Family traditions: raspberry whip.

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Sometimes simple is best. Raspberry whip, with just three ingredients, is the example I present to prove that sentiment. This is an old-timey dessert reminiscent of meringue crossed with whipped cream, flavored with and colored by fruit.  My Nana often made whip for us with strawberries, sometimes with blackberries, but I think most who tasted all three will agree that the raspberry version is best. Raspberry whip is the most stunning shade of pink you’ve ever seen, light as a cloud, sweet, and both fragrant and flavorful from the berries. You can tell immediately that it’s made with raspberries but would have a difficult time believing the rest of the ingredient list is so short. My Mom made some this summer with wild raspberries I picked with my aunt, and the three of us discussed the origins of this clever dessert: three common, often plentiful ingredients (especially on a farm or in a rural area) can be stretched to feed many people. It wasn’t unusual for a single recipe of whip and a 2-egg yellow cake to be dessert for a dozen people, and then have leftovers. Call it frugal, call it humble, but I call it magical.

I remember having friends come for lunch or dinner at the farm and being excited to introduce them to raspberry whip. It still makes me smile to remember their exclamations over the airy pink goodness on their cake. The smell of whip makes me think of summer and family– if a grandchild brought Nana a small container of berries, it almost guaranteed whip for dessert that day or the following day, as soon as a cake could be made. We picked up on that quickly. I remember sitting on the porch with cousins who would eat all their whip first, in tiny bites, while others spread it out like frosting on a cake. I can’t make whip without hearing the sound of my Nana’s mixer going in the camp kitchen, feeling the scratch of brambles on my bare legs.

wild raspberries behind the barn in Maine

The truth is that you can use any ripe berries (though blueberries don’t do as well) and most kinds of stone fruit for whip. (To substitute other kinds of fruit for raspberries, just keep the ratios of sugar to egg to fruit intact.) My great-grandmother used to make whip with grated, peeled apple, and I’ve always meant to try one made with peaches. Juicy berries are okay, but frozen don’t work; ripe and fresh is key. To serve, any plain cake will work as a vehicle. Yellow cake is my favorite, but our most recent batch went on angel food cake and was marvelous. Especially with raspberries, I think a simple dark chocolate cake would be good. I’ve also found a scoop of raspberry whip with a handful of fresh berries on top is delightful, and accidentally discovered that it’s also pretty awesome with vanilla ice cream. A little bit of whip goes a long way, and pairing it with something with some creaminess (fat) or sharp acidity (fresh raspberries, strawberries, etc.) balances the sweetness beautifully.

It’s really exciting to share raspberry whip with you, such a special family recipe. I’ve always wondered how many people have tried it before? I hope you’ll let me know if you’ve heard of raspberry whip, had some, or if you make some after reading about it here. What’s your favorite fruit to use?

raspberry whip with angel food cake and fresh raspberries

 Raspberry Whip

  • 1 c. fresh raspberries
  • 1 large egg white*
  • 1 c. white sugar

To a large mixing bowl (I use the bowl of my stand mixer, but a large bowl and a hand mixer will work with some patience), add raspberries, egg white and sugar. You can expect the volume of ingredients to quadruple. With your mixer on high speed, beat until the whip is thickened and glossy. You can stop and scrape the bowl if you like, but it’s usually not necessary. When ready, the whip will form stiff peaks like a good meringue. Serve immediately, with cake or additional fresh berries (or both). Leftover whip will keep a day or two in the refrigerator but will not be as gloriously thick and airy.

*Since the egg white will remain raw, use the highest quality, freshest egg you can find. You can pasteurize your egg using this method if you prefer, though I never have.

Fig & orange jam.

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I have such strong feelings about fig jam. I mix a spoonful (okay, two) of fig-cardamom-rosewater jam or plain fig preserves into my breakfast oatmeal or yogurt nearly every day of the winter months. I adore my recipe for balsamic fig jam, my go-to hostess gift and one of the very first recipes I shared with you here. Those three preserves are such standards in my kitchen, I never think of experimenting with figs like I do with other fruit. Until this summer– I’ve tried two new recipes just this month and I think both may be worth sharing.

First, let’s talk about fig & orange jam. The combination of figs and oranges is classic; the sweetness of figs is tempered nicely by the acidity of citrus fruit, especially lemons and oranges, and this jam highlights just how wonderful that duo can be. To open a jar is to step into a fragrant orange cloud; I love that the orange scent and flavor is not lost in the sugary preserves. The jam even takes on a nice golden hue. Though intended to be sweet, it holds its own with savory pairings of cheese (gorgonzola is to die for) and roast pork, and I imagine it will be very good with duck, should I get the chance to use them together. My recipe was inspired by a marmalade, but I chose to leave out the rind and go the route of jam– I was worried that the bitterness characteristic of marmalade would overpower the delicate floral flavor of my figs. I think I made the right choice. The fig flavor here reminds me of a perfectly ripe cantaloupe and is absolutely put in the spotlight by the orange. I can’t say enough good things. If you’re looking for a fig jam that’s a little different, a little special, this might be it. How exciting to have a third fig treat to add to my winter breakfast rotation.

fig & orange jam

Fig & Orange Jam (adapted from Susan Can Cook)

  • 6 c. fresh figs, both ends removed, diced (I use Desert Kings)
  • 3 c. sugar
  • juice and zest of 4 organic oranges
  • juice of half a lemon
  • pinch of salt

Start the process several hours, and up to two days, before you want to cook your jam by mixing the figs and 1 c. sugar in a large bowl to macerate. This mixture can be covered loosely and left on the counter for a few hours, or refrigerated for up to 2 days.

