Thanksgiving Side: The Stuffing Wars

Thanksgiving 2008 was a memorable holiday. Johnny and I were recently engaged, and not only was it the first time our families were spending a holiday together, but it was my first time hosting—and preparing—the meal. I was mostly excited at the prospect, though, having never cooked a turkey before, I did have more than one nightmare about my bird shrinking down to a dry, inedible mess.

Deciding on a stuffing recipe also occupied quite a bit of space in my brain. Stuffing is by far my favorite Thanksgiving side (although corn pudding comes in a close second) and meals can be ruined over a subpar stab. After much planning and tinkering, I finally felt confident about my recipe.  When I debuted it at our holiday dinner, to my delight, everyone raved about how good it was. Everyone that is, except my future husband. “You should have just bought Stove Top,” he told me later that night. “You can’t mess with perfection.” Really? Stove Top is instant! And the seasoning comes in a packet! Isn’t the best stuffing, as is the case with so many things, made from scratch?

I filed his assessment away in the back of my mind and when Thanksgiving rolled around the following year, I again made my own sausage stuffing. The next night, while I was heating up leftovers, Johnny snuck out to the store. He came home with a canister of Stove Top. This was a losing battle.

As Thanksgiving 2010 approaches, I’ve begun thinking about my menu once more.

“I’m going to ask Liz for her stuffing recipe,” I told Johnny a couple of weeks ago. Liz is my cousin’s wife and she makes a terrific stuffing brimming with apples and sausage.

“But you’re going to make Stove Top too, right?” came his reply. I didn’t respond.

A couple of nights ago I was flipping through the November issue of Food and Wine, looking for inspiration, when I came across a recipe that was based on the flavor of Stove Top. Perhaps this would satisfy my need for fresh, unprocessed ingredients and his for the taste of his beloved pre-packaged bird dressing.

“I found a recipe that’s based on Stove Top!” I happily proclaimed.

“But you’re still going to make actual Stove Top, right?” came the response.

I was beginning to be worn down. So I compromised: I would demo the Food and Wine recipe and Johnny would taste test it. If he didn’t deem it good enough, I would make him a bowl of Stove Top to eat with his turkey on Thanksgiving.

After a trip to Whole Foods, I set to work this afternoon. Overall I was pleased with the way the recipe was written. I cut it in a half, but I found the finished product a bit too dry. So when I went to reheat the stuffing for dinner, I added another two cups of chicken stock to moisten it, which worked really well. I also used bulk turkey sausage that was seasoned with garlic and herbs from Whole Foods. It added a delicious, healthier, flavor.

I thought the taste was very reminiscent of Stove Top, but I wasn’t the one who needed convincing. When Johnny got home, I grilled up some ginger teriyaki chicken, made a salad, and reheated the stuffing. It was time for the taste test. He took a bite. Then another. Then one more…

“It’s pretty good,” he finally pronounced. “Definitely the best you’ve made. If you want to make this stuffing for Thanksgiving, I’m fine with that.”

I smiled, resplendent in the sweet swell of victory.

“But Stove Top’s still better.”

Sausage and Bread Stuffing

1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

2 pounds good-quality white sandwich bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (20 cups)

4 inner celery ribs, finely diced (1 1/2 cups)

2 large carrots, finely diced (1 cup)

1 sweet onion, finely diced (2 1/2 cups)

1 pound loose pork or turkey breakfast sausage

2 tablespoons chopped sage

2 tablespoons chopped thyme

3 cups chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350° and butter a large baking dish. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast for 25 minutes, stirring, until lightly browned and crisp.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, melt the 1 stick of butter. Pour half of the butter into a small bowl and reserve. Add the celery, carrots and onion to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Scrape the vegetables into a large bowl. Add the sausage to the skillet in lumps and cook over moderately high heat, breaking it up with a spoon, until lightly browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes. Return the vegetables to the skillet, add the sage and thyme and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the stock and cook, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan, until nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Scrape the sausage mixture into the large bowl and add the toasted bread cubes. Add the remaining 2 cups of stock and stir until the bread is evenly moistened. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread the stuffing in the baking dish and brush with the reserved melted butter.

