Lilacs, Spring Salads, and Grilling!

This past Saturday we celebrated spring’s sunny and warm weather with a 15-mile bike ride to explore some neighborhoods around Seattle (our first bike ride since moving here nearly 8 months ago!) I gripped my handlebars until my hands ached as we tore down sloping hills and I lost my breath crawling up the steep climbs that made for breath-taking views when you turned around. The Seattle winter may be pretty depressing with all of the rain and darkness, but the spring certainly makes up for it.

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After dragging our aching bodies through the rest of the afternoon, we had our friends, Zack and Kelly, over for a casual Saturday night dinner. They brought us lilacs picked fresh from their backyard and a jug of fermented apple juice cider that they’d been brewing in their house.The smell of the lilacs reminded me of the lilac bush we had in our backyard growing up and the posed pictures my sisters and I would take, each of us leaning in to smell the lilacs while smiling blissfully.

With the coming of summer and the spring hues beckoning us to spend more time outdoors, I find the need for easy, delicious, and no cook (or minimal cooking) meals: salads that can wait for us in the fridge when we’re ready to come inside from a long day in the sun and food that doesn’t weigh us down more than the heat already may. I’m trying to amass a salad recipe collection that I can turn to in times of spring and summer need, but I still have a long way to go. Some of my favorites:

Summer Pasta Salad with Roasted Veggies (what we had with Zack and Kelly) – this recipe works great with summer vegetables, though ideally you would grill the veggies to save turning on the oven.

Chickpea and Couscous Salad (I make it with regular couscous or make it with quinoa!) – extra cumin, extra chickpeas!

Marrakesh Carrot Salad (my new favorite) – texture and flavor heaven; the perfect combination of sweet (from the dates), salty (feta), crunchy (pistachios), and soft.

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With warmer weather also comes the season for grilling! I have never been a grill master, but that is partly due to my lack of practice, having rarely used a grill. Since living in apartments we have not had our own outdoor space, which makes it tough to own a grill. Thanks to the shared rooftop deck at our current place (and shared grills), I have taken advantage of the warm weather and have grilled twice with great success!

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I started out by pounding my chicken breasts, both to tenderize and to ensure they were all an even thickness. If you have a thick center and thinner outsides, you’re going to burn or dry the outer parts before the inside is cooked. Afterward I marinated them for about an hour in a simple lemon, rosemary, and olive oil marinade. Marinading adds both flavor and tenderness to chicken breasts.

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After a short time in the marinade, I gathered my tools and fired up the grill. The results – juicy, flavorful, and something to be proud of.

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Lemon-Rosemary Grilled Chicken

juice and zest of one lemon

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

2.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix the ingredients for your marinade and set aside. Meanwhile using a meat mallet and a non-slip cutting board, pound each chicken breast under a sheet of plastic wrap until an even thickness. Be careful not to pound it so much that it rips apart.

Place chicken in a 9×13 glass dish and pour the marinade over tipping the pan or using a spoon to make sure it spreads over every piece. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and begin heating your grill to medium (about 350 degrees). Once the grill is beginning to heat up, oil your grill with a brush or a paper towel dipped in oil (use tongs to apply the paper towel). Carefully lay each piece of chicken on the grill and close the lid. Cook for five minutes. Flip the chicken and cook another 3-5 minutes, until at least 165 degrees in the middle. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute in the meat.

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Slice and serve hot or cold atop your favorite bed of greens or another side salad. Happy grilling!

Stove Top Personal Pizza

Surprisingly I didn’t miss the snow this winter. Maybe a little bit, a tiny little itty bit, but mostly not. Winter in Seattle is mild, dark, cold, and rainy for sure, but no half melted slush, cold feet traipsing through half-shoveled sidewalks, sleeting ice in your face, and below freezing temperatures that require wearing leggings under your jeans and trying to decide if you should change out of them when you get too hot at work. Thank you, Seattle. Thank you for your mild winter that is slowly morphing into a beautiful spring!

Spring is gorgeous out in the Pacific Northwest! There are colorful flowers of every kind everywhere and though there aren’t many plants and parks in the city, there are plenty of places within reach to see nature’s beauty at it’s best: Golden Gardens, Magnuson Park, and Discovery Park to name a few. Even just running around Green Lake in my own backyard is a beautiful sight that I am grateful for every day. (It’s usually not that blue, but I’ll take it!)

