Fudgesicles.

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This week, I am whiling away the days on the lake in Maine. It’s tough: my Mom is cooking for us, there are cute dogs and cute nieces everywhere I look, the sun is shining, the card games are fun and fierce, and this is my view:

sunset at campMy post today is inspired by everything I love about summer: sun, water, cold treats and fun times. What symbolizes summer fun more succinctly than a popsicle? I still remember the exhilaration caused by the jingling, tinkling sound of the ice cream boat, which came around the lake, dock to dock, for a few years during my childhood. (I don’t have any memories of an ice cream truck, maybe because we lived in a small neighborhood? Or maybe boats were the norm in Maine.) I remember sticky fingers on the front step of my house after successfully campaigning for the last cherry popsicle in the box. I remember making grape juice pops in Dixie cups at my friend’s house and then taking them across the street to eat on the beach. Ice pops are summer and, as much as I loved cherry and grape, the ultimate pop has always been a fudgesicle. Because chocolate makes everything better! If you live in a neighborhood without an ice cream truck, or pine sometimes for the pops of your youth (’cause the ones in the stores now don’t taste like I recall… at least to my grown-up taste buds), do I have a treat for you. My fudgesicle recipe is so easy and so much fun to make! You can use any popsicle mold you have, or the Dixie cup route I used as a kid. You can use your favorite chocolate bar and experiment with flavors (I especially love the chocolate orange bar from Theo Chocolate) or stick with classic chocolate goodness. Whatever shape or flavor they may be, cold, creamy, chocolate-y fudgesicles are the way to go.

fudgesicle

Fudgesicles (adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

  • 2 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate, or 1/4 c. chocolate chips*
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 3 T. baking cocoa (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 1/2 c. whole or 2% milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla**
  • 1 T. butter or coconut oil

In a medium saucepan on low heat, carefully melt the chocolate, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Take time and care so it doesn’t burn. When it’s melted, remove from the heat and add sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and milk, whisking to combine. Return the saucepan to the stove and cook over medium heat, continuing to stir, until the mixture thickens (about 8-12 mins.) Remove from the heat again and stir in the vanilla and butter or coconut oil. Transfer to a Pyrex measuring cup or other refrigerator-safe container with a pouring spout. Cover loosely with plastic or a plate and refrigerate until chilled.

Fill your popsicle molds leaving a tiny bit of room at the top; the stick will displace some of the liquid. Freeze for 20 mins. and then remove, add the sticks, and put back into the freezer until frozen through. Enjoy! Happy summer!

*2 oz. is about half to two-thirds of most commercial chocolate bars. I’m not sure how milk chocolate would work in this recipe, but I’ve used a variety of 60-72% chocolate bars from Theo Chocolate and Moonstruck Chocolate (the dark chocolate chile variado is delicious), as well as dark chocolate purchased in the bulk section of my grocery store and Ghirardelli chocolate chips. I would not use a bar that has large chunks of fruit or nuts, not because the flavor would be bad, but because it would be hard to discern how much chocolate was in your 2 oz. portion. Have fun experimenting!

**I love almond flavor with chocolate and found that you can replace the vanilla with 1/2 tsp. almond extract with delicious results. I would recommend this only if you’re using a plain chocolate bar or chocolate chips; using almond extract with a flavored chocolate can (in some cases) result in a muddy, unpleasant flavor.

 

Cold soba salad.

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We’ve had an almost unprecedented stretch of warm weather in Seattle, over 90 degrees for about 4 days in a row over the weekend and well into the 80′s before and after. According to the local news this morning, it’s the third longest stretch of 80+ degree days in Seattle history. (Huh.) It’s true that it’s rare to have this kind of heat so early in the summer; we’re used to one week later in July or early in August, but early July generally finds us just squeaking out of the low 70′s, maybe taking long sleeves off in the afternoon. I’m not complaining– other than the general ugly brownness from lack of rain, I like the warm weather. The berry crops are early, sweet and plentiful; banner years are projected for tree fruit and other crops. There’s no humidity to speak of and no bugs, and I have been taking advantage of the chance to open the windows wide and spend some extra time reading outside. (Responsibly, with my new sun hat and environmentally-friendly sunscreen.)

The one aspect of hot weather I don’t like is how quickly my house heats up when I try to cook anything. I know Seattle heat pales compared to most of the country, but one week a year of high temperatures does not justify air conditioning or similar coping methods, and I just don’t like a stuffy house. I’ve taken to cooking early in the morning, various things that will hold and provide dishes for several days, and relying on the grill and fresh, raw vegetables to make up the balance. Last Thursday morning I woke at 5 and cooked potatoes for salad, pork for empanadas and soba noodles for this wonderful soba salad. I was done by 8 and happy with my efforts.

