Monday, June 29, 2009

summer salsa

Guacamole is always my go-to party dish if I'm not feeling up for trying a new recipe. I never thought about it until recently, but I make it all the time, in all seasons. And that's not a bad thing—it can be made in one bowl and only has a handful of ingredients.

But sometimes the guac needs a companion. Usually, I reach for a jarred bottle of salsa, but a few months ago I watched America's Test Kitchen taste-test store-bought salsas and it kind of turned me off. It never occurred to me that store-bought salsa is cooked. Which...I mean, duh, Lisa. To me, salsa implies freshness. But all preserved things—even salsa—get boiled before they get jarred.

And really, how easy is it to make yourself? Very. It's just as simple as my beloved guacamole, so I am going to make an effort to make it more often.

I made this recipe with my mom in mind. She lives in Florida and every summer she gets heaps of mangoes from our uncles' overproductive mango tree. Over the years, she's come to really love mangoes and can make all kinds of things with them, in addition to eating them as is—the best way. But no matter how creative she gets (mango gelato and sorbet, mango cake, mango fruit salad) there are always a few oversized fruits sitting on the kitchen windowsill, waiting to be eaten.

When making salsa for our second picnic, I added a chopped mango into the standard tomato-onion-jalapeno mixture. Although the tomatoes were red and ripe, they weren't the fruity, juicy kinds you get later on in the summer, so I picked up a mango at the grocery store as well. My plan worked: the mango, which was delicious, helped elevate the somewhat flavorless tomatoes and made the salsa quite tasty.

Mango-tomato salsa
I regret not adding a bell pepper to this. I would add a chopped red or yellow pepper in the future and have added it to the recipe below.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

2 large, ripe tomatoes cut into small cubes
1 large ripe mango, cut into small cubes
1/2 red onion, minced
1/2 jalapeno (or to taste), minced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, minced
1 handful cilantro minced (optional--I left this out)
1 lime, juiced
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients except for the salt in a large bowl. Stir gently until combined. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately with tortilla chips, or you can refrigerate for up to one hour.

Friday, June 26, 2009

brownies are good (duh)

I feel a little silly posting a recipe for brownies. Either you have your favorite recipe dog-eared in a cookbook, or you can Google "brownie recipe" and get thousands of results. Does the Internet really need another brownie recipe floating around out there? Probably not, but I will say this. I made brownies for our picnic a few weeks ago and they were pretty killer--deeply chocolatey with a moist texture and a thin, crackled top. You know that crinkly, imperceptibly thin film that develops at the top of a good pan of brownies? I love that part.

These brownies do not have a lot of major selling points beyond their inherent deliciousness. They also make your house smell nice when they are baking (and are best eaten about 20 minutes after being taken out of the oven, when they are warm and slightly soft in the center). They do not contain surprising ingredients, fancy chocolate, or anything remotely special. They are brownies of the usual eggs-butter-chocolate-flour variety.

Sometimes you want a dessert with saffron foam or flaming pineapple or toast-flavored ice cream, and sometimes you just want a really good brownie. A brownie may not be as exciting, but I usually fall in the later camp.


Adapted from Ina Garten's outrageous brownie recipe. I cut the recipe in half and made many tweaks--apologies, Ina!
(Makes 20 large brownies)

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I used 3 Tbsp. cocoa powder)
3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 Tbsp. instant coffee powder
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract (I used rum)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup diced walnut pieces

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 by 18 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan.

Melt together the butter and chocolate chips on top of a double boiler. Cool slightly. Stir together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and cool to room temperature.

Stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and walnuts. Add to cooled chocolate batter. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, rap the pan against the oven shelf to allow air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Do not over-bake! (Don't yell at me, Ina!) Cool thoroughly, refrigerate well and cut into squares. Top with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

partly cloudy picnic

Our last picnic was so nice that we decided to do it again. This time, with ten more people, including two little girls and one very little dog.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't as cooperative this go-round. It was breezy and overcast, a little too cool for sitting outside. (What is up with June this year?) But we put down our blankets, unpacked the food, and made the best of it. A delicious array of things to eat can improve almost any situation, even a not-so-nice day.

