A Pasta Salad fit for Summer Heat

Memorial Day weekend in New England was HOT! It was at least 80 degrees on Sunday and Monday, which lent itself to Jack and I being unable to eat heavy meals. On Monday we decided that a pasta salad was in order because it's not too heavy and it's served cold.

I don't typically love pasta salads because they are either filled with mayonnaise (which I hate!), or drowned in salad dressing. I happened to stumble upon one though that fit the bill for both Jack and I. The salad involved lots of spring veggies and a roasted red pepper dressing. The dressing had about 5 ingredients in total, and was very light in heft but heavy on flavor.

Overall the Roasted Red Pepper pasta salad was a hit, especially with the addition of some bleu cheese. It was certainly filling, but did not make you feel overly full which was ideal with the heat we are experiencing.

I suggest you try this out for any hot summer night, and think that the peas could very easily be substituted for eggplant and squash, depending on the season.

What is your go-to hot summer night meal?

Roasted Red Pepper Salad
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 pound of small pasta- I used a spinach pasta
1/4 pound snow pea pods, ends trimmed
1/2 pound fresh summer peas, which yielded about 1 cup once shelled
3/4 to 1 cup Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette (recipe below)
1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a small ice water bath. Boil the pea pods for about two minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drop them in the ice water bath or strainer under a cold water facet. Cook the peas for about 10 minutes, scoop them out with a large slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice water bath as well (or cold water/strainer method). Drain both peas. Cut the snow peas into thin slivers.

Add the pasta into the boiling water and cook it according to package instructions. Drain and let cool, then toss in a large bowl with peas and Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette and cheese, seasoning to taste.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Makes about one cup of dressing

1 red bell pepper, roasted, skinned and seeded or the equivalent from a jar, drained- I used a pepper from a jar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (and up to 2 tablespoons more if you, like us, like that extra bite in your dressing)
1 tablespoon chopped shallot (about 1 small)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper

Puree the red bell pepper in a food processor or blender as much as possible, then add the remaining ingredients and running the machine until the dressing is silky smooth. Adjust the vinegar level and seasonings to taste.


An Ode to Asparagus Pizza

Asparagus season might be my favorite time of the year. It signifies the renewal of spring and warm weather, and shows us that winter did not conquer all green and delicious living things. The first sighting of asparagus at the farmer's market or farm stand really makes my heart jump for joy with all of the prospects that the veggie has.

One of my favorite ways to serve up asparagus is in pizza form. With the guidance of Deb, Jack and I have mastered pizza making from start to finish, including a way to incorporate this odd veggie topping. The blend of Parmesan and mozzarella really lend an otherwise crunchy vegetable, a smooth and creamy texture that melts in the mouth. This is one pizza recipe that you will be sure to bookmark for years to come.

A few notes about the pizza dough. We use Deb's recipe with the addition of whole wheat flour. It yields one very thin crust, one that we unfortunately just discovered burns entirely too easily on the direct heat from a grill. My suggestion is to use a pizza stone in an extremely hot oven instead of even attempting to grill. Another note- with an oven at the high temperature of 500 degrees, be sure to block off any sensitive fire alarms. Ours go off as soon as the oven even hits 375!

What is your favorite way to cook asparagus?

Asparagus Pizza
from Smitten Kitchen

1 recipe pizza dough- we use this one
1/2 pound asparagus
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 pound shredded mozzarella
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds black pepper

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (or highest temperature it can handle)

For the Asparagus: Use a vegetable peeler to slice the asparagus into thin strips, or if you are impatient, slice the asparagus very carefully, into thin strips. Mix the strips with olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl.

For the Pizza: Roll your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a cornmeal-dusted pizza stone or baking sheet. Sprinkle pizza dough with the Parmesan, and then the mozzarella. Place asparagus on top of the cheese. Bake pizza for 10 minutes, or until edges are browned and the cheese is bubbly. Note that the asparagus might be lightly charred, but that is okay! Remove from the oven, slice and eat.