This is my very favorite cold soba salad to make. It’s a nice change of pace from pasta salad; it feels heartier, more substantial, perhaps because the buckwheat soba noodles are rich in protein, soluble fiber and various minerals. They’re also naturally gluten-free and have a pleasant, nutty flavor. Soba noodles cook in less than 10 mins. and hold up for several days in the refrigerator. For this salad, I like broccoli florets and snap peas, but you could also add or substitute bell pepper, carrots, green beans, etc. to the vegetable mix. The dressing is also nutty, from peanut butter and sesame oil, tangy from the rice vinegar and pleasantly salty from the soy sauce. This bowl represents my ideal summer dinner: crisp, sweet vegetables, tender noodles and a flavorful sauce. It’s can be on the table in less than 30 mins. or made ahead, like I did, ready when you are. Because it contains no dairy, it’s picnic-friendly, too! If you are looking ahead to a stretch of warm weather, make a batch of cold soba salad and take cooking dinner off your to-do list. Enjoy the sun instead.

cold soba salad

 Cold Soba Salad 

  • 6 oz. soba noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 3 T. soy sauce
  • 2 T. peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. canola oil
  • 2 T. honey
  • 2 T. sesame oil
  • 1 T. rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 c. broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces*
  • 2 c. snap peas, ends and strings removed
  • 1-2 green onions, chopped

Cook your soba noodles according to package directions and drain. Rinse under cold water and then set the colander over the cooking pot to drain thoroughly.

To make the dressing, whisk together the soy sauce, peanut butter, canola oil, honey, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes, if using, in a small bowl. Put the well-drained soba noodles into a large bowl and add the broccoli florets, snap peas and green onions; pour the dressing over the top and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate. The cold soba salad will keep well in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. If stored, toss before serving to redistribute the dressing. I like it best after about 2 days, well-chilled and with all the flavors nicely melded.

*The broccoli can be raw or quickly blanched. To blanch, boil 4 c. water with a pinch of salt; add broccoli to boiling water and cook for 1-2 mins. Remove and cool in a bowl of ice water, then drain completely in a colander.

Succotash salad.

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Succotash is one of my favorite side dishes. With as many variations as a potato salad might have, it most often refers to a warm dish made with corn and lima beans. I had never really had it until we started going to Kingfish Cafe, where they do it right, with corn, lima beans, bell pepper and lots of cream. Cream for days. It is so tasty and comforting. When we decided to have a Southern-themed July 4th barbecue, I knew immediately that I wanted to make succotash– but I wanted a lighter, summery version of the classic dish. After looking at a few recipes, this is what I came up with. I grilled the corn to give it some extra flavor and texture, added jalapeno for pop and replaced the cream with a bright tarragon vinaigrette. This salad will be a new summer staple in our house.

Let’s talk about tarragon for a minute. Tarragon is a misunderstood herb. I feel like I need to stick up for it a bit, tell everyone why I love it so much. It’s assertive, doesn’t play well with every ingredient, and its bold, brash anise flavor is too much for some to handle. There’s a reason you don’t hear about tarragon pesto all summer– a little goes a long way. I love the flavor of tarragon and use it every chance I get. At my house, tarragon has two best friends, chicken and mushrooms, and loves to relax with some vinegar, too. In the summer, when corn comes to town, chicken and mushrooms take a vacation and corn and tarragon hang out all day long. There is nothing like the sweetness of corn accented by tarragon. Throw in some other sweet or mild vegetables (potatoes, green beans, cherry tomatoes and zucchini, for instance) and you have a veritable party, which is the case with this succotash salad. Though tarragon is not a traditional ingredient in succotash, it works perfectly to provide a fresh, lightened twist on a classic recipe. When you make this succotash salad, don’t be surprised if it inspires you to invite corn and tarragon to hang out at your house all summer, too.

succotash salad with tarragon

Succotash Salad

  • 3 ears of corn, grilled or boiled, cooled and cut off the cob
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 lb. lima beans*
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced small (corn kernel-sized pieces)
  • 1/4 c. tarragon vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1 T. honey (optional)
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1-2 T. fresh tarragon
  • kosher salt & pepper

Start by cooking your corn; you can do so up to 2 days in advance. If you haven’t grilled corn before, there are two good methods explained here. I tend toward the foil-wrapped method and take mine out of the foil and onto the grate earlier than most to get some good char on the kernels. You can use olive oil, canola oil or butter and a little salt & pepper for the seasoning. If you’d rather boil the corn, salt a generous pot of water and cook for about 10 mins. When your corn is cooked to perfection, allow it to cool and then use a sharp chef’s knife to take it off the cob. If you’re making it ahead, I recommend storing it on the cob in the refrigerator and cutting it off the cob just before making the salad, so it doesn’t dry out.

To cook the lima beans, boil 4 c. water with a pinch of salt; add the limas and cook for 2-3 mins. They will be al dente. Drain and set aside to cool slightly, preferably in a colander so they drain completely.

To the same pot you boiled the lima beans in, add the butter and green onions. Cook the onions for just a minute or so, then add the boiled lima beans. Toss everything together and cook over medium-high heat for about 3-4 mins., stirring constantly, almost like a stir fry. Taste the limas and continue to cook if you find them too hard. I like them quite firm in this salad.

