Friday, June 10, 2011

Start-of-Summer Potato Salad

Growing up, I was always a big fan of potato salad. The creamy, artery-clogging mayonnaise based salads were always a part of summer family picnics. As a kid I was all about the mayo. I'd even bring mayonnaise sandwiches to school in my lunchbox. Thankfully, I've outgrown this preference. Even then though, my favorite potato salad was the light, vinegar-dressed one that my mother made in big batches to have on hand for dinner every single night once it got warm out. (And I'm not exaggerating about having it every night. Just ask my siblings.) Potato salad was a signal that summer was truly arriving and that the evening meal would be eaten out on the back porch looking at my mother's gorgeous garden.

This summer, I'm still taking classes every day, so it doesn't feel quite right. With the intense classes and the incessant rain, I felt like summer decided to take a year off. For a student, the year resets with summer, and I needed a reset. I was carrying way too much stress around with me, and stress can be heavy, especially to a certified weakling like myself (I've been known to open plastic bottles of orange juice with my swiss army knife when I just couldn't get the twist-top off). What better way to signal summer to myself than taking advantage of a rare day off by sitting in the sun and making potato salad?

This potato salad is somewhat of a cross between the mayo-type and vinegar-type salads. It's made with plain greek yogurt, lending it just enough creaminess while still maintaining the tang of vinegar that I love so much. Using fresh herbs that I picked barefoot in my mother's garden made me feel that maybe - just maybe - summer really was arriving after all.

I didn't follow a recipe, but rather just followed my tastes, which is my favorite way to cook. If you do the same, you'll always end up with something you love, rather than a dish made to suit someone else's palate. With that in mind, I've left my measurements approximate.


  • 1 quart new red potatoes 
  • 1 can (15.5 oz.) pinto beans
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped to the size you would want in your salad
  • 1 single server container plain Greek nonfat yogurt (I used Oikos - 5.3 oz)
  • a few tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • fresh lemon-mint (you can use regular mint too. I just happened to have lemon-mint in the garden)
  • fresh basil
  • Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Cutting them into halves or quarters should be enough with new potatoes.
  • Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender but still firm - about ten minutes - check early though, because you don't want mushy potatoes in your salad.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, mix together your Greek yogurt, vinegar, mint, and basil in bowl big enough to hold the finished salad. You can throw in the onions now too.
  • Drain the can of beans (you could always use your own beans prepared from dried, but I didn't have any on hand) and add to bowl.
  • Add the drained potatoes, toss, chill, serve, and eat.

I love this recipe because it's light, quick, and tastes like the start of summer. (Of course summer has a taste! A very, very delicious taste.) I had planned to add some asparagus to this too, but left it out because although I love me some veggies, my Dad's not such a big fan of asparagus, and I was cooking for my parents. I think it would be a wonderful addition. Fresh green beans would be delicious too. As a matter of fact, I'll probably add them in when I make another batch of this soon.

All gone!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sunshine and Herb Gardens

My fingers currently smell like cilantro and dill. This is a problem because it means that as I'm attempting to get my work done, I periodically stop to smell my fingers. This immediately turns me into "that-weird-girl-smelling-her-fingers". Luckily, I'm in the privacy of my bedroom and can breathe in the delightful smell without awkward staring, despite being apparently insane. This fantastic situation came about because of my wonderful mother. 

Lemon Thyme

One of the last times I was home, I casually mentioned wishing that I had fresh herbs at my apartment. The next thing I knew, we were planting herbs in adorable scrounged-up containers for my windowsill. So now I have seven different kinds of herbs on my windowsill and fingers that smell like cilantro and dill. 

Having fresh herbs on hand has been wonderful for the past few weeks. Everything I make tastes especially fresh and flavorful. The only way life could be better is if I could take advantage of the currently beautiful weather by sitting next to the pool, but instead I'll be studying for my midterm surrounded by the smell of cilantro and dill.