There was pasta salad, and guacamole, and cookies, and conversation about who should play Barbarella in the upcoming remake. (I said Sienna Miller. Mike said Anne Hathaway. Your thoughts?)

Some people brought beer and wine, which I hid in a bag and poured surreptitiously. Our friends from Australia thought all of this was very silly, and I wholeheartedly agree, but open container fines are expensive! Later on, we overheard the park rangers—two very vocal women stalking about—telling people to put their booze in dark colored cups. I guess if you drink alcohol in red or blue cups they won't fine you? Strange, but good to know. Next time I won't be so paranoid.

As we ate and drank, the little girls, Rose and April, ran around in circles, thrusting handfuls of grass down the backs of peoples' shirts when they weren't looking. Grass escalated to raps on the back of the head with tiny fists and then the sky got dark and it started to drizzle and we decided to pack it up, only a few hours after we got there.

The picnic was not the day in the sun I imagined, but even imperfect gatherings have their merits. Being surrounded by Prospect Park's lush greenery, and good people, and good food was worth the trip.

After Dan and I got home it started pouring. Feeling full from lunch, I curled up on the bed in our dark bedroom and closed my eyes, listening to the steady beat of the rain outside on the air conditioner. Even though it's nice to surround yourself with people, sometimes it's really nice to be alone.

Prospect Park picnic #2
Lemonade, beer, and rose wine
Guacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips
Fusilli with chickpeas, tomatoes, and feta
Peanut noodles
Cherries, strawberries, and yellow watermelon
Cheese and salami
Chocolate-butterscotch chip cookies

Pasta salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and feta
My friend Anne brought this pasta salad, from Bon Appétit, to the picnic and it was eaten up by all—kids and adults alike. I think the dog even moved in for a bite. It's perfect picnic eating: tasty, portable, and not heavily slicked with mayo or oil.

3/4 lb. fusilli or other corkscrew pasta
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tsp. grated lemon peel
6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chopped plum tomatoes (Anne used halved grape tomatoes)
1 15- to 16-oz. can chickpeas, drained
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Additional chopped fresh mint

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Drain again. Combine 1/4 cup mint, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and lemon peel in large bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Add pasta, tomatoes, garbanzo beans and feta cheese. Toss to blend well. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared ahead. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours; or cover and refrigerate overnight, them let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.) Mound salad on large shallow platter (or in a plastic container). Garnish with additional mint.

Monday, June 22, 2009

the pink of perfection

If you read blogs regularly, it's only a matter of time before you start to develop crushes on people. Not in an obsessive, unhealthy way (hopefully), but in a "gee, I'd really like to be friends with this person in the real world" way. Which always leads me to wonder whether people really are the way they portray themselves on their blogs.

Since discovering Sarah McColl's Pink of Perfection about a year ago, I've developed that strange feeling toward her. Like a reassuring chat with a very good friend, her site is an instant pick-me-up no matter what she is writing about—sewing projects, throwing happy hours at home, or confessing the all-too-familiar feeling of being down in the dumps. Her writing is immediately relatable without being overly confessional or annoyingly precious, a rare thing in the blogosphere.

Basically, she sounds like a fun girl to have drinks with. But since I don't know her in the real world, the least I can do is make a drink in her honor. The Pink of Perfection is sparkling and effervescent, sweet but not too sweet, and of course, the girliest shade of pink. Made with cherry-infused vodka and sparkling pink lemonade, I'd like to think this drink would be Sarah-approved. Here's to her and her lovely, always-inspiring blog.

The Pink of Perfection
I wanted this cocktail to be light and refreshing, but if you'd prefer something a little stronger, substitute the lemonade for rose wine, or if you want to be even more decadent, sparkling rose or prosecco. This recipe serves one but can easily be scaled up to serve up to four people at a time.
(Serves 1)

A large handful of ripe cherries, chopped, pits and stems removed
1 shot of vodka
2 ice cubes
Sparkling pink lemonade (about 1 cup, or more)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cherries until they are well-mashed and produce juice. Pour in the vodka and ice cubes. Put the lid on the shaker and shake vigorously until the shaker gets cold and frosty. Pour the liquid into a glass through the strainer—it should be bright red. Fill the rest of the glass with pink lemonade and add the lemon juice. Stir and drink.

