjoy them. Bingo. Success. Those flavors, in the form I want. I am sure this salad would work well with your favorite fancy non-Lego-umbrella cocktail.
Apple Celery Salad
2 large apples, cored and thinly sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced (preferably on the diagonal)
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps whole grain mustard
Juice of ½ lemon
Mix together the oil, mustard and lemon juice with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Toss this with the apples, celery, and parsley. Taste to adjust salt and pepper.
Sometimes, you just need chocolate chips cookies, but sometimes, you need them to be in ooey gooey bar form. Then, sometimes, you need them to be in ooey gooey bar form for a lot of people because, really, isn’t it best to share the love? That’s where I was when I baked up with this mass of goodness. We have this wonderful organization in our town, http://www.arlingtoneats.org/
They provide food and meals and support for our neighbors who are experiencing food insecurity. I am lucky enough to have them allow me to be involved by providing desserts for their meals and some special occasions. One such occasion, their annual fundraising party, had me needing to bake up even more goodies than usual, thus my efforts turned to sheet pan baking. I have often made them my chocolate chip cookies, which are met with lip smacking appreciation, so decided to streamline the process by turning them into sheets of bars. While they are quite the same as the cookies, they are their own entity. While cookies are soft-crisp, the bars are mainly just soft and gooey – in the very best way, of course. I made up several of these sheet pans, but if you are treating a crowd but not a CROWD, one will do. I say that you get 60 servings, but those are fairly small squares. These could also make a nice base for a generous bar/ice cream concoction for 18 of your closest friends. Feel free to cut as it suits your need.
Serves 60 (or…)
Chocolate Chip Sheet Pan Bars
3 sticks of butter, softened
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 scant tsps salt
3 12 oz bags of semi sweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 375. Beat the softened butter with the 2 sugars for a minute or two. Mix in the eggs and the vanilla. Next, mix in the flour, baking soda and salt until just combined. Last, mix in the chocolate chips. Line an 18×13 baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Spread the cookie dough evenly into the pan. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the middle is mostly but not totally set. I understand this next bit is hard but it is best to let them cool completely, or mostly so, before cutting.
Has Spring finally sprung where you are? It hasn’t really here in New England, but it’s very close! It has teased us, poking a toe out here and there, calling a little “yoohoo!” from around a corner. I am optimistic, though, that it will come on out for real very soon.
While we wait, we eat.
This week I tried out some dishes that are new to me – one that I have wanted to tackle for a long time. Avgolemono is a Greek chicken soup that I have long wanted to explore but somehow had the impression would be difficult and challenging. Wrong. This was so simple and is definitely a come-together-quickly weeknight meal. It is tops for chicken soup comfort but has a twist of lightness from the lemon, just what a springtime transitional soup should be. It might seem tricky with the egg but, honestly, this was not an issue at all and the result is smooth and bright and rich. If you want to squeeze in one last soup of the season, this should be it.
1 ½ lb chicken breast, pounded or cut to minimize thickness.
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup orzo or rice
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cups baby spinach
Heat a soup pot over medium with a bit of olive oil. Salt the chicken and place it into the pan. Cook on one side for 5-7 minutes then flip, cover the pan, and cook another 5-7. Remove the chicken to a plate or cutting board then pour in a few tbsps of the chicken broth to deglaze the tasty cooked bits from the bottom of the pan. Pout in the rest of the broth and bring it all to a low boil. Add the orzo. Cook this for 8-9 minutes, until tender. While it is cooking, put the two eggs and the lemon juice into a blender. Spoon in a little of the broth then blend it all together. Slowly add about a half cup of the broth and don’t be concerned if some of the orzo slips in – it will help thicken the soup. Turn the heat on the soup down to medium low then slowly pour in the egg and lemon mixture, stirring all the while. Cut or shred the chicken. Add it and the spinach to the soup to warm and wilt. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
What do you crave? What treat do you go for regularly and wouldn’t want to give up? For many the choice would be something sweet – ooey gooey chocolate chip cookies, a rich cake or piled high ice cream sundae. While I like a good dessert, I could go on ok with my life if I never had one again. Cheese, however? Bread? Step back and hands off. That is my happy place. Add butter to that bread and make the cheese melty? Hello. Now we’re talking. This month, April, aka National Grilled Cheese Month, was made for me. Whomever it was who came up with this homage is brilliant. I bet if we met we would be fast friends. And a month is full of days – 30, in fact – so there are plenty of chances to enjoy all manor of grilled cheese variations. Since you will be looking for ideas in order to do the month justice, I am here for you. How about adding some sweet, smokey, tangy bbq chicken to your melted handful of joy? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, then, hit that kitchen and get it going.
