Pasta Salad for All Your Summer Party Needs

Is there anything more appropriate than a pasta salad to bring to a summer potluck, BBQ, or picnic? The answer is an almost definitive no. (I hear chocolate chunk cookies with sea salt flakes are also a fine addition to any summer event.)

Mixed

We all have our Fourth of July events to get to tonight, so I won’t bore you with too much exposition. Besides, you’ll need what little time you have to throw together this salad. With rich and creamy mozzarella, tangy and salty fried zucchini, and super sweet summer corn and tomatoes, this recipe creates one of the best flavor combinations I have experienced in a dish in a awhile. The simple ingredients really come together to make something more complex. And while the pasta definitely beefs up this dish, it is still very refreshing, and makes an excellent main or side dish.

Tomatoes

Browned Zukes

Enjoy outdoors, with family, friends, and fireworks!

To Mix

Pasta Salad with Fried Zucchini and Summer Vegetables

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 6-8 servings

10 ounces penne pasta, cooked

3/4 cup edamame, cooked

2 cups cherry or other small tomatoes, halved

2 ears corn, cooked, kernels removed

zest of 1 lemon

7 ounces burrata mozzarella, chopped

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup parsley

2 cups basil, coarsely chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

3 medium zucchini

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Zukes

Slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch thick slices. Heat the vegetable or canola oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, drop the zucchini slices into the oil. cooking for about 2 minutes per side, until they are golden to dark brown. Place in a sieve to drain, and then place in a large bowl, and pour the red wine vinegar over the zucchinis. Add a generous pinch of salt, and mix.

Browning Zukes

Combine one the parsley, one cup of the basil, and the olive oil in a food processor, and process until the mixture is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Saucey Basil

Combine the zucchini, sauce, and all remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve slightly warm or cool. Keeps well in the fridge in an airtight container for a day or two. 

Pasta Salad

Vaguely Asian (and Vaguely Healthy) Brussels Sprouts and Tofu

Well, well. Just when we all thought winter would never end, it not only came to an abrupt halt, but save for about ten days of torrential downpour it seemed to turn right into the beginnings of a sweltering summer. Where have the five to eight weeks of temperate weather that scream, “It’s gorgeous out–you should go for a run!” gone? It’s 10:30PM, the temperature just got below 80 degrees in the past couple of hours, I won’t comment on the dew point (but suffice it to say there is a 100% chance of rain in the next few hours), and all this to say, when did this happen and how did I not see this coming?

Health Food?

Alas, there is no winning with nature this year. It does not care how much time you need to create your beach-ready body (someone please reassure me that three weeks is enough). And of course with the extra months of cold this year, there were many extra servings of the comfort foods that everyone loves best.

Baked Brussels

But those days are over, and in keeping with the quickly changing times, I present you with a more nutritionally-minded recipe for the brief time between snowpocalypses and sweatpocalypses. It’s vaguely Asian, vaguely (maybe mostly?) healthy, and seems like the kind of dish that can fill you up and fuel you for not just one but two workouts. So get to it!

Sprouts

Baked Brussels Sprouts and Tofu with Asian Glaze

Adapted from Cookie + Kate 

Makes 4 servings

For the brussels sprouts:

1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt (a variety with a little texture)

For the tofu:

15 ounces extra firm tofu, drained and cubed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon tamari (you can use soy sauce instead but the fins product will taste saltier)

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the glaze:

1/4 cup tamari

3 tablespoons honey (I recommend using a dark variety)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sesame oil

3 teaspoon sriracha (use less if you are a wimp)

1 teaspoon fish oil (optional)

For the rice:

4 servings brown rice, cooked according to package instructions

For garnish:

sesame seeds (which you can toast for a few minutes on a pan)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brussels

For the brussels sprouts, combine all ingredients in a bowl and make sure the olive oil and salt are distributed well amongst the brussels sprouts. Spread the brussels sprouts on a baking sheet and set aside.

For the tofu, whisk together the tamari and olive oil in a medium bowl. Place the tofu in the bowl and stir to coat it evenly. If you want, you can leave the tofu to marinate for a few minutes…or you can go right ahead. Sprinkle the cornstarch on the tofu and mix to coat it evenly. Spread the tofu in an even layer on a baking sheet.

Tofu

Place the brussels sprouts and tofu in the oven–the tofu should be on a higher rack–and baked for 30 to 40 minutes, flipping over both the brussels sprouts and the tofu in the middle. The tofu is done when it is golden and the edges are browning. The brussels are done when they are turning golden brown–or you can do as I like to do and overcook them until they are turning a darker brown.