Add the cooked corn and the cooked limas and green onion mixture to a large bowl. Add the jalapeno and bell pepper and toss to combine. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey (if using), olive oil and fresh tarragon. (Start with 1 T. fresh tarragon if you used tarragon vinegar, slightly more if you used plain vinegar.) Pour the dressing over the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and toss again to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings; add the rest of your fresh tarragon if you’d like. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. I found this made a great leftover lunch for a few days after our barbecue; the flavors melded nicely and the vegetables held their shape.

*I used frozen lima beans and have written the recipe to reflect that. You could also cook dried limas and pick up the instructions at the point when the parboiled limas are cooked with green onions in butter.

Gooey oatmeal chocolate chip bars, aka “compromise cookies”.

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In our house, these oatmeal chocolate chip bars are a camping staple. In fact, I only make them for camping trips, because they’re so dangerously good I am afraid to have them around more often. With a buttery, crispy oatmeal shortbread base and a gooey chocolate-y top that has pockets of caramel-ly goodness (look at me making up adjectives), it’s difficult to stop eating them. Each year, we go camping at least once with our close friends and these are a must-bring item; within the group, they’re known as “compromise cookies”, a blend of oatmeal cookies and chocolate chip bars (so I can bring one universal favorite instead of two batches of treats), and they disappear fast. The container tends to stay on the picnic table the entire time we’re awake, for easy access.

By no means are compromise cookies restricted to campfire-side eating. In fact, the recipe is so straightforward, it would be a fantastic one to make with kids on summer break, perfect for your block party or play date. They are quite sweet and rich, so a small square goes a long way; you can get 24-32 bars from a single recipe. They freeze well, and may or may not make an incredible base for a s’more… I wouldn’t know.

gooey oatmeal chocolate chip bars (compromise cookies)

Gooey Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars (Compromise Cookies) (makes 24-32 bars)

  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 c. oatmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 oz. semisweet or dark chocolate chips, or chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan and set aside.

To a large bowl (you can use a stand mixer, but this can also be done by hand), add the flour, oatmeal, salt and brown sugar and stir until combined. Mix in the butter until you have a stiff, crumbly batter with an even consistency. Pour 3/4 of the mixture into your baking pan and press down with your hands or the back of a wooden spoon until it’s compact and evenly distributed. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the top and tilt the pan until it covers the crust evenly. Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips and then crumble the remaining 1/4 of your crust mixture over the top. Bake for 30 mins., until the top is bubbly and lightly browned.

Cool completely at room temperature before cutting. The bars will keep in a tightly-covered container at room temperature for 3-6 days and can be frozen in resealable plastic bags or freezer-safe containers for up to 3 months.

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Our most recent camping trip was to Deception Pass State Park; here’s the view from Goose Rock Summit, our big adventure exploration of this trip:

Goose Rock summit

And from the beach closest to our site:

West Beach

After spending some quality time in each place, we returned to the campsite to refuel with compromise cookies.

Summer lentil salad.

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In the summer, it’s handy to have a stock of salad recipes to make for barbecues, potlucks or quick meals. If the forecast shows a hot week ahead, I make up a salad or two to have for lunches or dinners so I don’t have to heat up the house with cooking. This lentil salad is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a good accompaniment to chicken, burgers, lamb kebabs, fish, really anything you may be grilling on a summer day, and it’s great on its own, too. I’ve adapted the recipe from Jose Andres, specifically from his wonderful book, Made in Spain. A few years ago, I visited my best friend in Virginia and we had a wonderful, memorable lunch at Zaytinya, one of Andres’ restaurants in Washington, DC. We sat on a patio near a big grill with a spit-roasting goat and ate the best shrimp I have ever tasted in my life, plus hummus, flatbread, vegetable-heavy pasta and more, with pomegranate cocktails in hand and smiles on our faces. I have been enchanted with Andres’ books and recipes ever since that day. This is the recipe of his I go back to more than any other.

The beauty of this salad, in comparison to one made with potatoes or pasta, is that you get the benefits of protein- and fiber-rich lentils in roughly the same cook time. It’s gluten-free, if you’ll be making it for a large group with different dietary restrictions, and mayonnaise-free, which is great for an outdoor meal on a warm day. It can easily become vegan– just leave the cheese out altogether– and it makes a lovely meal in a bowl with the addition of grilled chicken or fish. The vegetable components are flexible: if I have cucumber, in it goes, and the same is true with fresh green beans, cherry tomatoes, green pepper, scallions and peas. Any vegetable you enjoy fresh or lightly blanched will probably work well here. The ingredient quantities can be easily doubled, which you may want to do if you’re feeding a crowd.