Bake the stuffing in the center of the oven for about 1 hour, until it is heated through and the top is browned and crisp. Let the stuffing stand for 10 minutes before serving.

The stuffing can be made ahead of time and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.

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Thanksgiving Side: Corn Pudding

I met Liz Wade my first semester of my freshman year at NYU. It was Prose Composition, a class all freshman in our program were required to take, and Liz and I ended up in the same section. I don’t remember how we started talking, but Liz became my first official friend at NYU, a friendship I am a grateful has continued to this day. Days, weeks, even months can go by without us seeing or talking to one another, but when we inevitably do get together, we always pick up right where we left off. My mother always told me this was a sign of true friendship.  I wholeheartedly agree.

When Liz and I do hang out, it almost always involves food. In fact, I’ve had some of my best dining experiences with her. She’s also really good about sharing recipes she’s discovered and thinks I might like. (I made Mark Bittman’s asparagus pesto over the summer after she forwarded me the recipe). We had met for lunch or dinner around this time last year, no doubt at some hidden gem one of us had uncovered, when we started talking about what we were making for Thanksgiving. That’s when Liz told me about a recipe for corn pudding she had gotten from her boyfriend’s aunt. She debuted the pudding at a party and was astounded at how quickly it was gobbled up. It was that good. I trust Liz’s opinion so I decided to make corn pudding as a side to my Thanksgiving dinner last year and it did not disappoint. Butter and sour cream rarely do.

As I pondered my Thanksgiving menu for this year, I knew I wanted to include corn pudding. But when I took a look at the recipe, I realized I had some tinkering to do. First, it calls for creamed corn, which always grosses me out when it emerges as a gelatinous blob from its can. I decided that if Whole Foods carried an organic version, I would buy it, though I wasn’t surprised when I couldn’t find it on their shelves. Their website, however, had a recipe for creamed corn which was rather simple, so I decided to try that.

The other ingredient that gave me pause was Jiffy Muffin Mix. I try not to eat pre-made mixes (especially ones that contain hydrogenated lard in them) so I needed to figure out a substitute. Luckily, someone out there had already done this for me, and I was able to find an all-natural recipe on Chow.com for a muffin mix that would mimic the taste of Jiffy.  It was time to make the corn pudding.

The top browned a little too quickly, probably because I made it in my toaster oven, which I use for smaller items because it has a much more accurate temperature than my oven. When the “pudding” emerges it will look like cornbread. However, once you scoop it out, the inside should be moist, almost like bread pudding.

This is a fantastic side for Thanksgiving. Making the creamed corn and muffin mix from scratch does not take long at all and it makes the flavor so much better. Also, I used mainly organic ingredients, so try to do the same wherever possible. I halved the original recipe because I didn’t want a vat of this highly addictive pudding in my refrigerator all week, but if you’re making it for Turkey Day and have a big crowd, double the recipe below and bake it in a 13×9 inch pan.

First, I made the creamed corn:

1 tablespoon butter 

1 tablespoon unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole milk (I used half and half because it’s always in my fridge)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Melt butter in saucepan. Whisk in flour, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in milk and then sugar. Whisk constantly over medium heat until steaming and thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add corn and salt. Continue to cook, stirring often for 3 to 5 minutes more, or until corn is piping hot.
While that cooled, I made the muffin mix:

2/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup yellow corn meal (I used Arrowhead Mills Organic Yellow Corn Meal)

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil  (I used canola)

Combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Add oil and mix until the dry mixture is smooth and all lumps are gone.

With both the creamed corn and muffin mixture made, I was ready to proceed with the rest of the recipe. Thanks Lizzie!

Corn Pudding

1 can whole kernel corn, drained

Creamed corn mixture, which is equivalent to one 15 ounce can of creamed corn

Corn muffin mixture, which is equivalent to one 8.5 ounce box of Jiffy Muffin Mix

1 1/2 cups light sour cream

1 stick of butter, melted

Combine all ingredients in an 8×8 glass baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. If you are doubling the batch you may need to bake for 55-60 minutes. The top should be lightly brown and set, like cornbread.

