Red Pepper and Yellow Squash Soup

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love summer squash. Another summer favorite–fresh, crispy, sweet red peppers. I’ve never really combined them before but now I found a way to make a delicious orange dish that takes the best of both.
Red pepper and yellow squash soup

Note that the balsamic vinegar is a bit overpowering right after the soup is cooked, but by the next day it really rounds out the flavors and deepens the soup. I liked this best served chilled the day after I made it.

Red Pepper and Yellow Squash Soup
Adapted slightly from a Gourmet recipe for Yellow Squash and Red Pepper Soup on Epicurious.

1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 pound yellow summer squash, sliced thin crosswise (about 3 cups)
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

In a large skillet cook onion in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. Add bell pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until pepper is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in squash and garlic and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in broth and bring mixture to a simmer. In a blender, purée soup until smooth and transfer to a saucepan. Cook soup over moderate heat until just heated through, stirring in enough water to thin to desired consistency. Add balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Serve soup with a dollop of greek yogurt and sprinkled with plenty of fresh cilantro.

Orzo with Summer Squash, Zucchini, and Almonds

My favorite part of having a successful summer garden a few years ago was the prolific summer squash plant. I eat summer squash like there is no tomorrow, every summer. I made this light-ish dinner this weekend to get through the heat (it’s great served cold). I also realized that my new apartment does not have a microwave, so I had to eat cold anyway :)

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A deep, seasoned cast-iron worked well for this recipe. Mine is about 12″ across and it fit everything, though I did halve the recipe. Start the orzo water and preheat the oven for the almonds before you start prepping the squash/zucchini. If the orzo is done way before the rest, that’s okay; be sure to cook it al dente so it doesn’t get too soft once you add it to the rest of the food. Toast the almonds then turn off the oven, since you won’t need it again.

Orzo with Summer Squash, Zucchini, and Almonds
Adapted from Orzo with Summer Squash and Toasted Hazelnuts on Epicurious. I’ll try hazelnuts next time. Also note the dice size of the zucchini and summer squash–smaller than you might expect, but it makes for better cooking time.

3/4 cup orzo
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/3-inch dice
~ 1/2 teaspoon salt
~ 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped
~1 tsp dried parsley
~1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
~2 teaspoons lemon juice (lemon zest would definitely be better)

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain orzo in a colander. While orzo is cooking, toast almonds (6-8 minutes).

While orzo and almonds are cooking, heat butter and oil in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini, yellow squash, salt, and pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in nuts, parsley, basil, and lemon juice.

Add cooked orzo to skillet and stir gently. If mixture seems dry, moisten with some reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I ate my leftovers with chopped up cold chicken breast and it was great together!

Chocolate Covered Almonds

My roommate left a container of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Almonds sitting on the counter not long ago. The good roommate that I am, I really *tried* not to eat a noticeable amount…but since she was away on vacation, I slowly decimated them. In my defense, they were unbelievably delicious! I decided I would make some of my own. I couldn’t find anything that was quite the same online but I did find a recipe that I think made an even better product–these with a hint of cinnamon to kick up the flavor. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: these will not last long if you leave them in plain sight.

Chocolate covered almonds

Even if you just sugared the almonds and didn’t coat with the chocolate, they make a devastatingly delicious snack:

Sugared almonds waiting for their chocolate

Chocolate Covered Almonds
Adapted loosely from this Chicago Sun-Times’ reader’s recipe for Chocolate Covered Almonds and this Serious Eats recipe, with chocolate tempering advice from David Lebovitz. I *highly* recommend reading DL’s post about tempering the chocolate because it makes a world of a difference–it’s not even worth making these if you’re not going to temper, in my opinion. That crunch is where it’s at.

1 1/2 cups whole almonds with skins on, toasted
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
A few pinches coarse-ground sea salt

1. In a medium saucepan, cook almonds, sugar, water, salt, and cinnamon over medium heat until the almonds have a dry, sand-like coating. Stir constantly to prevent caramelization.

2. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and cool in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. While the almonds are cooling, temper your chocolate. If you’re not sure how, see David Lebovitz’ instructions for tempering chocolate.