Cost-effective, quick to make, crowd-pleasing fresh, hearty, delicious– these are all descriptions I like to hear when I’m looking for a recipe to try, and they all apply to this summer lentil salad.

summer lentil salad

Summer Lentil Salad (adapted from Made in Spain)

  • 1 c. dried French lentils (the little, dark green ones)
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, whole*
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 c. water
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. sherry vinegar (I like this one)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 T. minced chives
  • 2 oz. crumbled blue cheese or feta, optional (I like the Amish blue from Salemville)

Rinse and drain your dry lentils, checking them for any debris. (You don’t need to soak them at all.) Transfer to a large pot and add the onion (left in one piece, since you’ll need to fish it out later), garlic cloves, bay leaf, 2 T. olive oil, 1 tsp. salt and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 mins. Test a few lentils for doneness by cooling and tasting them; when you like how tender they are, they are done. Drain the lentils, *reserving the cooking liquid*, and put them in a large bowl. Add a few tablespoons of cooking liquid to the lentils so they stay moist; discard the onion, garlic and bay leaf.

Return the reserved cooking liquid to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and alllow the liquid to reduce, watching it very carefully so it doesn’t burn and you don’t lose too much, until you have about 1/2 c. left. Remove from the heat and cool at room temperature for about 30 mins. (This is when I chop my vegetables.) When cool, add 3 T. olive oil, sherry vinegar and 1 tsp. salt to the cooking liquid and whisk to combine.

Add your chopped bell pepper and minced shallot (as well as any other vegetables you plan to include, up to about 2 c. extra) to the bowl of lentils and drizzle with the dressing. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed; if refrigerated, bring the salad to room temperature before serving for the best flavor. Serve garnished with chives and blue or feta cheese, if you like. This lentil salad will keep in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.

*I put my whole, peeled garlic cloves on a cutting board and smash them lightly with the side of a knife. This breaks them open, which seems to help flavor the lentils, but leaves the cloves intact enough to remove easily when you need to do so.

Fresh strawberry pie.

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Fresh strawberry pie is a dessert you will make again and again. Once you’ve made one, you will have the most exhilarating sense of accomplishment, because it’s a gorgeous, shiny pie and so delicious. Even if you don’t bake often, this recipe will make you feel like you have serious kitchen chops– the word ‘prowess’ comes to mind– because it is straightforward and has very few, fairly basic steps. A child can help you place the whole berry layer or crush the berries for sauce. And, if your pie comes out a little extra-saucy (please refer to the picture at the very bottom of this post), it doesn’t matter one bit. In fact, I kind of like it soupy/saucy. I have nothing against baked strawberry pie, but I will choose a slice of this ten times out of ten if given a choice between the two. It’s bright, sweet and silky and the simple preparation makes an already wonderful fruit shine. In the summer, when berries are plentiful but the idea of running the oven for an hour or more is less than desirable, this is your answer.

To make a fresh strawberry pie, you will need very fresh, flavorful fruit. With no baking to caramelize sugars and a simple, spice- and fuss-free ingredient list, if the berries don’t taste good, neither will your pie. Pass up the fruit that’s white inside and hard enough to bounce off the grocery store floor, and don’t wait for the seedier, slightly winy fruit common at the end of the season– they don’t work here. When you find good berries in the local market, farmstand, u-pick field or, if you’re lucky, backyard patch, set aside a few pounds for your pie. The crust can be a traditional flaky one, baked ahead and cooled, or made with graham crackers or cookies. The rest of the ingredients are probably in your pantry now: sugar, water, cornstarch and salt. Normally I offer suggestions of spices, herbs or other fruits you might add, but here I will encourage you to stay simple, at least for your first pie. It is so perfectly good without additions.

If you’re patient with the cooking and chilling steps, your fresh strawberry pie will set up beautifully and stand clean and tall on the serving plate. I am not always patient, but the pie always tastes so good I don’t mind. I’ll eat my piece with a spoon and smile anyway. Perhaps the only drawback is that this pie doesn’t keep long; you can usually get away with one overnight in the fridge, well-wrapped with plastic or in a pie keeper, but it’s definitely one to make the day you intend to serve. Otherwise, you may have to eat more than one piece of fresh strawberry pie, to ensure none goes to waste.

Quelle horreur.

fresh strawberry pie

Fresh Strawberry Pie

  • 1 9″ pie crust, traditional flaky or cookie or graham cracker, baked and cooled*
  • about 2 lbs. fresh, hulled strawberries
  • 1 c. sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. cold water
  • 3 T. cornstarch
  • whipped cream to serve (optional)

First, sort out your pie crust. You can’t do anything without it ready. When it’s cool (or unwrapped), you can begin building your pie.

Next, a note on strawberries. When I most recently made this pie, I measured strawberries carefully so I could give a precise idea of how many to use, and found that 2 lbs. was pretty accurate, and that I used exactly half in the base layer and half in the sauce.  Two pounds is approximately 4 c., just shy of two quarts or four pints. (Depending where you buy it, if the fruit is even with the top of the box or rounded, a quart box holds 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. of strawberries; a pint box is half a quart.) The beauty of a fresh strawberry pie is that it can use a little more or a little less depending on the berries you have. Be flexible and don’t worry about exact numbers, at least with the berries.