More Baked Brussels

For the glaze, combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until the sauce reaches a boil. Then reduce the heat so that the sauce is just between simmering and boiling, and let it simmer/boil for about 10 to 15 minutes, until it has slightly thickened.

Glazing

When all items are ready, assemble by spooning the tofu and brussels sprouts over the rice, and pouring sauce over the dish. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Brussels Sprouts and Tofu

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Is there any food that is as magically transformed by the oven as rhubarb? Perhaps you are more impressed by what the oven can do to meats, which can go from completely raw to completely blackened  or fall-off-the-bone delicious in this magical box. But though I have never tried raw chicken, I daresay its flavor is not as transformed as that of rhubarb when it enters the oven.

Crisp Pan

Rhubarb is a fruit (is it a fruit?) I had not even heard of until my college days in the Midwest. In a glass case in the only dining hall on campus, rhubarb pie was one of the constant offerings. And yet, until my last few weeks on campus, I did not realize rhubarb was the name of an actual ingredient in the pie. Rhubarb, I thought, must be the name of the stocky old grandmother who had invented this pie stuffed with some sort of grayish-pink filling. And while I’m not sure what I thought the filling was made of, I do know that my first taste of rhubarb did not send me running to that glass case for a slice of pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb

Why? Because my first taste of rhubarb was raw, a small bite I took as I was dicing it for a strawberry rhubarb pie that a friend had requested for his birthday dessert. I panicked. I thought I must have bought a bad bunch. Did I accidentally pick up some new genetically modified red celery? Surely this wasn’t something people would not only want to have in their desserts, but enjoy so much as to request it for their birthday. A few Google searches later, I was assured that this rhubarb was indeed supposed to have a sour, almost astringent taste before it is cooked, and I was able to put my pie in the oven without too much alarm. Though I’ll admit, I upped the strawberry to rhubarb ratio, for I still did not have faith in rhubarb. And then, the magic happened. What I removed from the oven was bubbling pie that smelled and tasted sweet but not too sweet–the rhubarb a perfect complement to the strawberries.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

And while it’s no multi-tiered birthday cake, putting together a pie from scratch is still no quick task, so, I present you with an everyday dessert that will have you satisfying your rhubarb craving in no time.

Butter Sugar Oats

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 8-16 bars

1 cup rolled oats

¾ cup flour

1/3 cup (heaping) light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon (heaping) salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup rhubarb, diced

1 cup strawberry, diced

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar

Diced Strawberry Rhubarb

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line an 8 by 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, and salt. Add the melted butter and mix well. If the mixture looks too moist, add more flour. Take half of this mixture and press it into the bottom of the pan.

Combine the strawberry and rhubarb. Sprinkle half of this mixture on top of the oats in the pan. Sprinkle the cornstarch over this mixture, and then the lemon juice. Then sprinkle with half of the sugar.

Layers

Sprinkle the remaining strawberry and rhubarb in the pan, and sprinkle the remaining sugar over the fruit. Finally, sprinkle the remaining oat mixture in the pan.

More Layers

Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes, until the oats look toasted and the fruit is bubbling. Remove from the oven, allow the bars to cool completely, and cut into bars (anywhere from 8 to 16). I suggest eating this warm, and storing any remaining bars in an airtight container in the fridge, or in your belly.

Crisp Bar

Chunkies

Is there an activity more associated with Mother’s Day than brunch? Being fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that is known for its many restaurants, and about 15 minutes away from my mommy, I definitely am not complaining about this annual tradition. And living so close to my parents means that it doesn’t have to be a special occasion for me to meet up with my parents for a meal or to stop by my childhood home.

Chunky Lola

But having my own place so close by also means that I rarely see my parents for more than a few hours at a time, and even more rarely overnight. And while I’m glad I’m not living in their basement or sleeping in the bed I’ve had since I was four years old that they have somehow managed to hold on to, I do miss many of the things we would do when I was younger or when I was back home for the summer during my college years–things we did together by virtue of living under the same roof. There were weekend walks around the neighborhood, evenings spent drinking tea and playing battleship or rummy, and, what I miss most of all, many hours spent cooking together.

Every Christmas Eve, I make sure I plan at least a few dishes that require being made right before serving, just so I can have some moments in the kitchen with my parents. And while it wasn’t a part of how I celebrated Mother’s Day this year, I’d like to make cooking together a part of my mother’s and my Mother’s Day tradition in years to come. Having some “adult” (unsweetened chocolate and pecans) and “kid-friendly” (milk chocolate and sweetened coconut) flavors, I think these cookies would be the perfect place to start. With the few hours they need to spend “marinating” in the fridge, you can make the dough, have some brunch, and be back just in time to bake them.

