Simple Bruschetta

A wonderful summer appetizer or side dish that really only requires red, flavorsome tomatoes, garlic, and a good-quality rustic Italian bread or French baguette.

The slices should be toasted first, whether in the toaster or on the grill, so the juice of the tomatoes can sink in and the bread will hold up. Rub the toast with a cut clove of garlic or the cut side of a tomato before putting the mixture on top.

You’ll find many variations online, and more classic versions may include capers, grated Pecorino or Parmesan, olives, or even prosciutto. Add whatever you like, whatever you have fresh. This basic version is delicious on its own.

4-6 servings

4 ripe medium red tomatoes, diced
3 garlic cloves — one cut in half to rub on the toasts, the other two minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil, chopped, in any amount (start with a few sprigs if you’re not sure)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (be liberal!)
1 loaf of Italian bread or French baguette, sliced and toasted just until golden

Toss all ingredients except the cut garlic clove and the bread in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for at least half an hour. Rub the toast with the cut clove of garlic (or a cut tomato, if you have some left over). Spoon the mixture on top and serve immediately.

Peanut Brittle

This recipe comes from a community cookbook published in Atlanta in 1985. It’s the kind of cookbook bound with plastic rings and with the names of the people who submitted the recipes below each one. I love these kinds of cookbooks — they give a peek into people’s kitchens and the recipes they love to make. This particular cookbook is where I got my candied pecan recipe, which I make during the holidays, and it’s also the source for this peanut brittle.

You do need a candy thermometer. I tried making it without one, but it was a failure — it took too long and I got impatient, and the result was bendy and stick-to-your-teeth chewy. With a candy thermometer, the process is easy.

The key to brittle is baking soda: It forms bubbles that make the brittle light enough to break apart and eat. The baking soda reacts with the melted sugar and foams up, in the same way it reacts with acids like buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice to make baked recipes light. Here’s a great article about brittle, if you want to learn more.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 bottle (8 oz.) light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. water
2 cups unsalted peanuts
2 tsp. baking soda

Butter a 9×13-inch baking sheet.

In a very large pot, mix sugar, syrup, water, and peanuts. Have the baking soda measured and ready in a small dish next to the stove.

Cook at moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the candy thermometer reads hard crack (just above 300F, or exactly 150C degrees). Remove from heat and immediately stir in baking soda. Pour out quickly onto baking sheet and let cool. Then break into pieces and serve.

Notes:
— Use a large pot because the mixture will foam up more than you may think. I used a 4-quart pot.
— Do not try to flatten the mixture after you pour it on the baking sheet, or you’ll break up some of the bubbles that are key to making it brittle.

Recipe originally from Melba Lehman.

Vertamae Grosvenor’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Vertamae Grosvenor was a national treasure. I learned about her from her PBS program in the late 1990s, “America’s Family Kitchen,” when I was really getting going with my cooking and saving every interesting recipe I saw. Her show was about the food of the South Carolina Low Country, and I remember seeing her standing in the studio kitchen, smiling and speaking with authenticity about the culture, flavors, and ingredients.

In the days before everything was put on the internet, I had to scribble down the recipe quickly as she said it on air. That’s why it’s in the step-by-step format below. Based on a couple of versions I’ve seen online, I think I got it mostly right — but regardless, the recipe I wrote down is delicious and one of my favorite healthy dishes.

Vertamae died in 2016. She worked for many years with NPR, and they wrote a beautiful tribute describing her fascinating life. The delicious food she wrote and spoke about was only part of the cultural legacy she left behind.

Serves 6-8

Mix in a large bowl:

1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced yellow pepper
1/2 cup diced orange pepper

Add, a cup at a time:

6 cups canned black-eyed peas, drained (4 15-oz. cans)

Mix gently so as not to bruise the peas. Then mix in:

1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped scallions/salad onions (I tend to omit this)
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. basil, cut or torn into large pieces
Salt to taste (generously is OK)
1/2 cup Italian dressing (I substitute red wine vinegar and olive oil)

Marinate overnight. When ready to serve, garnish with a sprig of basil and 1-inch pepper rings.

Fusilli with Basil, Mint, and Mozzarella

It was the offer of fresh herbs from my mother that inspired this recipe — big bunches of mint and basil that I was determined to make good use of right away. I thought of using them together over pasta, and I took inspiration from a New York Times recipe for the addition of fresh mozzarella and fusilli pasta. While at the store to buy the pasta, I saw grape tomatoes I wanted to use. That’s how I came up with this recipe, an easy one that is great for warm weather, when we don’t want heavy sauces and don’t want to spend a long time in the kitchen.