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It still isn’t hot here yet, which I’m happy about, but the hot weather will be here before we know it, and with that the need to find meals that don’t require the oven (or at least not for very long). Last weekend, after returning from a run and feeling rather warm, I wanted to make a pizza without heating up the apartment. I had pizza dough and toppings ready to go and wanted to make something quick. Enter stove-top personal pizza! It goes in the broiler just a few short minutes at the end to brown the cheese (which I suppose you could totally skip) and then you quickly turn off the oven before the heat takes over. Perfect for a quick weeknight meal or a quick weekend lunch!

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Bon appetit!

Stove Top Personal Pizza

tennis ball size blob of easy homemade pizza dough* (see recipe below)

pizza sauce

cheese

toppings of your choice

Heat a large cast iron skillet or broiler proof pan over medium heat. Swirl a glug of olive oil in and let your pan heat up. Meanwhile roll out your dough on a floured surface until it is about a 1/4 inch thick. Make sure it is not too big for your pan! When the pan is hot, make sure the oil has coated the pan and carefully lay your rolled out dough circle in.

Now is the time to turn your preheat broiler to high. Allow your dough to cook in the pan for a minute or so, watching for bubbles to start forming on the surface. Using a wide spatula or tongs carefully flip your pizza and gently press down to brown the other side. You can also lift it up to check for doneness before flipping and give it a little longer if needed.

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Check out those bubbles!

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Top with sauce, cheese and other toppings and allow to cook on the heat another minute. Turn off your burner and carefully transfer the topped pizza to the oven to broil, keeping an eye out so the cheese doesn’t burn. Broil for 5-8 minutes, depending on your broiler and how well done you want your pizza. Remove, let cool, and serve it up! Be careful as it will be hot and fresh from the oven!

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If you totally want to skip the broiler you probably could, but don’t expect browning. You would want to just leave it on the heat long enough to melt the cheese and heat your toppings. You could also cover it with a lid to encourage melting, but you might end up with a steamed, soggy crust. Broiler is best and when I did it, it had hardly heated up so it didn’t make the apartment hot.

Happy spring! Happy eating 🙂

And if you want to make your own dough, here’s a recipe. Make ahead of time and store in the fridge for when you’re ready!

 

* Easy Homemade Pizza Dough – no kneading!

(makes enough for probably 6 personal pizzas) from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day

1.5 cups lukewarm water

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)

2 1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast and salt with water in a large bowl that has a lid. Add whole wheat flour and all-purpose and mix with a wooden spoon, using your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour if necessary (alternatively you can do the whole thing with a food processor or stand mixer). Cover the bowl with the lid, leaving it not completely sealed and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled in size. Refrigerate until ready to use (dough is easiest to use when cold). Dough can be used for up to a week after making it if kept refrigerated.

 

 

Seattle Apple Pie

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We made it to beautiful Seattle and in a week’s time we have toured apartments, visited family and friends, walked around a hilly but beautiful new city, and eaten delicious food. Surprisingly I have hardly cooked in the last three weeks. Between staying at a hotel our last week in Boston and now staying with my in-laws, I don’t even remember how to do meal planning and shopping as all of our food has been prepared by others (and for that I am grateful!) Eventually we’ll have to get back to real life, but for now I’m enjoying it. Continue reading

How to Cook When You’re Moving

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There are some days you just have to power through and know that it will be better on the other side. These are the days you dread, but you tell yourself it’s only a matter of time until it’s over, and as long as you will yourself to push on through, it will get done. Like packing. And moving.

The last time we moved we had a 1-bedroom apartment and the smallest Uhaul truck available to drive us a few miles from Boston to Brookline. We started packing the truck at 5 pm and had until 8 am the next morning to be out of our apartment. We were up until past 4 in the morning carrying out furniture, loading the Uhaul, boxing up last minute items in the apartment. Needless to say it was an exhausting night of tetris-packing our perfectly calculated amount of space. (Lucky I married a math man!) The worst part was once we drove the truck across town we had to unload it, the very same stuff that we just packed in the truck so neatly less than 24 hours ago now had to be unpacked and put away in the new place. Continue reading

Ming Tsai’s Spiced Ginger Cake

I always look forward to the summers with childlike glee. And not just for the sunshine, warm temperatures, and beach days, but for the summer produce. I think of the piles of emerald zucchini and fuzzy peaches at the farmers’ market stands. I pine for the days when there is fresh corn on the cob and sweet ruby berries. In winter or fall it always seems like summer weather and summer produce holds so much potential for summer magic – spontaneous backyard cookouts with fresh, colorful salads or that shiny, happy feeling when you see a beautiful sunset after the perfect day.