Farro With Butternut Squash

As I continue my love affair with grains, I’ve been wanting to add farro to the mix. Farro is often called the “first grain” as it’s the grain that all others descended from and has been around for thousands of years. My friend Anne is a big fan of its nutty, flavorful texture and cooks often with it, but when I went to buy some at Whole Foods, I was struck by how much more expensive it was then other grains. $10 for a small bag! (Farro is more difficult to grow then its sister grains which accounts for the higher price point.) So I backburnered the farro for a bit. Then, over the summer I was at Zinc in New Haven, CT (a “must eat at” if you are ever in the neighborhood) and I had their scallops with farro risotto. It was so tasty I was tempted to lick my plate clean. Maybe this farro was worth the extra pennies. I stopped into Russo’s last week for some fresh pasta and lo and behold I spotted a bag of farro on their shelves. I bought it (for $6.49) and began thinking about what I would make with it.

Yesterday, I took stock of what I had in the house. The butternut squash sitting on my table was crying out to be paired with the farro so I googled farro and butternut squash to get some inspiration. A recipe from 101 Cookbooks popped up that piqued my interest. She roasted her squash with red onion, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt which sounded fantastic to me. I omitted the goat cheese in her recipe in favor of ricotta salata and cooked my farro in a vat of homemade chicken stock I made last week. I toasted up some walnuts, and then dressed the “salad” with a few swirls of olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar. I also added grilled chicken for a bit more protein.

Oh my, this salad was freakin’ fantastic! Seriously. I couldn’t believe how incredibly flavorful the farro was. The nuttiness of the squash and the sweetness of the red onion only enhanced the grain and I understand now why people say good balsamic vinegar makes all the difference. It does. I used Lucini, aged 10 years. A little goes a long way.

If you can find farro (check the pasta aisle at your grocery store or try an Italian specialty store) pick some up and make it tonight. If not, barley would also work really well since they’re of a similar consistency. Opt for the semi-pearled variety which cooks a little faster. Also, a note about cubing butternut squash: I read recently that when buying squash you should look for ones that have a long neck, as they’re easier to cut and peel. I tried this and it’s true. As for the recipe, I am posting it below, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t measure out every ingredient exactly. These are estimations, so feel free to change the ratios up a bit to your personal taste.

Farro With Butternut Squash, Red Onion, Walnuts and Ricotta Salata (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

2 cups farro (look for the semi-pearled variety which cooks faster)

5 cups water or stock (I used about 4 cups stock, 1 cup water)

2 1/2 to 3 cups butternut squash, cubed

One medium red onion, cut into eighths

1/2 cup walnuts

1/4 cup ricotta salata

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Salt to taste

Rinse and strain the farro. In a large pot, combine the water and/or stock and farro. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Taste the farro often as you want it to be a bit chewy and not too soft. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash and red onion on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, olive oil and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and roast for 20 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Then toast the walnuts until fragrant.

When the farro is done, strain in a colander and place in a large bowl. Add the squash, red onions, walnuts and ricotta salata. Dress with a swirl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash

I discovered this recipe in the October issue of Country Living a few weeks ago and I marked the page as a recipe I wanted to come back to once fall was in full swing. While I’m not sure fall has truly arrived weather wise (it was 90 degrees last Saturday) I did have a nice big butternut squash from our trip to the Berkshires sitting on my counter. And a request from my husband to make risotto again soon. So out came this recipe for a trial run.

As with the oat risotto I made a few months back, this risotto recipe isn’t made with rice, but rather with pearled barley, which has 50 percent more protein. Love that! I also really enjoy barley and had some in my pantry. This may come as a surprise to readers of this blog, but I actually followed this recipe exactly as it was written. I can’t remember the last time I did that, but risotto is a bit tempermental so I didn’t want to go messing with the quantities. The only add I made at the end was throwing some grilled chicken into the risotto for a little extra protein.

The risotto was a huge hit. The squash and lemon zest add a light sweetness to the barley. It was hard to stop eating it!