Friday, June 19, 2009


What do you bring when you go to someone's house for dinner? A bottle of wine? Some flowers? Yourself?

Unless someone wants me to bring something specific, I usually go the wine or flowers route. It's not that creative, but I really love getting either thing when people come over, so I tend to do the same. And because I like any reason to buy flowers.

If you want to branch out a bit in the gifting department, here are a few ideas for hostess/host gifts:

The NYT's Moment blog has some good gift ideas: sparkling wine, good bread, pretty Mast Brothers chocolate, or a giant jar of nutella. [via the NYT]

Bon Appetit's shopping guide is a reliable source for cool gifts. I am coveting the wooden ice bucket in this month's issue. [via BA]

If you're going the fancy tea route, Mariage Frères tea can't be beat. My mother-in-law gave us some after a trip to Paris and it is so fragrant and delicious. [via The Kitchn]

If you do play it safe and bring wine, The Kitchn also has some advice on choosing good, cheap labels from the big brands. [via The Kitchn]

The next time I make something edible, I am going with The Single Gal's homemade herb crackers or Smitten Kitchen's cheese straws. Who wouldn't want those? [via TSG, Smitten Kitchen]

What do you like to give? And get?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

summer lovin'

What could be better than wiggling your toes in the grass, feeling the sun on your shoulders, and eating fried chicken on a blanket?

The small window between spring and summer is the time of year when I feel most comfortable. June and July can be great--I love outdoor concerts, summer dresses, stoop sale season, and our new tradition of grilling down in Florida with our family over Fourth of July. But full-on summer can be really gross in New York. I hate feeling sweat drip down my back while waiting on a muggy subway platform and I really hate the city's distinct garbagey smell that wafts up around late August.

Even though late spring has been weirdly overcast and rainy here in New York, we've had a few sunny and breezy days here and there, and the fact that they are rare somehow makes them seem even more wonderful. It almost felt like a little vacation to laze about in Prospect Park a few weekends ago with some covert booze.

And some cheddar biscuits:

And spiked pink lemonade:

Which is exactly what we did with our friends Audrey and Will. I brought salad and dessert and they handled the lemonade, oven-fried chicken, and biscuits. And a frisbee, which we tossed about in an embarrassing fashion, probably due to the spiked lemonade. (Audrey has a heavy hand with the vodka.)

Prospect Park picnic
Spiked pink lemonade
Oven-fried chicken
Cheddar biscuits
Summer salad

Oven-fried picnic chicken
Audrey said this recipe, from Epicurious, tasted like Shake-n-Bake. Which is not a bad thing, per se. Even though the recipe says "fried" this chicken is really breaded and baked. If you're looking for greasy goodness, this might not be the recipe for you. However, it is totally picnic-worthy: very tasty and held up better than the traditional fried version would. The recipe even comes with transportation tips. Very helpful!
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
4 large garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the side of a chef's knife, then peeled
8 chicken thighs and 8 chicken drumsticks (5 pounds total), skin on
Cooking oil spray
1 1/2 cups plain dried bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

In large bowl, combine buttermilk and garlic. Add chicken pieces and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours. Arrange rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line large shallow baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking oil. In large bowl, combine bread crumbs, oregano, basil, marjoram, salt, and pepper; toss well to blend.

Drain chicken and discard buttermilk. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken in bread crumbs until well coated, then place, skin side up, on baking sheet. Spray pieces lightly with cooking oil. Bake chicken until golden and cooked through, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Transportation tips: If you cook the chicken just before leaving, you can transport it warm, uncovered, in a basket lined with foil and paper towels. If you make it a day ahead, let it cool, then refrigerate it overnight. Pack the cold chicken in a covered plastic container lined with parchment paper.

Monday, June 15, 2009

salad days

This is the time of year when everyone starts talking about "eating light." Of course, it's also the time of year when we tend to drink more fruity cocktails, and eat ribs, and stand in line for ice cream. I didn't say we are actually eating lighter, I just said we're all talking about it.

It's also the time of year when seasonal produce is abundant, making salads more of a joy than a chore to eat. When I go to the farmer's market these days I always want one of everything, more than our refrigerator can even hold. My greediness inspired the colorful, chopped up use-up-the-vegetables-before-they-spoil mixture you see above.