I can’t give exact amounts of the herbs, but I recommend using a whole lot. I had about six sprigs of garden-grown mint that, when chopped, yielded a large pile on the cutting board (if I could have scooped it up, it would have been a giant handful). Same with the basil. I had maybe three stems of organic basil that were huge and gave me about the same amount as the mint. But go with what you have, or whatever amount you prefer.

16 oz. fusilli pasta
1 punnet (about 1 pint) grape tomatoes
16 oz. mozzarella pearls (I used these from BelGioioso) or balls of mozzarella, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
A lot of mint, chopped
A lot of basil, chopped
Garlic powder (about 1/2 tsp.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes in half width-wise (if they are especially long grape tomatoes, cut them in thirds). Place them in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients, mix and let sit at room temperature while you cook the pasta.

Cook the fusilli until al dente, then drain and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Mix well and serve.

Garlic Bread

Your kitchen is going to smell amazing when you make this. The delicious, salty garlic butter makes it so appetizing and it takes only minutes to make. I adapted it slightly from a recipe in The New York Times, mostly to reduce the amount of butter because even after I slathered the bread twice, I had a lot of butter left over. I still had extra when using a long, thin baguette — a wider and larger loaf might use up the full amount. If not, use it to spread on savory toast the next day!

1 French baguette
6 Tbsp. butter (3 oz. or 85g)
3 large garlic cloves
1 heaping Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan cheese (definitely use more if you want)
Lots of salt (maybe 1 tsp.)
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 400F/200C degrees. Slice the bread into 1-inch slices, making deep cuts but not going all the way through. Transfer bread to a piece of foil.

Melt the butter, then mix in minced garlic, cheese, salt, and pepper. Generously brush the butter inside each slice, then brush the top of the loaf a couple of times. Seal the foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and open the foil, then bake for another 5 minutes.

Chocolate Croissant Bites

This is a quick little dessert that reminds me of chocolate-filled croissants from a nice pastry shop somewhere — the kind of place with small tables and a big window to the street, that smells more of sugar than coffee and has a display case full of desserts almost too beautiful to eat. (I really do miss visiting places like that.)

Gourmet thoughts aside, this is actually a simple back-of-the-box recipe I’ve had in my cookbook for ages. It was called Fudgy Brownie Cups, but to me that doesn’t describe it well enough. There is no rising agent in the chocolate mixture, and that’s what makes them fudgy, but they just don’t seem like brownies when they’re wrapped in the flaky layers of puff pastry.

All you need is a saucepan, a rolling pin and a couple of muffin pans and it’s ready in less than 20 minutes.

Makes 20

8 oz. (227g) sheet of puff pastry (half of a standard U.S. box), thawed
4 oz. (113g) dark chocolate (I used Lindt‘s 70% cocoa chocolate bar)
4 oz. (113g) unsalted butter (half a stick)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. all-purpose (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting countertop
Confectioner’s (icing) sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 400F/200C degrees.

In a pot over medium-low heat, melt chocolate and butter. Turn off heat and mix in sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, then mix in flour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry to a 12×15-inch rectangle. Cut into 3×3-inch squares and press each one into an ungreased muffin cup. Fill with 1 tablespoon of chocolate mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden (you want to err on the longer side to make sure the puff pastry comes out crispy on the bottom, not chewy).

Immediately remove to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Cinnamon Rolls

“Yummy and tasty and good for the mornings,” says my daughter, and that’s the perfect way to describe these cinnamon rolls!

The yeast dough is easy to make, even for someone who may not be used to working with yeast dough. The recipe uses the equivalent of two packets of active dry yeast to shorten the rising time to just 30 minutes. That makes this a great brunch recipe, because you have just enough time after you wake up to prepare the rolls and have them ready for the eager people at the table who have smelled that cinnamon and rushed in to have some. I measure the ingredients and lay them out the night before to save myself time in the morning.

I clipped the recipe from the newspaper years ago. It came from a person named Pat Rising in Lawrenceville, Georgia, who said their father’s parents owned a hotel called the Rising House on New York’s Lake George — and their grandmother’s specialty was these cinnamon rolls.

As my son says, “It’s a great start for a good day.”

1 cup milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
2 packages (0.25 oz. each) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 eggs, beaten
5 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour, unsifted
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. cinnamon

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar
3 Tbsp. milk
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat, scald the milk. Remove from heat and add the sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the butter, and mix until melted. Cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add milk mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour, and beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. (The dough may stick to your fingers at first, but as it picks up the flour on the board, it will stick less and less. As you knead, scatter a bit of flour on the board to replace what the dough picks up.)

