Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

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We’ve been watching The Americans at night after the kids go to bed, while I fold laundry and Neil thinks important thoughts (or something…). It’s about some Russian spies who pose as American citizens in the Washington DC suburbs in the early 1980s. It’s a bit violent for my taste, but the human interest pulls me back in every time. Plus, I want to be Kerri Russell when I grow up.

It doesn’t take too many nights of watching this show to get a little bit paranoid, and maybe come up with some conspiracy theories of one’s own. Is that car following me? Did someone just peer into our window? Is everyone in Texas lying to me about tomatoes?

See, we’ve lived here for just a few weeks shy of a year, and there are no decent tomatoes to be found. Anywhere. If you ask someone about it, they will tell you that it’s the wrong season for them, and claim that the season is a few months from now. Well, those few months have come and gone several times, and still no great, mouthwatering tomatoes. Is it a conspiracy? Or do people here just not understand what a great tomato really is? (Hint: a great tomato can generally be eaten raw, without gagging.)

And so, I was more than ready to try Ina’s roasted tomato Caprese salad from Back to Basics, which claims to turn cardboardy Roma tomatoes into something wonderful.

It was ok, but not wonderful. The salad tasted a little bit like pizza. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with pizza. But it’s not the same as a really great tomato.

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Roasted Baby Bok Choy

In her continuing quest to prove that all vegetables taste better when they are roasted, Ina offers us this, from Make It Ahead:

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It doesn’t look like much, does it? Maybe because it has some very beige cod and brown rice next to it (a person has to atone for those strawberry fools at some point), or maybe because I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture. But it was still the best baby bok choy I’ve ever eaten. If you can get past the “roasted baby” part of the title, it’s a ridiculously easy recipe with surprisingly good results.

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1980s wayback machine

Our entertaining style is not always grilled leg of lamb and roasted eggplant. For example, last Friday, we invited some friends over for a casual cookout, because we’d been wanting to introduce them to each other. If all I do is connect people to other people, I feel like I’m doing some good in the world. And nothing connects people like food … and drink.

I unintentionally created a 1980s (or maybe early ’90s?) theme with my starters for the meal, which came from the first and last Barefoot Contessa cookbooks: sun-dried tomato dip (from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook) and Cranberry Martinis (from Make It Ahead). The dip was kind of like Thousand Island Dressing, and it made kind of a nice spread for the bison sliders we made for dinner. The drinks were reportedly good – Neil described them as “smooth.”

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In addition to the bison sliders, we had hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, and our friend Greg’s amazing chocolate cake. I guess this was our official first summer barbecue of 2015. To go with the more casual theme, we had boxes of hand-me-downs waiting for our friends in the living room, and the kids kind of ran wild and did their own thing. It was great!

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Peace Meal

Memorial Day, like a lot of holidays, is complicated. It’s a day to remember the men and women in the United States armed forces who died for our country. By federal law, though, it is a day set aside for prayers for peace.¬†Peace. Some have confused it with veterans’ day, and I’ve even seen facebook memes floating around that proclaim the month of May to be Veterans’ Month. I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of articles by veterans who don’t want to be thanked on Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day. But for every one of those articles, there are pieces that rail against ignoring Memorial Day, or treating it as just another day to have a barbecue. Needless to say, it’s confusing and complicated. But I think it’s really interesting that the federal mandate calls for prayers for peace.

When Neil and I first visited Houston, we met people from Palmer on the search committee, and started to discover people and organizations that we had in common. One of those organizations is Kids4Peace, “a global movement of Jewish, Christian & Muslim youth, dedicated to ending conflict and ¬†inspiring hope in divided societies around the world,” founded in Jerusalem in 2002. Neil knew some volunteers from around the country who have been active in the organization, and one of the members of the search committee has strong ties to it as well. When that friend expressed interest in meeting other friends who might have interesting and exciting things for these kids to do in and around Houston, we invited them to our house to talk more about it. (Because if world peace has to start somewhere, it might as well include some good food to go with it.) Going with the Jerusalem theme, I used some Ina recipes, and added to them some recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi, a renowned London chef with roots in Jerusalem.