So here are two options for salads: one is the cutoff jeans and flip flops of the salad world--easy to throw together, perfect for potlucks and picnics. The other, a little more refined and elegant, is like salad's cute summer sundress equivalent--ideal for dressier occasions. Although, in my circles, cutoffs are pretty appropriate for any get-together. And the same goes for these salads.

Kitchen sink summer salad
This salad is infinitely flexible. Hate radishes? Leave 'em out. Love red onion? Add some in. I like using as many different kinds of vegetables as possible, but definitely change up the ingredients as the season changes.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

4 ears corn, shucked, and kernels removed from the cob
1 bunch radishes, sliced thin
1 avocado, sliced into cubes
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (try to get tomatoes in different colors)
3 green onions, greens and whites sliced thin
1 large handful of basil, sliced thin
1 cup feta, crumbled
1 1/2 lemons, juiced
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Place the vegetables, basil, and feta in a large bowl. Pour the lemon juice and olive oil over the ingredients. Stir with a spoon, gently tossing to coat the ingredients evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Summer melon with feta, basil, and cucumber
Adapted from Andrew Carmellini's Urban Italian. He suggests using Bulgarian feta cheese, or ricotta salata, or a sharp goat cheese. I used a French feta, which is a little more creamy and less salty and that was pretty good too.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

1 1b. melon, any kind (I used canteloupe), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

8 basil leaves, cut into strips, plus a few extra, for garnish
1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup feta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine the melon and basil in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes. Combine the cucumber slices and salt and refrigerate until they are very cold. Arrange the melon on a platter, and lay the cucumber over the top. Sprinkle on the feta, pour on the olive oil, and crack the black pepper (and red pepper flakes, if using) on top. Add extra basil on top. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

straw-baby shortcakes

Please excuse the pukey name, but aren't these the cutest mini strawberry shortcakes you've ever seen? I made them for our potluck a few weeks ago. I wish I could say I was clever and made them tiny on purpose, but I got a little mixed up as I tend to do when baking--producing bite-sized shortcakes instead of normal, biscuit-sized ones.

I didn't want to spend time rolling and cutting biscuits, so I made lightly sweetened drop biscuits from the Joy of Cooking. The recipe called for walnut-sized balls of dough, which seemed really small, and I wrongly assumed they would rise and spread out, becoming normal-sized biscuits.

I really wanted a large, traditional shortcake that could be split and half and filled with whipped cream and berries. I freaked out for a moment, thinking that my plan was foiled and people wouldn't want to eat a dessert so minuscule, but quickly reminded myself that people love tiny things. Chihuahuas, sliders, and newborn babies are all small and beloved.

So I packed up the shortcakes and the containers of cut-up strawberries and whipped cream and decided to wing it. When dessert time rolled around, I arranged the shortcakes on a big platter, then covered them with a layer of strawberries and dotted the whole thing with poufs of whipped cream.

And you know what--it was fine. The dish was pretty, even! Everyone helped themselves to a shortcake or two and some berries and cream and when you ate them all together it was a perfect little strawberry shortcake. Or straw-baby shortcake.

Straw-baby shortcakes
The biscuits are adapted from the Joy of Cooking's quick drop biscuits recipe.
(Serves 10 to 12 people)

For the shortcakes:
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
zest of one lemon (optional)
6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup milk

For the strawberries:
2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut into quarters or halves, if the berries are small
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint (basil or tarragon would also be nice)
1/2 lemon, juiced

2 cups whipped cream

Make the biscuits: Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and lemon zest. Add the butter and mix it into the flour, tossing the pieces with your fingers, coating and separating as you work. Do not allow the butter to melt or form a paste with the flour. Continue to cut in the butter until the largest pieces are the size of peas and the rest resemble breadcrumbs. Add the milk all at once. Mix the batter with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are moistened. With a lightly floured hand, gather the dough into a ball and knead it gently against the sides and bottom of the bowl 5 to 10 times, turning and pressing any loose pieces into the dough each time until the adhere and the bowl is fairly clean. The batter should be moist and sticky but not smooth.

Use a teaspoon to form walnut-sized scoops of batter (or make them larger if you don't want mini biscuits), use another spoon to scrape the batter onto an ungreased baking sheet, spacing the biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the biscuit bottoms are a deep golden brown, about 12 minutes.