Grease a large bowl with a small amount of canola oil or cooking spray and place dough inside. Turn the dough to grease the top, then cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Yes, those are crayons to mark the dimensions of the rectangle. Use whatever works for you!
Place the rolls in the pan and make sure they are touching but not squeezed together.

Heat the oven to 375F/190C degrees. Melt the remaining butter. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and punch it down to remove air bubbles. Roll it into a rectangle 12×24 inches. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture — all the way to the short sides of the rectangle — and drizzle with melted butter. Roll up jellyroll style into a 24-inch log. Cut into 1 1/2-inch slices and place in a 9×13-inch ungreased baking pan with rolls touching (don’t squeeze them in; just make sure they touch).

Bake 20 minutes. When the rolls are nearly done, mix the confectioner’s sugar, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Pour over the rolls when they come out of the oven and serve immediately.

Cheesy Ranch Popcorn

This seasoned cheddar popcorn is easy to make and deliciously addictive. It uses a little more than half of a regular bag of microwave popcorn, so use that as your guide to how many people it will serve. For us, it was enough for 3 people. (No judgments if you think it serves 1!)

For the cheddar cheese powder, you can just use the packet from a box of macaroni and cheese and save the macaroni for another recipe.

7 cups popcorn, plain or lightly salted
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large Tbsp. ranch seasoning (about half of a 1 oz. packet — this is the one I used)
2 tsp. cheddar cheese powder

Put the popcorn in a large bowl. Melt the butter, pour it over the popcorn, and mix. In a small bowl, mix the ranch seasoning and cheese powder, then pour it over the buttered popcorn and mix well.

Kentucky Derby Day Pie

I didn’t know what a Derby Pie was until a colleague of mine, Kara, posted this recipe around the time of the Kentucky Derby this year. She said it’s her mother’s recipe. As much as I love making pies, I also cherish recipes from other people’s kitchens — they’re authentic, and every time I make one, I remember the person who shared it with me. It wasn’t until recently that I had a chance to make this.

I have since learned that the name “Derby Pie” is trademarked, so I can’t use it, even though I’ve also learned it’s a beloved pie for many cooks who happily call it that in their collection of recipes.

The pie contains chopped walnuts and chocolate morsels beneath a soft, sweet filling. Use your favorite pie crust, whether frozen, refrigerated, or homemade, in a 9-inch pie plate. I’ve made this twice now and everyone has loved it. Thank you, Kara, for letting me share it! đŸ˜‹

Heat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

In a large bowl, mix one by one in this order:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 stick melted butter, cooled
1 cup chopped walnuts (pecans are OK, too)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour in pie crust and bake for about 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (though there might be some chocolate on it, which is fine).

Teriyaki Chicken Skewers

I wanted a chicken dish to go with the yummy yakisoba I was making the other night. I almost made my marinated chicken, but I kept looking around and decided on this recipe instead. I liked it because the peppers and red onion would be colorful on the plate and also provide some vegetables.

I changed the amounts of ingredients on the skewers, but the marinade and glaze are the same as the original recipe, and they were delicious. And definitely use the garnish. It looked really good scattered on top.

The recipe uses mirin, which the author, Jeanette Marie, describes: “Mirin is a form of rice wine that’s commonly used in cooking. … It’s much lower in alcohol content than traditional rice wine and higher in sugar. So, mirin adds a sweet note to the flavor profile of any dish it’s used in. But, it also adds the unique flavor of rice wine.”

Serves 4

SKEWERS
8 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for an hour (the easiest way to do this is to lay them in a rimmed baking sheet filled with water)
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red pepper, cut into large squares
1/2 green pepper, cut into large squares
1/2 red onion, cut into cubes and separated into 2 or 3 layers each

MARINADE
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. mirin
1/2 tsp. sea salt

GLAZE
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 1/2 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. sugar

GARNISH
1 green (salad) onion, thinly sliced on the bias
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds (toasted, if you have time)

In medium bowl, mix marinade ingredients. Add chicken cubes and toss to coat. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400F/200C degrees. Thread the chicken, peppers, and onions onto the skewers, alternating chicken and peppers, then chicken and onion, and leaving a small bit of space between each one.

Line a baking sheet with foil, making sure to cover the sides to catch the liquid during cooking. Lay the skewers on top and bake 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

While the skewers are cooking, put the glaze ingredients into a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the skewers are finished cooking, remove from the oven, place on a serving dish, and brush generously with the glaze. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds and serve immediately.