For the base layer, you need fresh, hulled, whole berries, about a pound. Wash them only if they are muddy; you don’t want the excess moisture to sog up your crust. Begin placing the fruit in rings, looking for similar-sized berries; I prefer medium-sized berries for this purpose. They don’t have to be packed in, but should be placed closely. You can cut larger berries in half if you want, to help fill gaps. You can make a second layer in the middle, kind of a pyramid, but I usually keep my pie flat. Here’s how my base layer looked:

base layer of fresh strawberry pie

Now it’s time to make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, add the remaining berries, about a pound (slightly more or less is fine), and use a potato masher or fork to crush them. You want to leave some larger chunks but achieve the consistency of a thick puree. Stir in the sugar and salt. In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch into cold water until you have a white slurry; add to the berry puree and mix. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens, turns from cloudy pink to shiny red, and comes to a boil. (Be careful– the sauce can get messy as it bubbles, and it burns if it splashes your hand.) Lower the heat slightly and cook, continuing to stir, for two full minutes; this activates the thickening properties of the cornstarch. Remove from the heat and immediately pour or ladle the hot sauce over the whole berry layer. Work carefully but deliberately to cover the whole berries evenly with sauce. Move your fresh strawberry pie to the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. Remove about thirty minutes before serving; garnish with whipped cream if you like. This pie is best the day you make it but will keep for a day or so tightly-wrapped or in a pie keeper.

saucy, shiny delicious slice

*Use a crust you like to eat. It does not have to be homemade; you can buy a frozen pie crust and bake according to package directions or find a pre-made cookie or graham crust in the baking aisle. If you are making from scratch, follow your recipe’s instructions for blind-baking, making sure the crust is cooked thoroughly, and then cool completely. For me, for a traditional pastry crust, that means 20 mins. at 425 degrees with pie weights (dry beans) and then an additional 5 mins., without the weights, to brown. I cool for 30 mins. at room temperature before continuing. Click here for more information on blind-baking from The Kitchn.

Banana & peanut butter ice pops.

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A quick and fun treat for you today– banana & peanut butter ice pops! To celebrate my recent purchase of a Norpro Ice Pop Maker, I have been playing with flavor combinations (so far yogurt-, fruit smoothie- and sweet tea-based pops) and this is by far the best-tasting result I’ve had. They are creamy, similar to the pudding pops I loved as a kid, and just sweet enough to feel like a treat, but without all the added sugar and weird thickeners found in some store-bought pops. So good! I am notoriously picky about bananas but can’t get enough when they’re paired with peanut butter; I just love that sweet and salty harmony. This recipe is based on my favorite breakfast smoothie, with some honey thrown in because it’s a treat and a little extra milk to get the ideal texture. You need very ripe, soft bananas to get the right sweetness and consistency, but who doesn’t have a couple brown-spotted bananas on the counter needing to be used up, am I right? My smoothie was created to take care of those stragglers, and now I have a second exciting way to put them to use. The honey is optional, as it may not be necessary if you have very ripe bananas, but it adds such a nice flavor in addition to sweetness. I have also made the banana & peanut butter pops with plain, unsweetened almond milk in place of whole milk and had good results; they’re not quite as creamy, but every bit as tasty. So, buy a few extra bananas this summer and let them ripen up, because you’ll want an excuse to make these delicious pops.

banana & peanut butter ice pops

Banana & Peanut Butter Ice Pops (makes 4-5 popsicles*)

  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
  • 2 T. honey (optional)
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • pinch of kosher salt

Peel the bananas; remove strings and ends and break into 2-3″ chunks. Put all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until very smooth, about 3-5 mins. depending on the power of your appliance. Pour the mixture into your popsicle mold, leaving about 1/4″ of space at the top of each to allow for expansion, and freeze immediately. After about an hour, remove the pops, which should be slushy and not frozen through, and put a popsicle stick in the center of each one. Place the pops back into the freezer until they’re solid, about 2-4 hours depending on your freezer.

Frozen pops can be stored in the popsicle mold or unmolded and stored in plastic bags or sleeves.

*The Norpro tray makes 10 pops, but I usually make 4-6 at a time. To make a full tray (or close), simply double this recipe. If you don’t have the Norpro tray, no worries! Use shot glasses (a trick I learned from Paletas), any other commercial popsicle mold, Dixie cups like I used when I was 8, or an equivalent mold that’s neither too wide nor too deep.

Super Fun Bonus Tip: These pops are pup-friendly! On a hot day, your pup appreciates a cool treat as much as you do. Instead of buying commercial frozen treats for your dog this summer, make some of these: simply fill a few chambers of an ice cube tray with the blended banana and peanut butter mixture and freeze. Some treat-dispensing toys (Kong comes to mind) are freezer-safe and might work, too. Or (being very careful to never leave your pup unattended with a splintery popsicle stick!) you can do what I did and share:

Fenway sharing a banana & peanut butter pop

One, two buckles.

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square of delicious rhubarb-apple buckle

A buckle is a dessert that demands you invent new adjectives. Is it a pie-y crisp? Or a crisp-esque pan pie? Do you work “cake-y” into the mix? However you choose to describe your buckle, it’s very nice to have both pastry crust and crumb topping involved, and we haven’t even begun to consider the fruit filling. You can buckle with any number of fruits: blueberries, strawberries, apples, peaches, rhubarb, or a mix of fruits like I did. How nice to have different textures, flavors and tartness in each bite.