Flourless Chocolate Cake in a Jar

On Mother's Day, Jack and I celebrated a different holiday than most- Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum in Roslindale. The Arboretum hosted hundreds of visitors who toured the lilac collection, walked throughout the park grounds, and picnicked with family, friends, and dogs.

Jack and I were tasked, or rather, I volunteered to make desserts for our friends who would be joining us. I have been spotting various recipes around the blogosphere for cakes baked in jars, and decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to make one. I must admit that I was a little unsure at first as to how to proceed- did I need a specific cake recipe, how full should I fill the jars, did I need to alter the baking time?

Finally, I decided I would bake a cake as though I were making it in a small Pyrex baking dish. I poured each mason jar about 1/3 of the way full, and the cake rose some, but not a lot, as I had chosen a flourless cake recipe. All in all, I was very pleased with the results, however, I wish that I had stuck with all 4 oz jars instead of some 6 oz and some 4 oz jars. These were perfect for a day in the park, and the cake itself was delicious. In fact, this cake has made it into the running as one of our many recipes for our wedding cakes!

Have you ever tried baking cake in a mason jar?

Flourless Chocolate Cake
from here, where it was adapted from Gourmet Magazine 1997

4-oz dark or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder (pref. dutch process)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and lightly grease. Or alternatively, spray 6 mason jars with cooking spray
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring with a fork until very smooth.- I used the double boiler method for melting
Pour warm chocolate mixture into a medium mixing bowl with sugar. Whisk to combine. Beat in eggs one at a time, waiting until each has been fully incorporated to add the next, then mix in vanilla extract. Sift cocoa powder into the bowl and whisk until well-combined.
Pour into prepared cake pan or pour a mason jar 1/3 of the way full. If using mason jars, place on a baking sheet for ease of moving from counter to oven and back
Bake for 25 minutes for cake made in pan, or 20 minutes for cakes in mason jars.
Allow cake to cool in pan for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a serving platter. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

*Note- I recommend using 4oz jars as they look more full when finished. Also, do not bake with the metal rims on the jars.


America's Test Kitchen- The Best Chocolate Chip Ever?

Being a big Twitter fan has led me to following many cooking sites- including America's Test Kitchen. Previously, I had known little about the company, but in the past few months, I have learned quite a bit about the company, especially when I had started receiving Cook's Illustrated in the mail. My first impression of the magazine was that it had wordy articles that took me days to read, and I was not an immediate fan. However, in reflecting upon what I had read, and what I am continuously reading in the magazine, my opinion has changed. I LOVE the magazine. I was especially in love with the Greek Yogurt comparison in the most recent issue.

America's Test Kitchen makes many claims about their recipes, and are offering bloggers the chance, via a Tweet on Twitter, to bake their "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie," and possibly win a chance to visit the actual Test Kitchen. When I saw this opportunity, I nearly jumped in my seat! What a great opportunity to visit the foodie scientists themselves!

I must admit I was skeptical about the recipe at first because I am a huge Tollhouse cookie fan- they are nostalgic for me. More recently, I became a Flour chocolate chunk cookie fan too. I wasn't sure if this cookie would outdo the others, especially because it involved more work with an extra step of browning the butter...

Friends, I am here to tell you, that this recipe ROCKS! The browning of the butter really makes these cookie delicious, and in the words of my taste tester Jack, there will never be another cookie recipe made in our house again. I think we have a clear winner in the chocolate chip cookie race!

Here's how to make these fantastic cookies, courtesy of CooksIllustrated.com.

1 3/4cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2teaspoon baking soda 14tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces) (see note)
1teaspoon table salt 2teaspoons vanilla extract 1large egg 1 large egg yolk 1 1/4cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (see note)
3/4cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

**A Few Notes:**
Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; the dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is browned. Unfortunately, I only have nonstick pans, and I just watched the butter very carefully, and was successful
Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry. This recipe works with light brown sugar, but the cookies will be less full-flavored.
For our winning brand of chocolate chips, see related tasting at CooksIllustrated.com