Oh well, it's all part of life as a college student, so back to work!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kinder Surprise Eggs - Childhood in a Chocolate Shell

Over memorial day weekend my parents took me on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Montréal and Québec City. Aren't they awesome? I certainly think so. Being in Canada, we were able to buy one of my favorite candies: Kinder Surprise Eggs. They're illegal in the U.S. because of the toy inside, so I only get them when I go out of the country or someone brings me one as a souvenir of their travels (But shhhh don't tell - it's illegal to bring them back). 
These chocolate eggs make me giddily happy and excited in a way that probably isn't normal. The bright foil, the soft layers of milk and white chocolate that form the egg shell, and - of course - the toy. My cousins and I used to get them in our christmas stockings along with clementines and chocolate coins and every time I eat a kinder egg I think of christmas morning with all the cousins trying to put together the sometimes complex toys. For me, the joy of Kinder Eggs is part delicious chocolate, part nostalgia, and part getting to act like a little kid again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Simple Roasted Grape Tomato and Artichoke Heart Pasta

This past week held some unexpected hiccups for me. I had planned on sharing another recipe with you soon after my last post, but my chronic klutziness decided that it didn't like that plan. I was walking into the living room carrying my open laptop, when suddenly I felt my foot catch on a cord and I tumbled forward. As cliche as it sounds, I really did feel like I was in slow motion as I tried in vain to keep my computer from crashing onto the hard floor. Not able to react in time, I ended up with a broken computer and a few unpleasant bruises. Bruises fade, but unfortunately, a MacBook does not possess the same power of healing. I honestly thought that poor Johnathan was done for (Yes, I named my computer. I know. I'm weird.). Luckily, the apple store was able to come to the rescue (for free!) but I went a week without a computer. It wasn't really that bad and was actually quite nice to be free of my technology tether, but it did disrupt my plans a bit.

Plus it rained all week. Which I declared "icky" because I'm a four year-old at heart.

So after that long and boring preamble it's time to get to what really matters: food!

This is one of my absolute favorite dinners. My original inspiration was this recipe from How Sweet It Is. It's quick and easy, which is important when the semester (or life) gets a little crazy. I eat variations of this probably at least once a week.

This particular night I was craving some of this pasta for dinner, and being the college student that I am, I headed to one of the build-your-own-salad places on campus to buy my ingredients using my meal plan. I picked up grape tomatoes and some red onions and baby spinach, and then my eyes fell on a bowl of artichoke hearts between the grated carrots and dried cranberries. I know that some people aren’t big fans of artichoke hearts, particularly the kind typically found at salad bars, but I was excited. I decided to try roasting them with the tomatoes for my pasta, and I’ve got to say that I’m glad I did. This ended up being one of my favorite versions of this pasta I’ve made in a while. This recipe yields one generous serving that is a perfect full dinner for a night dining alone and can easily be scaled up for a group.

Roasted Grape Tomato and Artichoke Heart Pasta


  • 1 chicken Italian sausage
  • 2 oz. dried fettuccine or linguine 
  • 3/4 cups grape tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup artichoke hearts
  • 1/2 cup sliced red onions
  • 1/2 cup sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • A few handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Preheat oven to 400°F
  • Toss the tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a bowl with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes until the tomatoes burst.
  • While the veggies are in the oven, boil the water for the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package
  • In a small frying pan add remaining teaspoon olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Add onions and mushrooms and saute until almost soft. 
  • Add the sausage to the frying pan. I just squeezed it out of the casing and broke it up with a wooden spoon, but if you feel squeamish about the raw sausage, but cut open the casing with a knife and cut it before adding to the pan. Heat until sausage is cooked through and onions and mushrooms are soft.
  • Add drained pasta, baby spinach, and roasted veggies to the pan. Saute until the spinach is just wilted. Dump entire dish onto your plate and enjoy!
The juice that bursts out of the roasted tomatoes and the olive oil creates its own sauce, but sometimes I add some anyway, like the Quick Yogurt Tomato Sauce that I ended up using on this particular batch of pasta.


This next picture is a variation on the same pasta that I made for my mother last week. I made it with rotini and without the artichoke hearts and it was equally delicious and was  perfect quick dinner for before my Mom had to run to her dance class.