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash

Serves 4

2 1/2 cup peeled, chopped butternut squash

2 tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

5 cups  low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups pearled barley

3/4 cups dry white wine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus more for garnish

1  lemon, zested

3/4 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking pan and roast until tender, about 25 minutes, turning once halfway through. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium- high heat, bring broth to a gentle boil; then reduce heat to low. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add wine and stir constantly until absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup broth, 1 teaspoon thyme, and lemon zest; stir frequently until liquid is absorbed.

Repeat with remaining broth, adding 1/2 cup at a time, until barley is tender yet al dente, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper if needed. Gently fold in squash and garnish with thyme.

Israeli Couscous and Apple Salad

Johnny and I went to the Berkshires last weekend to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and we had an amazing time. Of course, I had to hit up Taft Farms before we left and I was in heaven among all of the seasonal bounty: butternut squash, eggplant, Indian corn and some of the best heirloom tomatoes I’ve tasted all summer.

There were also plenty of apples (and warm apple cider doughnuts, which we happily indulged in) which got me thinking about this couscous salad I saw in the September issue of Country Living. New York State is particularly well known for its apples, so when I was at the Greenmarket yesterday, I picked up a Gala apple and a Honeycrisp. The recipe called for a Granny Smith, but those aren’t in season quite yet.

We both really liked this salad, but I do have a few notes. First, it calls for Israeli couscous, which, I learned yesterday, is also called “toasted” couscous. It’s larger than regular couscous and has a pasta-like consistency. I bought a whole wheat version because it had much more fiber per serving. I also used walnuts instead of pine nuts. I love pine nuts (or pignolis as I grew up calling them) but they can be pretty pricey. And since I almost always have walnuts in the pantry, I frequently substitute them. I also think the apple to couscous ratio is a bit off— the fruit tends to overwhelm the couscous. Next time I’d probably use slightly less apple. Or I’d add more couscous, which is what I did for this photo.

But all in all, it was an incredibly tasty salad. We ate it with grilled chicken which I soaked for an hour in a marinade I adapted from this recipe.  I used 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and 1 clove of chopped garlic. It was really tender and flavorful!

Below is the recipe for the apple and couscous salad.

Israeli Couscous and Apple Salad

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup Israeli couscous

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large Gala apple, cored and diced

1 large Calville Blanc d’Hiver or Granny Smith apple, cored and diced

1/4 cup(s) fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced shallot

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh mint

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

Freshly ground pepper

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add couscous, shaking pan occasionally, and cook until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in 2 cups water and salt, then bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook couscous until tender, about 6 minutes; drain and rinse.

In a large bowl, toss together apples and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Mix in shallot and couscous. Transfer apple mixture to a serving dish and sprinkle in feta and pine nuts.

In a mini food processor or blender, pulse together mint, oregano, and remaining lemon juice until herbs are finely chopped. Add remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a slow, steady stream until blended. Season dressing with pepper. Drizzle dressing over salad and gently toss.

Panzanella Salad

A few months ago, I interviewed entertaining expert Erika Lenkert for a story on throwing a successful dinner party. Among her many fantastic and unique tips (check out the fall issue of The Nest, on newsstands October 10, to find out what they are) Lenkert told me that a key to entertaining with ease is to “leverage the salad course. In some ways there’s nothing better than a really exceptional salad,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to shine with very little effort.” I wholeheartedly agree! Johnny and I eat salad almost every night and I love throwing whatever I have on hand into the mix. I’ve had panzanella, or bread salad, on my mind for a long time but, for one reason or another, I never got around to making one. Then, when we went to Connecticut for Labor Day weekend, I walked into the house and saw a big basket of native tomatoes on the counter, courtesy of one of my father’s friends whose garden had runneth over. The time had come to prepare panzanella.

I googled panzanella salad to see what ingredients typically go into one. I knew bread and tomatoes, but because panzanella is known as a “leftover salad” the other ingredients vary. Some recipes called for cucumbers, bell peppers, pancetta or arugula. Johnny doesn’t love cukes and I’m not a big fan of raw peppers so I decided to keep my salad simple. I found this recipe on Change.org and made some modifications. I decided we’d have the salad when Heather and Jeff came for dinner on Sunday, so on Friday I bought a loaf of Chabaso Bakery’s olive oil ciabatta (Chabaso is a New Haven bakery that makes some of the best bread I’ve ever had) and set it aside to get nice and stale.