With a lovely pile of rhubarb (I was tempted to stack it like kindling) in the kitchen, I tried a buckle I’ve been thinking about for some time. I wasn’t interested in making a cake, didn’t have quite enough for a proper pie, so it seemed like just the right recipe for me. After a good experience with blueberries some years ago, I had been curious about further buckle experimentation; I adore the name, and hoped the treat resulting from my experiments would be as nice as its moniker. I was not disappointed. Without making it precious, a buckle feels old-fashioned and homey, with its combination of simple pastry crust, bubbling fruit and buttery crumble. It’s easier to make than a pie or cake, but has such interesting elements that it seems fancy. If you have fresh fruit, wonderful– your imagination is the limit for what you put into the filling. (Most recently, and pictured, I used a sweet-tart mixture of fresh rhubarb and Pink Lady apples; the blend provided complimentary but contrasting flavor and texture.) If you don’t have fresh fruit, consider using that last pint of peaches, plums or apples you put up last summer: I love using my precious pie plums. The golden brown crumble with pretty fruit peeking out, stained glass window-style, is nice to look at– and let’s talk about the taste. If you’re not a fan of butter, this is not the recipe for you. Each bite is first buttery, then sweet-tart from the fruit, then buttery again. You can add ice cream to the mix, but it doesn’t need any.

I’ve always been a fan of cobblers (I won’t pass up my opportunity to make one with the first blackberry harvest this year) and have recently gained confidence in my pie-making skills, but for now I am leaning heavily toward a Buckle Summer. It sounds fun and will taste even better, so what’s not to like? Here are my recipes for both fresh and canned fruit fillings, with crust and crumble enough for TWO 8″ buckles. ‘Cause you will want two. Let us know in the comments what you have used (or plan to use) in your own buckles. Here’s to Buckle Summer!

fresh apple-rhubarb buckle (top) and pie plum buckle (bottom)

Crust and Crumble for TWO! 8″ Square Buckles (adapted from Alexandra Cooks and Martha Stewart)

For the crust for TWO buckles:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 – 4 T. cream

For the crumble for TWO buckles:

  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces

To make the crust, whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, two forks, two knives or your fingers, work the cold butter (keep it refrigerated, already in pieces, until just before you need it) into the dry ingredients until you have evenly-distributed pea-sized pieces throughout. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with 3 T. cream and add to the other ingredients. Use your hands to mix until the dough just holds together; add the final 1 T. cream only if necessary, if your dough is too crumbly. Form a ball and wrap in plastic wrap (or a tea towel if you prefer) and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To make the crumble, whisk the flour, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon together in a medium bowl; use your fingers or a pastry cutter, etc. to work the butter into the dry ingredients until you have evenly-distributed pea-sized pieces. Refrigerate the crumble until you need it.

rhubarb-apple buckle

For a fresh fruit filling for ONE buckle:

  • 4 c. diced, peeled (if applicable) fresh fruit (pictured: 3 c. rhubarb and 1 c. Pink Lady apples)*
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 T. lemon zest

Combine all the ingredients and macerate at room temperature for at least 30 mins., or until crust and crumble are ready.

pie plum buckle

For a canned fruit filling for ONE buckle:

  • 1 pint of fruit in light or heavy syrup, drained (pictured: plums in light syrup)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest (optional)

Reserve the syrup for another use, if applicable. I use mine to flavor plain yogurt, or add it to a smoothie.

To assemble your buckles:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line TWO 8″ square baking pans with parchment, leaving an overhang on two sides of each pan if you plan to remove the buckles and cut them into squares. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and cut or break it into two equal amounts. Place one half between two pieces of parchment or wax paper and roughly shape it into an 8″ square. You do not need to be precise. (Alternately, you can flatten and shape it with your hands in what I call “pizza in the air” style.) Perfection is not important here; it is a forgiving, malleable dough and you can patch it, as necessary in the pan. Place the crust into the pan and use your fingertips to press it into the corners and out to the edges of the pan evenly. Repeat with the second crust.

Spoon your fruit filling over the crust, making sure it covers the crust evenly out to the edges of the pan. If you are working with macerated fresh fruit, scrape any juice and sugar left in the bowl over the fruit. Repeat with the second buckle.

Remove the crumble from the refrigerator and divide (you can eyeball, no need for measurement) in half. Sprinkle half over the fruit filling in your first pan, making sure to spread some out to each edge and corner. Use the remaining crumble to top the second buckle. Bake for 35-40 mins. Halfway through, rotate the buckles so they brown and cook evenly. Remove from the oven and cool before serving. Garnish a warm bowl of buckle with ice cream, or cool completely, cut into squares, and eat plain.

Notes: Of course, you can make one buckle at a time. Just make a half recipe of crust and crumble and choose one filling. You will need one 8″ square pan and the cooking time will be the same. Or, use a 9″ x 13″ baking pan for a full recipe of crust and crumble and *double* one of the filling recipes (8 c. fruit, etc.).