I hope you enjoy this dish and make it soon. Let me know if you make any adjustments and how they turn out!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quick Yogurt Tomato Sauce

Two weeks ago I was in the middle of the frenzied wrapping up of the semester and preparing for my finals. I didn't have much time to make dinners and was eating a lot of frozen ravioli and other quick meals.  I was a little bored with it, so I decided to change it up a bit by making a sauce for my boring cheese ravioli that night.

As most of my meals start on nights I've got essays to write, I started by opening the fridge to see what I had. The first thing I grabbed was my tub of plain greek yogurt I always have on hand. I love it and I use it in everything from deviled eggs to a dollop on a bowl of soup instead of sour cream. The next thing my eye fell on was the half a lemon I had left over from the day before. Three tablespoons of the yogurt and the juice I managed to squeeze out of the lemon went into my little red bowl and got mixed together with a dash of "Italian Seasonings" that I found in my cupboard (one of those spice blends that McCormick makes). It definitely needed something more, so I looked in my fridge yet again and grabbed my jar of my favorite marinara from a local restaurant and added a quarter cup to the sauce. It made my boring meal of plain cheese ravioli so much more enjoyable.

the sauce in progress

  • 3 tbs plain greek yogurt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 cup marinara sauce 
  • Italian spices
Mix all together in a small bowl and enjoy over pasta with parmesan cheese. As simple as that!

I really enjoyed this as a pasta sauce and used it again the next night over a plate of roasted grape tomato and Italian sausage pasta. It’s quite tangy though, with the greek yogurt and the lemon. I found that with the parmesan cheese over top (I’m a liberal cheese-sprinkler) it balanced it out perfectly and reminded me somewhat of my favorite lemon alfredo, which is made with cream cheese. If you aren’t going to add the parmesan, I would recommend adding something to balance out the tangyness of the yogurt and lemon, perhaps increasing the sweetness by increasing the tomato sauce.

over the next night's pasta

This sauce was absolutely perfect for a night when I couldn't take much more than five minutes for dinner but wanted something interesting than plain cheese ravioli. It takes all of two minutes to put together, which is perfect for a busy college student during finals.

On a side note, I'm now on vacation, today was absolutely beautiful and I even got a little bit of a sunburn. Life is good.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I just want to be outside.

Finals. Oh how I hate finals week. Not only is it longer than a week, but now that it's finally nice out, I have to spend all day every day inside the library working on essays. I'd much rather be outside or in my kitchen making something delicious for my friends before we all part ways for the summer.
I've been able to do a bit of cooking, and a bit of experimenting with recipes, but I've mostly been too busy to even breathe and taking a break out of my essay-writing frenzy hasn't been possible. I can't wait until my final essays are all turned in and I can relax again (at least until my summer classes start).

Here's what I've been up to - in pictures! - other than essays, because somehow, I don't think you'd be interested in my research papers.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adventures with Yeast - Challah

For some reason, despite my apprehension and nervousness approaching the making of a yeast bread, I was convinced that my first attempt at making challah would be perfect, that it would be delicious and flawless. I guess that sometimes optimism is just overconfidence. My results weren’t bad, particularly the second loaf, which was actually quite delicious, but I’m still not completely satisfied and will definitely be making some (rather substantial) tweaks the next time I bake challah, which will hopefully be soon, as my mind is still occupied with thoughts of flour, yeast, and honey.

I had been dying to bake bread all week. It’s almost the end of the semester here and so of course I’m completely stressed out of my mind, because that’s apparently just the way I do things. I knew that working in the kitchen would just melt the stress away, and I was right. Kneading the bread felt therapeutic. The repetitive motion and the satisfaction of seeing the dough coming into shape between my hands did wonders for my mood – and probably my blood pressure too. The tantalizingly delicious smell of baking bread filling my apartment didn’t hurt either.

I did a search of the internet and somewhat randomly chose this recipe. I wanted to bake one loaf that night and the other the next day so my boyfriend could have fresh bread right out of the oven when he came over. I had chosen to make challah for him after all. To make this work, I separated the dough into two parts just before the first rising. I let one rise normally to bake that night, and I stuck the other in the fridge to slow the rising overnight. It worked perfectly. I just took the bowl out in the morning, let it warm, and proceeded from there to the shaping and second rising of the dough.