We started with Ina’s watermelon mojitos (from How Easy is That?), which were devoured pretty quickly. For someone who doesn’t drink, I’m still gaining a reputation as a mixologist. Go figure.

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We then moved on to the Greek Mezze Platter with Roasted Red Peppers, Marinated Feta, Homemade Pita Triangles, and Tzatziki from Make it Ahead.

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Then we moved on with the endive, orange and roquefort salad from Foolproof, generously provided by our friend Ansley, and Ina’s grilled leg of lamb (from Parties!) and couscous with peas and mint (from Foolproof):

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I used whole wheat couscous with the peas and mint, which went nicely with the lamb. We were both a little intimidated by grilling the lamb, which marinated in a yogurt and rosemary mixture overnight. It turned out beautifully, though.

Two of Ottolenghi’s recipes rounded out the meal: roasted eggplant with saffron yogurt, and haricots verts with snow peas, orange, and hazelnut.

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We finished with some rooibos tea and these strawberry cheesecake fools from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook:

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There! I feel like I’ve almost made up for my lack of photos in my last post with all of these food photos. The whole dinner was really easy, and I made almost everything ahead of time. That didn’t stop me from setting off the smoke alarm when getting ready to saute the shallots for the couscous, or sweating over the lamb and whether it would be done on time… but all in all, it was a very easy dinner party.

I don’t know if we came any closer to world peace with all of this food, but we had a wonderful time with our friends, and enjoyed a good meal, too.

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Two Salads, Zero Photos

I made two of the salads from Make It Ahead, and failed to take a photo of either one. I can’t say that either one was particularly attractive, but they were both really delicious.

The first was tomatoes with burrata. Burrata is a kind of soft, stretchy form of fresh mozzarella. It was a little messier than I thought it would be, which made for an interesting presentation, but it was still really good.

The warm fig and arugula salad was different than the original recipe in at least two ways – I substituted cow’s milk feta for the blue cheese, and dried figs instead of fresh figs. So, I’m not sure I can even claim that it’s the same salad! But also: delicious.

Because I don’t have any photos of the salads to share, I’ll give you some Birdie love instead:

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Picnic Upgrade

I sometimes like the *idea* of a picnic better than the actual event. I imagine an Ina-style affair with soft blankets and delicious food, and I often end up with the stained beach towel we keep in the back of the car for emergencies, and food that tastes like the sunscreen and bug spray that sat next to it in the cooler. Plus, there’s the food safety aspect of transporting food in warm weather, and figuring out how to serve it.

In order to make my fantasy picnic become more of a reality, I took a page from the people who actually live in hot climates and have done so for centuries. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food travels fairly well, and holds up better in hot temperatures than, say, a mayonnaise-laden potato salad. When we met up with some friends at the park last month, I brought Ina’s Marinated Feta and Red Pepper Hummus (both from Make it Ahead), along with her quinoa tabbouleh, for the adults. The kids chose their standard peanut butter sandwiches with fruit, but they were more interested in playing at the park and blowing bubbles anyway.

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Both dishes traveled well, and the surprise hit was the marinated feta. I used a cow’s milk feta instead of a goat’s milk or sheep’s milk version, and it was really mild and not as musty as some feta can be. I’m not a fan of fennel seed, so I substituted celery seed along with the other herbs, and it turned out really well.

What’s your favorite picnic food? Do you have any picnic disaster stories? Success stories?

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Vanilla Semifreddo with Raspberry Sauce

If you’re intimidated by homemade ice cream recipes, or you don’t have an ice cream maker, but you still want to make a delicious frozen dessert at home, this is the recipe for you. It’s from Make It Ahead, and it’s amazingly rich without being overwhelming, and a really nice way to have something sweet and cold for dinner guests without whipping out a paper carton from the grocery store. (Although… there’s absolutely nothing wrong with store-bought ice cream for dessert, especially if you have a gluten-free guest on the list, or kids, or really, anyone who isn’t a Communist.) Texans, in particular, will be interested in homemade desserts like this now, given the recent news a listeria outbreak at their beloved Blue Bell ice cream factory. Listen up, Tejanos. This might not be Blue Bell, but it might get you through the summer months.

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