When you’re ready to cook your jam, start a water bath and sterilize your jars and lids. Into a jam pan, Dutch oven or equivalent, add the figs, any extra juice and sugar from macerating, the remaining 2 c. sugar, orange juice and zest, lemon juice and salt; stir to combine. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat; cook, stirring to prevent scorching, until the preserves boil down and thicken. I prefer a looser set, like a thick applesauce, so I stop cooking mine when the jam thickens enough to fall in sheets from the side of a spoon. You can also tell the jam is a good consistency when you run your spoon in a line over the bottom of the pan and the “hole” you create fills in slowly. 

When you reach your desired set point, remove the pan from the heat. I like to leave some chunks of fig; you can (carefully) blend with an immersion blender if you’d like a smooth consistency. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars; wipe the rims of each jar carefully and affix the lids. Process the jars in a water bath for 10 mins.; remove to a clear, towel-lined counter and allow to sit untouched overnight. Check that each jar is sealed; refrigerate unsealed jars immediately. Properly sealed jars will keep in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a year.

Bleu cheese & bacon potato salad.

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My husband likes to joke that I am a Potato Salad Purist. If I had my way, potato salad would be potatoes, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and a splash of vinegar. I like to think of it as the Mashed Potato Theory in practice: if potatoes are paired with something creamy, something salty and something peppery, they don’t need any other help. (I am aware the vinegar is not addressed but willing to overlook it if you are.) A quick glance at Pinterest or a flip through any summer issue of a cooking magazine shows you that most others would not, apparently, fall into the purist category; I’ve seen potato salad recipes with everything from the hard-boiled eggs, celery and onions of my youth to yogurt and cucumbers, anchovies, salad turnips, pickled beets, pulled pork… In other words, the sky’s the limit for your ingredient list. I like to think I moved closer to this group of Potato Salad Adventurers when I put together the recipe I’m sharing today; it was a daring leap for me and one I’ll never regret.

Bleu cheese and bacon are not unusual ingredients in a potato dish, and they make for an absolutely mouth-watering, fairly decadent, rich and flavorful potato salad. My inspiration was a Cobb salad, and though you can see that I didn’t put all the traditional ingredients into my potato salad, I think you could continue my vision a few steps farther and get there. Cherry tomatoes would work, as would cucumber (I would take out any seeds first), and though I don’t care for eggs in my potato salad, they’d certainly get along well with the other ingredients. I serve this bleu cheese & bacon potato salad alongside grilled chicken or pork, generally, so I might not add chicken if doing that– but what a stellar dinner salad you could make if you did! Back to what I did put in my potato salad– the combination of salty, crispy bacon and tangy, crumbly, creamy bleu cheese (I used Salemville again) is just shy of perfection in a potato dish, and though this won’t replace my plain ol’ purist-style potato salad– it’s too rich to have often– it will become a special addition to the dinner table a few times each year. Every purist should become an adventurer now and then!

bleu cheese & bacon potato salad

Bleu Cheese & Bacon Potato Salad

  • 1 lb. red potatoes, boiled and cooled completely, preferably chilled
  • 1 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 slices of good-quality bacon*
  • 2 T. mayonnaise
  • 2 T. sour cream
  • 3 T. buttermilk
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • several cracks of freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 oz. crumbled bleu cheese
  • pinch of kosher salt (optional)
  • snipped chives or scallions to garnish

Start by boiling your potatoes in lightly salted water (for 25-35 mins., depending on the size), which can be done 1-2 days in advance, and should be done at least 4 hours before you want to make and serve this salad. I look for firm, relatively unblemished potatoes of a uniform size, so they cook at the same rate. I keep the potatoes whole and leave the skins on; I would recommend cooking them whole and peeling after they are cooked if you want them peeled, which isn’t necessary for most thin-skinned reds. I also recommend refrigerating the cooked potatoes until they’re needed, since cold potatoes are easier to cut and less likely to crumble.

When you’re ready to make the salad, start by cooking the bacon in a skillet or in the oven, whichever method you prefer, until crispy. Remove from the pan and allow some of the excess grease to drain on a wire rack or paper towel-lined plate. When it’s cool enough to handle, chop the bacon roughly into small pieces. Cut your cooked potatoes into 1/2″ cubes and put into a large bowl; sprinkle with cider vinegar and toss to distribute. Add half to three-quarters of the (ideally still warm) bacon to the potatoes and combine gently.

In a smaller bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and cayenne, if using. Add the bleu cheese and stir until combined, trying not to completely blend in the cheese; a few larger chunks are nice. Pour over the potatoes and gently mix until all potatoes are coated in sauce. Taste and add salt, if necessary, and maybe a little more pepper. Serve immediately, or cover the dish and refrigerate for up to a day. Garnish with the remaining bacon and fresh chives or green onions before serving.

*I genuinely felt like this was enough bacon, with a lot of other rich elements in play, but you could certainly add more. Just remember to add salt sparingly until you taste the salad with bacon, as some versions or brands are saltier than others. Alternately, leave it out, or serve alongside as a garnish, in consideration of your vegetarian guests.

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

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