To make the strawberries: combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. To serve, place the biscuits on a large tray (or a few on individual plates) and top with berries and whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the case for whoopie pies

I have a love-hate relationship with cupcakes. They may be fun and delicious to eat, but at work I write about new cupcake bakeries almost every week--or least it seems that way. When will we all get sick of them? Somehow, like leggings, cupcakes maintain their trendiness and will not go away. But as much as I grumble about this or that new cupcake franchise, if you give me a cupcake, I will shrug my shoulders and inhale it. And I guess that's how they remain so popular.

I think it is time to move on. Let's let a new dessert get totally and completely out of hand. I propose the whoopie pie. According to Wiki, whoopie pies are of Amish descent and got their name because "children (or workingmen)" would find them in their lunch boxes and "shout 'whoopie!'" I have a hard time picturing this, but it's a very nice story. Does the cupcake have a cute little legend? No.

A whoopie pie has all the things a cupcake offers: cuteness, portability, vaguely retro charm, and frosting. Even better, the frosting is nicely positioned between two layers of cake, so you can actually walk and eat a whoopie pie without getting frosting all over your nose. Even The New York Times says they are having a "moment," which usually means a trend is dead, but this time, I have to disagree.

As further evidence of why this should be the next big dessert trend, Mindi made pumpkin whoopie pies for our potluck the other weekend and people went ape for them. Ape, I tell you. They were sweet and moist and filled with cream cheese frosting. And they flew off the tray. I ate one and a quarter and could have gone for a second, but it just didn't seem dignified.

Pumpkin whoopie pies
Adapted from Rachael Ray.
(Makes 1 dozen)

1½ sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, 1 stick melted, 1/2 stick softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. plus 2 pinches salt
1 2/3 cups flour
4 oz. cream cheese, chilled
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, 1 teaspoon vanilla, the baking powder, the baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour. Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop 12 generous mounds of batter, spaced evenly, onto each baking sheet. Bake until springy to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, cream the softened butter with the cream cheese. Add the confectioners’ sugar and the remaining 2 pinches salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; mix on low speed until blended, then beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Spread the flat side of 12 cakes with the cream cheese frosting. Top each with another cake.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Hello! This week's links (and posts) are devoted to summer desserts:

Smitten Kitchen's lemon granita is almost too cute for words [via Smitten Kitchen]

David Lebovitz makes a luscious-looking panna cotta [via David Lebovitz]

Floating islands (meringue puffs) with lemon-scented custard sauce and raspberries [via BA]

Strawberries are starting to pop up at the markets again. Other than eating them straight out of the pint (my favorite way), here are three creative ways to use them:

Fresh strawberries with almond crème anglaise [via the NYT]

Rhubarb and strawberry compote with aged balsamic and ricotta [via D*S]

A retro Strawberry Delight from the always-delightful Homesick Texan [via Homesick Texan]

And one unrelated link: I am included in this month's Monthly Mouthful, a monthly poll of food bloggers on the Chew on That blog. This month's topic is "what seasonal summer ingredients are you looking forward to cooking with most?" Click here to find out what I'm excited about.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

beer (or wine) nuts

For last weekend's potluck, I wanted to make a new nut mix that would go well with beer or white wine. Instead of the usual savory seasonings I lean toward when making roasted nuts, I wanted bright, spicy, summery flavor. I thought about using citrus zest, and decided to coat peanuts with finely grated lime peel and cayenne pepper. For balance, I added a generous amount of salt and sugar.

When I took the pan out of the oven, the lime peel had browned so much that it wasn't really recognizable. Luckily, I had some extra limes on hand, so I added more fresh zest and juice, which brought the citrus flavor right to where I imagined it. A little extra seasoning and they were perfect—although maybe a little unusual.

When I put the peanuts out at the party, people started eating handfuls with a slightly puzzled look on their faces. "What's on these?" everyone asked. My friend Martha, who is always unfailingly honest, said, "At first I thought these were really strange, but now I can't stop eating them." If I decide to go into the nut mix business and market these, I will be sure to put that slogan on the package. Thanks, Martha. Other skeptics were quickly won over: in twenty minutes or so, two pounds of nuts disappeared.