My first loaf turned out disappointingly dark with a crust that was just too thick and dark. It was okay, and straight out of the oven it was delicious. There’s quite a bit that can be forgiven when bread is at the stage where it’s almost too hot to eat and I ended up eating nearly half the loaf by myself for my dinner that night, for the most part discarding the too-thick crust.

My first attempt. Note the thick crust.

 Because my first loaf turned out darker and with a thicker crust than I wanted I reduced the oven temp to 340° from 375° and set my timer for 30 minutes for the second loaf, eventually taking it out around 35/40 minutes. I was determined to make this work. I also used an egg-white wash on the outside instead of an egg-yolk one like I did on the first. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure where the motivation came from for that one.

 This loaf turned out much better. No thick crust this time! I found it to be particularly tasty when ripped into chunks rather than sliced. There’s something very satisfying about just grabbing a large hunk of bread and eating it. Despite this improvement, I didn’t feel like I had achieved what I had hoped for when setting out.

A big part of my dissatisfaction with my results is that earlier in the day I had a piece of the absolute best challah I’ve ever eaten. It was sweet and tender, with the perfect flavor of delicate honey. It was one of those things that once you eat it, you become obsessed with and must have again. It is my mission to recreate that bread.

Overall, this was a good place to start, but you’ll see me back soon with my own version, to see if I can get closer to that elusive ideal.

The second loaf straight out of the oven

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Love Letter to a Rainbow

I'd just like to say that I love these bowls. 

The bright colors add a much-needed splash of color to my dull apartment kitchen, particularly in the winter, which I had thought we had finally escaped here in Buffalo, but today it snowed again. Go figure. I'm a girl who loves color, and these bowls are perfect for that extra little punch of brightness. Plus their nesting conserves a lot of space while offering me plenty of options. This is important when sharing a small kitchen with three roommates. They were a christmas present from my mother. She knows me so well. 

Now to go clean them up out of the sink...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Apple-Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

Sometimes I buy bananas that I have no intention of eating. Sometimes, I hide bananas in the corner of my counter until they’re brown and disgusting and my roommates think I’m crazy. The reason for this? Banana bread. Delicious, easy-peasy banana bread. Usually, my fruit turning brown isn’t something I get excited about. When these bananas began to brown though, all I could think of was banana bread. I wanted to make it now. Unfortunately, I’m in college and I have all these pesky classes getting in the way of my food obsessions. I had to keep putting it off, and these bananas got positively terrifyingly disgustingly deliciously brown. I’m sparing you a picture, because trust me, they were scary, and I don’t want to give you nightmares.   
           This recipe is adapted from this banana bread recipe from Simply Recipes, which is usually my go-to recipe for basic banana bread.  This time though, I decided to switch it up a bit, mostly because I was craving chocolate. To be honest though, when am I not craving chocolate? (answer: never)

            I haven't done too much experimenting when it comes to baking, so I was slightly nervous, but everyone who ate it (including me, who had more slices than is strictly healthy) declared it to be a resounding success. I love it when that happens. Half of why I love cooking and baking is creating something delicious for my friends and family. It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling that gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies inside. (And now I have an image of me with a stomach full of these. Good job Ruth. Good job.)
I tried to get an essay done while this was baking in the oven, but I kept being distracted by the delicious smell of baking banana bread. Let’s just say I didn’t get it finished that night.

These are my changes to the original recipe:

  • I only had two bananas so I cut up a medium apple and threw it in. I used an empire apple because that’s what I had on hand, but I can see any kind, or even two different kinds being equally delicious
  • I initially added a ½ cup of chocolate chips, but then the chocolate craving part of my brain (all of it) decided there should be more, so I sprinkled in a few more for good measure
  • I set my kitchen timer for 35 minutes because I’m paranoid about dry banana bread (which counts as a tragedy on the Shakespearean scale in my book) and I’m impatient and sometimes I like to pretend that my food will be done sooner if I set the timer accordingly. I checked it with a knife right in the center every five or so minutes and it was all done probably sometime around 50 minutes or so. (Sorry about the lack of a definite baking time. I’d go with 45 minutes as a guide for checking, but be prepared for the baking time to stretch to up to an hour)
  • I added some cinnamon and nutmeg because I had it on hand (for once, despite being broke and spices being so darn expensive) and I always love the flavors in my banana bread. I didn’t measure (sorry! I really need to get better at this), just sprinkled some in while mixing. Feel free to leave these out if you’re not so keen on the flavors.