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So after all this talk of gorgeous summer stone fruits and squashes, why am I making a ginger cake in August? Here you are nearing the end of a hot and feisty summer season and you’re making what’s essentially a Christmas treat? Okay, okay, let me explain. Continue reading

An Easy Summer Treat: Frozen Grapes!

Ah summertime! Long warm days of sunshine, relaxed time at the beach, and cool ocean breezes – these are the dreams of summer. Well, sometimes those summer dreams can turn into too long, hot days, crowded beach, and absolutely no breeze! We began to miss the spring weather (or even winter) and long for cooler days ahead. However, I’m trying to remind myself that summer is worth celebrating, even if it’s hot! Let’s do the best to enjoy this much anticipated time of the year while we can despite the downsides. Continue reading

Post 52 – Lavender & Honey Creme Brulee

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It’s been two months. Two months that I’ve been looking at this vial of purple and gold crystals wondering what to do with it. I broke the stickered seal just to smell it and look at it, but I didn’t dare use it until I knew how. The small vial was too precious.

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I haven’t exactly been looking for recipes to use it, but it has been on my counter (and on my mind) all along, patiently waiting for me to make a move. I got this lovely lavender bee pollen sugar from R, my future sister-in-law, when she and Sam’s brother came to visit back in August. She knows of my love for unusual (challenging) ingredients and so she brought me this treat from Seattle’s Molly Moon’s. I thought about rolling sugar cookies in it, bejeweling their rims with colored crystals, but I didn’t want the lavender to leave black teardrops around the cookies as it burned in the oven.

Then I found a recipe for Lavender and Honey Crème Brulee where the lavender steeps in the cream just long enough to perfume it before being strained. The temperature is kept relatively low while the ramekins cook in their warm little water bath, making it possible to leave the lavender in without fear of burning, if you desire to do so. This wonderful little sugar contains the lavender and the honey already so it makes a perfect fit for this recipe. I just added a little more honey for an extra boost.

Using my standard creme brulee recipe and this one for inspiration, I went for it. I only wish dear R could have been here to sample the results. Next time we’re both in Seattle I’ll have to make some more.

As a note, don’t be intimidated by crème brulée! It’s all about slow and steady, calm and gentle (until the blow torch comes out. Then you should still probably be gentle. You’re playing with fire afterall!) Of course if you don’t have a blow torch, just eat these cooled as a custard.

OR do as I did with my first crème brulée and call your neighbor with the woodshop-sized blow torch and torch away. Good luck!

Lavender & Honey Crème Brulée

makes 2 large servings

1 cup heavy cream (or use half whole milk, half cream)

2 egg yolks

3 T. lavender bee pollen sugar

1 tsp. honey

Boil a quart of water and set aside. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a small saucepan heat the cream and lavender bee pollen sugar on low heat, stirring to melt the sugar. Heat just until the cream starts to get bubbles around the edges. Remove from heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes.

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In medium bowl whisk  egg yolks and honey until smooth.

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When the cream has finished steeping, pour it into a liquid measuring cup (for easy pouring) and gradually add to the egg yolks, whisking constantly and stopping near the beginning to be sure it is all incorporated. The key here is not to let the warm cream “cook” or curdle the egg yolks.  Whisk in the remaining cream. Strain the mixture with a fine measure strainer and return to the liquid measuring cup (making sure there are no lavender bits remaining.)

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Arrange 2 large ramekins in an oven-proof dish and divide the cream mixture between the two, being sure not to fill them too close to the top. Carefully pour the boiling water around the ramekins until it comes up about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the whole pan with foil and gently transfer the pan to the oven (don’t splash water in the ramekins!) Close the door and set the timer to 20 minutes. Check them after 20 minutes though they may need 5 minutes more. They should jiggle slightly.

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Carefully remove from oven, remove the foil and let cool just long enough to remove the ramekins from the hot water bath. Cool in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Top with sugar and torch with a blow torch if you have one.

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Sam and I shared this one. I liked the non-torched side because it stayed colder, but he liked the warm custard. Share with a friend if you like or just enjoy by yourself!