And even though they did go down easy with a beer, like I had in mind, these nuts would be just as good with some white or rose wine, or lemonade, or anything really.

Chile-lime peanuts
Although you see lime zest in the seasoning mix above, I recommend reserving the zest until the end, as in the recipe below. (Makes 1 lb. of nuts)

1 lb. of unroasted, unsalted, shelled peanuts
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
1 Tbsp. salt, or to taste
2 tsp. chile powder or cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 Tbsp. olive oil
two limes, zested, one reserved for juice

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, and chile powder. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Pour the seasonings over the nuts and mix until they are evenly coated. Roast the nuts for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden and aromatic, but not brown. Remove from the oven and add the lime zest, tossing to coat. When the nuts have cooled a bit, taste one and adjust the seasonings if necessary. (I like extra salt and chile.) Just before serving, squeeze one of the limes over the nuts and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Is it rude to offer to throw someone a party and then have the party at their house? Kind of tacky, right? It wasn't my original plan, but the party honoree, our friend E, generously offered to host everyone at his place since Dan and I live in a shoebox. It's a cute shoebox, but having more than a few people over at a time is kind of pushing it. I think we've officially proven that eight people is maximum capacity. So it's not as if I just invited myself, Dan, and 11 people over for dinner at E's apartment. He offered.

But is it rude to then ask all of those people to help bring the food and drinks, even though the dinner was my idea, and I was having it at someone else's house? Maybe I'm being a little cheap or lazy. Let's just call it a potluck.

Luckily for me, and E, and everyone else, no one seemed to think my plan was rude or tacky, and dinner went swimmingly. I wasn't sure if everyone would be into cooking, but they all went above and beyond, preparing an impressive array of food and drinks, all homemade.

There were interesting dips and snacks:

Two summery salads, three kinds of sausage, and a hearty pasta to round out the meal:

Several rounds of Palomas, the perfect summertime cocktail:

And two homey desserts:

I'm now a huge proponent of potlucks. The food was great, but the best thing about the night was everyone cooking and mixing drinks and helping themselves to dinner in E's kitchen. And it's so interesting to watch people cook! I liked observing Colin's slow and deliberate method of layering tomatoes in his caprese salad, watching Mike mix Palomas in his neat, efficient way, and turning around to find a really wonderful pasta dish that Martha made seemingly off the cuff. It just sort of materialized, hot and steaming, full of vegetables and spicy sausage.

The whole night felt looser and more relaxed
like an indoor picnic. The main reason I throw dinner parties is to get people I love in the same room, but being the sole cook can make you feel disconnected from the party. I often find myself darting in and out of the kitchen just to keep up with conversation. As much as I like being in charge of a menu, sometimes it's nice to let other people help cook too.

I'm already thinking about my next potluck—anyone else want to offer up their house?

Bon voyage party for E

Chile-lime peanuts
Red pepper and white bean-garlic dip, pita chips, and crudite
Deviled eggs
Greek salad
Caprese salad
Fusili with turkey sausage, chickpeas, tomatoes, and spinach
Assorted farmers market sausages
Pumpkin whoopie pies
Strawberry shortcakes

A few tips on throwing a potluck, whether it's at your house or someone else's:

1. Have everyone email or tell you what they are bringing ahead of time to make sure you don't end up with six kinds of hummus.

2. Let everyone BYOB. Or, if you're flush with cash, provide the bar yourself and let everyone else bring food.

3. Don't get hung up on matching dishes or having everything perfectly plated. The fun of a potluck is that it's casual and doesn't need to be photo-perfect. (As seen above.)

4. If people can't (or won't) cook, be flexible and let them bring premade stuff. There's no shame in a store-bought cake!

Monday, June 1, 2009

dinner party on shelterrific

I've got a post up on Shelterrific on a super fast appetizer: lemon-oregano shrimp. And this isn't one of those empty Fast! Easy! Quick! Cheap! magazine cover promises—this recipe really, truly takes no time to make. It's the ideal thing to whip up as people are just sitting down for drinks, or, if you're not feeling that hungry it can serve as a lovely, light summer supper with some salad and bread on the side. Sold yet? Go check it out.


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