The Chocolate Stars

Chunkies

Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang

Makes about 25 cookies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups flour

2/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant!)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, chopped

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

The Chunkies

Cream together the butters and sugars in a stand mixer on medium speed. It will take about 5-7 minutes for the mixture to become light and fluffy. Scrape the sides, and the eggs and vanilla, and mix until incorporated well.

Sugar Butter Sugar

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Then add the chocolates, pecans, and coconut, and mix to combine.

Working in batches, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture just until the flour mixture is incorporated.

The Chunks

Put the dough in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the cookies to about the size of bowling balls, and slightly flatten them. Place them on a baking sheet about two inches apart. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown but they still look soft in the center.

Chunkies in the Making

Eat with your Mother’s Day brunch! Or any other time…

In Which I Cope with Stress by Eating the Same Food Over and Over Again, Or Mee Goreng

If you went to college with me, you must know that in times of homesickness and stress, my pining for my mom’s homemade pierogi was only every rivaled by my pining for Indian Mee Goreng–a noodle dish that has been perfected at Nyonya, an amazingly flavorful and very friendly-on-the-pursestrings restaurant in my native neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. It is a place where I am frequently confronted with dishes that I could eat just about all day, everyday–I have said that it would be difficult to choose between my mother’s cooking and Nyonya’s if ever I had to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life–even though I often have very little clue as to what I am actually eating at Nyonya’s. Of course, the menu makes it clear what protein is in most items, but when it comes to figuring out what spices are in Nyonya’s homestyle Malaysian dishes, I almost always draw a complete blank.

Nom Nom Goreng

So imagine my delight when I found a recipe for not only a Malaysian dish, but my favorite Malaysian dish, in Ottlenghi’s Plenty. I should have figured–the man seems to read my mind. And yet, I could not bring myself to make it–what if it didn’t live up to my expectations? What if the flavors were nothing like Nyonya’s? I discovered that mee goreng translates to stir-fried noodles, of which I am sure there are about as many Malaysian variations as there are American variations of chili. Was I about to go down a rabbit hole of obscure-ingredient-seeking and perpetual disappointment in my renditions of my favorite dish?

Plus Bok Choy

I was crippled by fear and anxiety that I could not get it right, and for that reason, I tucked the recipe away, and contented myself with visiting Nyonya’s every few weeks instead. And yet, in the past few weeks, as I have found myself even more crippled by having to choose what graduate school I will attend next year, I was drawn to this recipe. I know it will not taste exactly the same, I told myself, but wouldn’t it be nice to know I could make something akin to my favorite restaurant meal at home? Wouldn’t that be comforting and reaffirm for me that there are some things in this world I am quite capable of figuring out?

I Should Clean My Stove

So I braved it, and made my first attempt at homemade mee goreng. Was it everything I had hoped for? No. Did I indeed end up making it for several days in a row, altering the recipe each time in what seemed a never-ending quest for perfection? Yes. But I am happy to say, I have arrived at the ideal recipe for home-cooked comfort and flavor, and though it doesn’t taste much like Nyonya’s, I crave it just as much.

Stir It Up

Mee Goreng

Adapted from Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Makes 2 servings

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced

8 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick strips

4 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut in half

4 ounces bok choy, cut into large chunks

2-3 servings rice noodles, cooked and drained (Use your favorite, though I recommend thin rice noodles.)

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons sambal oelek (This is very similar to Sriracha, and can be found next to it in the grocery store.)

2 teaspoons thick soy sauce

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons Mike’s hot honey (You can substitute 2 teaspoons of honey and a generous pinch of chili powder.)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon water

2 ounces bean sprouts

shallots, finely diced and fried in peanut oil

lemon wedges, to serve with

Shallot Frying

Place a large wok over high heat. Add the peanut oil, and once it has warmed up, add the onion. Cook for about two minutes to soften the onion, and add the tofu and green beans. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes–until the tofu is slightly golden brown.

Tofu Beans

Add the bok choy, and cook until it wilts. Add the noodles, spreading them over the whole wok so they get a good amount of heat. You want to almost let them fry. Mix, and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Finally, add the spices, sauces, sugar, honey, and water, as well as the bean sprouts. Mix well (but carefully not to break up the tofu), and cook for about 2 minutes, until everything is well incorporated.

Plus Noodles

Top with the fired shallots and lemon wedges.

Mee Goreng