*Some possible fresh fruit combinations: blueberries with peaches; a mix of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries; plums with cherries. Any berry or stone fruit should work beautifully, alone or in combination with another fruit, or two. Just keep the total amount of diced fruit to 4 c. and you should be a-okay!

 

 

 

Grilled pineapple salsa.

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Salsa is a summer staple. When tomatoes are at their best, a fresh tomato salsa with jalapeno, onion, cilantro, salt and pepper can liven up just about any dish. Then you have your fruit salsas: mangoes, peaches, pineapples and strawberries make surprising, refreshing versions. I can both mango and peach salsa to get through the winter but, though they’re delicious and I love them, they don’t compare to the wonder of a salsa made with fresh, ripe, seasonal fruit. The spicier the better, I use fruit salsa as a condiment on fish tacos, grilled chicken and pork chops or eat it “plain” with crunchy chips or jicama slices. I also love any flavor fresh salsa with cottage cheese as a light lunch.

This weekend, a ripe pineapple spurred me to try a new take on fruit salsa: I grilled it! The pineapple itself was good but not great and I wanted to change the flavor enough to add some character to the salsa. Using half the regular-size pineapple cut into 1/2″ slabs, I charred it on the grill, about 5 mins. per side, before cutting it up and adding the rest of the ingredients. Yes, yes, yes. The blackened bits add a welcome bitterness, the sweetness of the fruit is enhanced by the cooking process and the salsa is just more interesting than it would have been with a raw pineapple. I will try the same technique this summer with peaches and tomatoes, particularly if I have produce that is slightly underripe or less than stellar. Always on the lookout for ways to avoid food waste, I think of fruit I’ve lost in the past because I was waiting for it to ripen and it molded or went boozy instead… Not this year. This year, I will grill that fruit!

It just so happens that I made some grilled pineapple salsa the same weekend I was thinking about which toppings to bring to a hot dog cookout, and I’ll have you know that it makes a fine addition to your hot dog, particularly in combination with salsa verde, grilled sweet onions and cotija cheese. The combination of flavors was tropical, sweet, spicy, salty and savory, reminiscent of a Hawaiian pizza and a really pleasant surprise, considering I had never combined those ingredients before Monday. Though I rarely eat hot dogs, I’m already looking forward to my next salsa-topped one. What’s your favorite way to eat salsa?

grilled pineapple salsa

Grilled Pineapple Salsa

  • half of a fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2″ slabs
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced (use less for a milder version)
  • 2 – 3 scallions, diced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • juice of half a lime
  • 3 T. fresh cilantro, torn or chopped

Each grill cooks differently, so use your best judgment for cooking time. I have a little gas grill; on medium heat, I grilled the pineapple slabs for 5 mins. per side and got nice grill marks and slight charring on the edges, which was just what I wanted. Test one piece if you think the cook time on your grill might vary, or watch the fruit carefully as it cooks.

When your pineapple is done, remove it to a cutting board and, when it’s cool enough to work with, cut each slab into a small dice, about 1/2″ cubes. You’ll have about 4 c. diced fruit, though the recipe is flexible enough to accommodate 3-5 c., depending on the size of your pineapple. Add the diced fruit and any juices released to a large bowl. Add the serrano pepper, scallions, salt and lime juice and stir to mix. Add the cilantro and toss gently to combine. (Alternately, add the cilantro just before serving, if you’re concerned about it wilting, but I like the flavor to meld with the rest of the ingredients.) Let the salsa sit for at least an hour so the flavors marry, and bring to room temperature before serving if you have chilled it. Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Pineapple pie, and some thoughts about my Gram.

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My Gram was positively cosmopolitan. My Dad’s mother, Gram lived in the city and had an inground pool. In the sunroom, the couch was not a couch, it was a divan, and it was next to an electric organ I was allowed to “play”. Her fridge was always stocked with Tab, and we could drink it with ice cubes in glasses that had that signature smell and squeak you only get from a dishwasher. Her giant television set in its fancy wood cabinet got HBO, so I could watch Fraggle RockTeen Wolf (the movie) and E.T. One summer I watched Grease 2 29 times at her house. It may have been the year my Mom was pregnant with my youngest brother, so the count is that of a not-quite 11 year old, and it’s shocking, in hindsight, that I would be indoors for that many hours during the summer… but that’s what I remember. She was a Red Sox fan and an active VFW member, and she took annual trips with Grampy B, her second husband (also cosmopolitan), to exotic places like San Antonio, Las Vegas and Branson, MO. We had epic, hours-long Christmas present openings at her house and a table piled with delicious food on Easter Sunday. Winter afternoons might mean a Yahtzee game at her dining room table and the huge, shaded back deck was a natural gathering spot when the extended family was together in the summer. Memories of time spent at Gram’s house are of lounging and having fun.