3. Once the almonds are cool, break off the huge chunks of sugar that have stuck to the almonds. Snack on them. Yum.

4. When the chocolate is at the right temperature, coat your almonds. You can EITHER dump the almonds in the chocolate, stir, and then individually separate; or you can dump the chocolate on the almonds, coat, and separate; OR you can do what I wish I had done, which is dip each almond in the bowl of chocolate on a fork and then place it on parchment paper on a different baking sheet. If you do the 2 easier/faster dumping techniques, you end up with giant clumps of almonds instead of individuals. Sprinkle the freshly-coated almonds with coarse sea salt.

5. Move covered + salted almonds to the refrigerator to set for about 20 minutes. In theory, they will not melt at room temperature (or in your hands) because of the tempering. Hurrah! Enjoy.

Healthy Granola Bars

Frisbee tournaments are my favorite part about summer weather in Boston. The heat and humidity–not so much! But one thing I’ve discovered this year is that they’re a great opportunity to debut some experimental “power” foods that will get us through the 8-hour long days of running (and pantsing each other, of course).

Homemade Healthy Granola Bars

There are a few traditional sideline foods–pickles, PBR, Cheez-Its, Pretzels, candy, the occasional Butterfinger bar to give to a player who drops a disc on a really key play…hehehe. I usually prefer to bring food with more protein, though, because the all-carbs thing makes me crash by the early afternoon. Mike invented some “energy bites” which I’ll probably make again soon and post, but last weekend I decided to try my hand at granola bars.

I don’t usually LOVE granola bars, but they are a great way to deliver a mix of nutrients with some great texture and taste. These came out really crunchy–very similar to the Nature Valley brand granola bars–but they softened (and improved, I think) after sitting in the sun in the Ziploc bag for a little while. They definitely helped power me through the day in small bits, though, and they’re made of (mostly) super-healthy, wholesome ingredients. No fake stuff here!

Healthy Cranberry Almond Granola Bars
Adapted from Epicurious’ recipe for Raisin and Cardamom Granola Bars.

4 cups instant oats, toasted first for about 10 minutes
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1.5 cups toasted raw almonds, chopped roughly
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp butter (3/4 stick)
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line your granola sheet (I used half of an 11×17 pan with thick bars as a result) with aluminum foil that hangs over the edges by at least an inch. Butter the foil. If your oats and almonds need to be toasted, do that first (oats for 10 minutes, almonds for about 6-8, or until they smell like popcorn).

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, cranberries, almonds, and cinnamon. Over medium heat, combine the butter, brown sugar, and honey. Once the butter melts, remove from heat and add vanilla. Combine all ingredients and stir until well coated. If it doesn’t stick together yet, add more honey and continue stirring.

Pour the granola mixture onto the foil. With another piece of aluminum foil, press down the granola so that it sticks together in an even layer. Remove that piece of foil and set it aside. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then press down again with the foil. CAREFUL–it will be hot! I used a towel around my hand when pressing down with the foil.

After completely cool, lift from pan using foil overhang. Cut into pieces with a sharp knife.

Chocolate Silk Pudding

Chocolate pudding on the porch with spring strawberries
Though I am not usually a pudding person, a craving hit me last week and I sprung into action. I made (who else?) Smitten Kitchen’s version and threw some fresh strawberries in at the end to spruce it up.

I don’t think I cooked mine for long enough because it was *very* liquidy, but I actually really enjoyed it like this.

Chocolate Silk Pudding
The recipe below is nearly verbatim from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for chocolate pudding. I loved it without adaptation.

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
~6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped roughly
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Combine cornstarch, sugar and salt in the top of a double boiler. Slowly whisk in the milk. Use a heatproof spatula to combine milk and dry ingredients. Place over gently simmering water and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Whisk occasionally to prevent lumps. After 15 to 20 minutes, when the mixture has thickened and coats the back of the spoon (without dripping), add the chocolate. Continue stirring for about 3 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

2. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a serving bowl or into a large measuring cup with a spout and pour into individual serving dishes.

3. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days. You can place plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding to prevent pudding skin or you can just cover the top of the serving dish with plastic wrap to encourage pudding skin–your choice.