BBQ Chicken Grilled Cheese
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded to a uniform thickness
8 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
8 slices of hearty bread – I prefer sourdough
1 cup ketchup
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1-2 tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup (adjust to your preferred sweetness)
2 tsp apple cider or white vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp mustard
1 ½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cracked pepper
To make the bbq sauce, mix together all ingredients from ketchup down to pepper. Adjust flavors as necessary to your liking. Heat oven to 375. Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish and place chicken breasts in it. Spoon a few tbsp of the sauce over the chicken ad flip it around to coat it all over. Cover the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, until there is no hint of pink left. Remove the chicken to a bowl and use two forks to shred it. Pour on the remaining sauce and mix well. To assemble the sandwiches, lay out the pieces of bread and place a slice of cheese on each one. Pile some of the bbq chicken on 4 of the pieces. Top with another of the bread/cheese combos. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Place whatever number of the sandwiches you can comfortable fit into the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown and full of melty cheese. Repeat with any you couldn’t fit in the first round.
For vegetarian: bbq sauce works very nicely with mushrooms – as does cheese.
The first day back to school after a vacation is always a tough one. The week of later bedtimes, days of freedom and lowered demands make the return to regular life feel a little grind-y (for me as well as the kids). To ease the transition I like to have something nice on those days. It might be a doughnut on the way to school or a special activity planned after. It always involves extra hugs (mostly for me) and a beloved dinner. This time that dinner ended up being mac and cheese. Now, I don’t want to brag (or maybe I do), but my home made mac and cheese is something to celebrate. It’s not difficult or complicated, just simple and delicious. I make many variations – with bacon and smoked cheese, or beans and pepper jack, for example, but for the small mac fans in the family, the folks effected by the school return, straight up traditional is the way to their hearts.
Here’s the rub, though – one family member with a lactose intolerance and another who has gone keto*. Welp, THAT complicates things. Luckily, the mac and cheese recipe is simple enough that it leaves time and room to make other components of the meal. This night that was teriyaki steak tips and a simple oiled and salted pile of spring mix (my absolute fave). Perfect. Everyone happy. Maybe even happy enough to get up a little easier for the next round of school. Find the recipes below.
Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb elbows or any short pasta, I like to use penne
4 tbs butter
¼ cup flour
3.5 c milk, warmed
½ lb sharp cheddar, grated
½ lb emmental or jarlsberg, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional, only for baked version:
4tbs butter, melted
2 c bread crumbs
Put your water on to boil. While waiting for it to boil is a good time to grate your cheese. If you bought time saving pre-grated, all the better. Pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cup of tea. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two so your cheese sauce doesn’t taste like flour. Add about half of the milk and whisk until smooth and then do the same with the other half. Cook this over medium until it thickens up. Meanwhile, the water has likely boiled so pour in your pasta. Check it after about 8-10 minutes. Very important – do not let it go mushy! It is ready when there is no hint of crunch but you still feel some *there* there. It shouldn’t all but disappear between your teeth. Drain when you deem it done. Back to the sauce – mix in the grated cheese a couple of handfuls at a time. When it is all incorporated, taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Pour in the pasta and mix until all the pasta is covered. If you are not baking, it is ready to be spooned out and enjoyed. If you are going for the baked version, preheat the oven to 375. Place the mixed mac and cheese into a casserole pan. Mix the bread crumbs into the melted butter and spread the mixture evenly over the mac and cheese. Bake this for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are nicely browned and the casserole is bubbly.
2 lbs steak tips (or turkey tips if you can find them)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
⅓ cup soy sauce
¼ cup maple syrup
1-2 inch piece of ginger, grated
Lightly salt the tips. Mix together the garlic, soy sauce, syrup and ginger. Toss the tips well in this mixture and let them sit for 10-15 minutes (longer if you have the time). Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the tips in batches, being careful not to crowd them into the pan. Cook for a few minutes on each side. The time will vary greatly depending on the size of the pieces, how well done you like your steak, or if you are cooking turkey tips. As you likely know, the turkey needs to beef cooked fully through – there is no rare option here. You have wiggle room with the beef. I will sometimes cut larger pieces for faster cooking, but usually cook ours 3-4 minutes per side (cooking on just 2 sides – they almost always have irregular shapes) and that gets us medium rare on big tips. You will just have to check and experiment.
*I mention keto, but this tips recipe is NOT. Said diner has relaxed his keto-ness some, so though this works for him, if you are following a strict keto diet, this is not for you. I haven’t tried it but you could try subbing the maple syrup with erythritol sweetener.
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