my beautiful Gram

We lost Gram five years ago Monday to cancer. The last eight months of her life were confusing and hazy to me, so far away; I remember thinking, and convincing myself, she would be fine because my aunts are nurses and all five of her kids closed ranks to make sure she was not alone, always with someone who could take care of errands, cleaning, cooking. It sounds bizarre, but I was more concerned about my Dad than I was about Gram, upset that he was having to deal with so much stress. Gram was tough and savvy, and I was removed from the situation enough that I didn’t realize a lot of what was happening. Her death was a relief, knowing that she was no longer in pain and her family wouldn’t have to worry anymore. The truth is that, for me, Gram’s absence has been more painful in recent months than it was five years ago. I wish that she could see my brothers, who are so kind and generous; both lived with her at various times and I know how much she adored them and they her. I wish that she could see my niece, and how my sister is as a mother. I wish she could see all the successes my cousins have had in their respective lives. What I would give for a day with her: I would ask all the questions about our family history, her childhood, my Dad as a kid, her travels, things I think about now and can’t ask. An almost constant one-sided conversation exists in my head; if only there was a way to know some of the answers.

But, as a disciple of Pollyanna, I try not to dwell on the what ifs, focusing instead on all the positive memories I mentioned just now. I can still remember her laugh and the specific, unique cadence her voice had when she was saying hello to her grandchildren. I remember the smells of her house: the cool living room, chlorine from the pool, the soap in her bathroom. I don’t usually think of cooking smells, because memories of my Gram are not usually kitchen-related, though she did have some signature dishes; I loved the pan-fried noodles but not the canned peas. For some reason, in recent years I have fixated on the memory of a pineapple pie she used to make. In my brain, it was a specialty of hers, something she made each year for Thanksgiving. I asked around to see if anyone in the family had her recipe and was unable to find it; it seems that few others even remember this pie. How strange, how frustrating, but there’s not much I can do about it and a memory is a memory. I decided this year to make a pineapple pie as a nod to Gram and turned once again to First Prize Pies as a guide. The recipe in FPP uses rum and lime juice, and I was confident that neither ingredient was in Gram’s pie, so I modified the recipe to make something I thought might be closer to hers. It baked up like a dream, smelled wonderful, and my first bite made me burst into tears. Though not exactly the same as what I remember, this pineapple pie had the same aroma and flavor as what I recall of Gram’s pie. My husband, who never tried Gram’s, absolutely devoured the pie I made, declaring it his new favorite. The pineapple flavor is most prominent, and the lemony egg mixture gives it a taste that’s reminiscent of lemon custard pie. It’s tart, refreshing and really good. I am sure that the recipe as written, with lime and rum and no vanilla, is divine, but my small changes turned a wonderful pie into a nostalgic pie, and that makes it really special.

If you were lucky enough to meet my Gram, perhaps you remember her laugh; maybe you spent time with us at a holiday table or took a dip in her inground pool. If you were especially fortunate, maybe you had a piece of her pineapple pie. Not everyone was so lucky, and for that reason, I am really happy to share this recipe with you. As sad as I am that Gram is no longer with us, it makes me feel better to celebrate her memory in small ways, and making pineapple pie is one. Please comment and tell us which dish makes you remember someone special to you.

pineapple pie

Pineapple Pie (adapted from First Prize Pies)

  • crust for a double-crust 9″ pie (I use the Classic Pie Crust from First Prize Pies and highly recommend it)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 c. sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 c. chopped fresh pineapple*
  • milk to glaze

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Have the dough for the crust made (if you’re making from scratch) or defrosted and keep it refrigerated while you make the filling.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs by hand until they start to froth; add the sugar, lemon juice and zest, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter with the flour; add the butter mixture to the egg mixture and stir. Fold in the pineapple pieces.

sunny yellow pineapple filling waiting to be covered and baked

Roll out the crust for the bottom of the pie, making sure there’s enough dough to overlap the edge of your pie plate by 1/4″ or more. Pour in the filling. Roll out the top crust with a similarly generous edge and place it over the filling; trim the edges until they are evenly just beyond the edge of the plate. Working around the rim of the pie, lift the bottom crust and fold the top crust underneath, pinching the two layers together as you go. When the crust has been sealed, decorate the edge with fluting or fork marks, etc. and brush the top lightly with whole or 2% milk. Cut steam vents in the top, at least five or six, in a pattern if you like.

Bake the pie for 20 mins. at 425 degrees; place a cookie sheet or piece of tin foil on the rack below to catch drips. (Though mine did not drip at all, it’s better to be safe than have to clean your oven.) Rotate the pie 180 degrees, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30-40 mins. until golden brown. (30 mins. was plenty for me.) When you gently shake the pie plate, the filling (as glimpsed through your steam vents) should not move. Remove the pie to a cooling rack for 30-45 mins. and then refrigerate for several hours to cool completely. Before serving, bring the pie to room temperature for best flavor. You can garnish each slice with whipped cream or ice cream, though I prefer this one plain. Enjoy!

pineapple pie like Gram used to make... with some changes to make it mine.

*Fresh pineapple will give you the best flavor, providing it is ripe. Out of season, used drained canned crushed pineapple or pineapple chunks. (But fresh is better.)

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