Curried Chicken Salad with Almonds and Cranberries

Dried cranberries are, frankly, the bomb. I love them in everything. I eat them plain. I eat them on yogurt with blueberries and almonds. I eat them on cereal. I mix them in oatmeal with brown sugar. Earlier this week, I mixed them in with cashews for a tasty broccoli slaw. Today I did something similar–I mixed them in with curried chicken salad and almonds. I think they go particularly well with nuts because together the two give crunchy, soft, buttery, and tart. Mayo and yogurt do a great job of holding them together with a little creaminess.

Curried Chicken Salad with Almonds and Cranberries

This salad isn’t particularly fancy, but it is flexible. I added in some chopped raw broccoli stalks because they were leftover from another project and were getting wilty. I also snacked on a piece of bacon while eating this, so there’s that.

Curried Chicken Salad with Almonds and Cranberries
Makes 1 big serving. Note that my picture shows the salad without stirring together the chicken and romaine; it looks nicer that way! I promptly threw it in a bowl and stirred it up because I like it better mixed.

1 cooked chicken breast, chopped into evenly-sized 1/2-inch pieces
Handful dried cranberries
Small handful raw almonds, roughly chopped
2 stalks of broccoli (stalks only), chopped [optional]
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp plain yogurt
Pinch black pepper
Pinch salt
Pinch curry powder
Small pinch cayenne powder
1/2 head romaine lettuce, chopped into thin (1/4-inch) strips

In a medium bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except the romaine. Add more curry powder to taste (and salt, pepper, and cayenne thereafter). The curry should be the main flavor. Add the chopped romaine and stir well to evenly distribute the chicken salad.

Broccoli Slaw with Cashews and Cranberries

What amazing weather we’ve had here in Boston this week! Torrential downpour for three days last weekend, then summer-like sunny, clear days for the last three. Today–March 20, let me remind you–it reached 75. NUTS. Speaking of nuts, I bought some cashews yesterday and I’m super excited.

In the spirit of spring (I hear today is the first day?), I’ve been kicking into high-gear with my green-vegetable cooking. Last night I made Kale Chips for the first time and ate them so fast that I didn’t take pictures…so I’ll wait until my next post to share those :)

Today I made broccoli slaw to eat on my porch while sitting in the sun. Behold.

Broccoli Slaw with Cranberries and Cashews

I adapted Peanut Butter and Jargon’s recipe, which was adapted from The Kitchn’s. The modifications were largely out of convenience: I peeled my broccoli stalks and then chopped them roughly, since I just broke the food processor 2 weeks ago; I roasted/salted my raw cashew pieces while I was prepping everything, since I buy them raw; I accidentally used twice as many cashews as I was supposed to (from the original), and I only used half of the mayo/yogurt sauce since I don’t really need much at all (compared to original). NO MATTER: this was tasty. The recipe below reflects the amounts I actually used.

This would make a tasty side dish for some kind of chicken–I’m thinking grilled on a kebab. It also might work well for a picnic, though it would definitely need to be kept cool, since it has mayo in it (so maybe a backyard picnic instead of a hiking picnic). It’s a great example of experimenting with different combinations and just going with it. Just my kind of recipe these days….

Broccoli Slaw with Cashews and Cranberries
Makes about 6 cups

Adapted from Peanut Butter and Jargon’s recipe for Broccoli Slaw and The Kitchn’s recipe for Broccoli Slaw, which PB&J adapted from. To roast your own nuts, lightly coat in olive oil (I used 1 tsp for 1 cup cashew pieces), then salt, and put in a 350 F oven for about 10 minutes.

2 stalks of broccoli, stalks peeled, chopped roughly
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 dried cranberries
1 cup cashews, roasted and salted, chopped (use less if you’re not really into the nut thing)
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
3 Tbsp plain yogurt
1.5 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp sugar (omit if you prefer savory–I think I will next time)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground mustard

In a large bowl, mix together the broccoli, onions, cranberries, and cashews. In a separate small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, sugar (if using), salt, pepper, and mustard. Pour the dressing over the broccoli mix and stir well. Let rest on the counter for 30 minutes or in the fridge for an hour before serving. I discovered 2 days later that this doesn’t keep particularly well–the nuts get soggy–so it’s best eaten the day it’s made. Enjoy!