Quality Control

  • 2 overripe brown bananas (mushed)
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (lightly beaten)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  •  cinnamon and nutmeg (to preference)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  •  pinch of salt
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (or a bit more if it strikes your fancy)

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Mush up the bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the melted butter. Add sugar, beaten egg, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the top. Mix in. Add flour and mix. Stir the chocolate chips and apple bits into the mixture at this point. Pour into a buttered or sprayed loaf pan. 
  • Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from loaf pan and cool on a rack. Slice, serve, enjoy, and share(or keep it all for yourself. I’m not judging.)

A Day of Baking

The two results of a day of baking.

   One Delicious:

Apple-Banana Bread and Rhubarb Cheesecake Squares

   The other not so much.

I promise I cleaned up as soon as I finished. I do have a dishwasher after all. (Okay, maybe after I had a slice of the banana bread. Just being honest here. Don't pretend you wouldn't do the same thing. There were chocolate chips in it!)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Green Monster in a Guinness Glass

Earlier this year I discovered Green Monsters, delicious fruit smoothies turned bright green by blending in veggies. My veggie of choice: baby spinach. It sounds awful, but they're absolutely delicious. You don't taste the veggies at all. Just the yummy yummy fruit. I was running low on baby spinach this time, so it's a bit lighter green than usual. I usually just throw in whatever I have in the fridge/freezer or whatever I feel like. This particular green monster has:
  • 1/2 frozen apple
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • handful of baby spinach
  • what was left of the Del Monte peach fruit cup in the fridge
  • lemonade (and a bit of iced tea)
  • a few ice cubes
Blended into smooth deliciousness and poured into a Guinness glass. 

I first used lemonade one day because I was out of my almond milk, and I loved the way it turned out. Sometimes if I remember to make it and put it into the fridge the night before I'll throw in a cup of iced tea for a little wake-up. I particularly like chai tea with the frozen bananas. 

Plus, it's fun to freak people out with the bright green color!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Impatience and Flowers

Spring has come early to my notebooks. There are little flowers scrawled in the margins. Tiny daisies, snowdrops, crocuses, along with all the unnamed flowers seeded only from the corners of my imagination.

I’m impatient for spring. For green. For warmth. True warmth from the sun, not radiators that always leave your toes cold.

The warm beautiful intermittent days like yesterday only tease me, make me even more desperate for lasting spring. This morning I woke up to see snow falling grey outside my window. It was more crushing than I had any right to be. Yesterday was beautiful. I walked in the sun and through the mud, arriving at my destination with a warm body and a cold nose. Today, everything outside is grey, so I’ll sit inside and draw lopsided flowers in my notebooks as my pen daydreams of spring.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been so completely impatient for spring before. I am aching for the warmth of spring to truly arrive. I feel like I’ve accumulated so much quiet tension in my skin over the winter. I crave the warmth and sun that will wash it all away and I’m impatient for it to arrive.

My poorly scrawled flowers sneak their way out of my notebooks as the pen in my hand (leaving inky blotches on my skin) wanders aimlessly. My coffee cup has sprung into bloom (roll up the rim to win lose) and my to do list has been engulfed in vines ornamented with lopsided trumpet lilies.

Even my skin can’t escape this early bloom.  Not paying attention to my pen I absentmindedly scrawled a flower on my pinky finger. Later, forgetting, I rested my face in my hand, leaving an inky smudge on my left temple.

Everything is coming out in flowers and poetry, and a line from a Great Big Sea song keep running through my head: “The days will wash away the nights when Summer (Spring) comes” I’m ready for this grey, cold, tired winter to be over.