When it came time to make the salad, I cut up the loaf into cubes, then browned three cloves of garlic in olive oil. I removed the garlic from the pan, and then sauteed the bread until it turned nice and golden, almost like a crouton. Into the bowl the bread went along with the garlic, a generous handful of basil leaves and the aforementioned tomatoes. I then dressed the salad with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar, and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Oh wow. This salad was freakin’ fantastic! The flavors melded so well together. It barely made it to the table because we couldn’t stop eating it straight from the bowl! Wait until a few minutes before you serve the salad to dress it, as the bread soaks up the liquid quickly. If you have an abundance of tomato and basil, this is a simple and delicious way to use it!

Savory Peach Salad

I saw this salad last month on the blog Pithy and Cleaver. It intrigued me as I was looking for something to make with peaches. I filed it away as a potential dinner and instead made a peach crisp. Then my friend Anne made the same salad and blogged about it and again I thought about making it for Johnny and I one night. Well today I finally wrote down the recipe, went to Whole Foods and the farmers market and got the ingredients I needed to do so. I thought about this salad all day. In fact, I couldn’t wait for dinner time. And oh was it worth it. Wow. There are so many different flavors in the mix—the pepperiness of the arugula, the mintiness of the basil, the sweetness of the peaches, the saltiness of the feta— but yet they all come together beautifully. Johnny thought I could have cut back on the peaches a bit, but I thought it was perfect. I made the same tweaks to the recipe as Anne did, upping the feta to 3/4 cup and the bacon to four strips rather than two.

Oh how I love a good salad! This one also has corn, one of my favorite add-ins. I learned today that there’s no need to cook the corn kernels. If the corn is fresh you can eat them raw, which is a good thing because doing so gives the salad a delightful crunch. If you make no other salad this summer, make this one—and do it before the season for peaches passes.  This picture really doesn’t do it justice. In fact, check out the picture on Pithy and Cleaver’s site which I’ve linked to above and is much better. (I’m still working on this food photography thing.) And spring for a good quality balsamic vinegar. The one I used was aged 10 years. It’s worth it.

Savory Peach Salad

1/2 small sweet onion

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1/4 lemon

3 ears of corn, shucked

3 peaches (large)

Small bunch arugula

1/2 cup torn basil leaves

4 strips of bacon

3/4 cup cubed feta

Salt and pepper

Slice the onion in quarters and cut into very delicate rings. Place in a small bowl. Add vinegars, olive oil, and lemon juice to the onion bowl, stir and let sit while you prepare the salad, stirring occasionally. Cut corn kernels off the cob into a large salad bowl. Cut peaches in one-inch squares and add to salad bowl. Wash arugula well and add, along with basil leaves. Cook bacon until crisp and crumble or dice. Add bacon and feta to the salad, then the onions and their liquid. Toss well. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Perfect for 2-3 as a main dish, or more as a side.

Summer Slaw With Cabbage, Cilantro and Jalapeno

When you hear the word slaw, it’s easy to imagine a gooey mayonnaise-y concoction that lies on your plate in an unappetizing clump. I’ve never been a fan of coleslaw, but Johnny likes it when the mayonnaise isn’t the prominent ingredient. (He, like many people I know, has an aversion to mayo.) I had crab cakes on the menu last night and Johnny asked me if I could make some type of slaw to go with them. I knew red cabbage would be one of the main ingredients but I needed a little more inspiration. A quick google search yielded me a recipe for spicy slaw from a blog called Elana’s Pantry. I liked her version because it called for jalapenos, which I have in my refrigerator right now, and it didn’t require a drop of mayo, relying on olive oil and lime juice to moisten the cabbage and carrots.  A nice light side to our crab cakes.

I got most of my slaw ingredients at the Greenmarket, as well as an abundance of summer bounty—eggplant, zucchini, heirloom tomatoes. Late summer is my favorite time of year at the farmers market. I followed Elana’s slaw recipe pretty closely, though I did substitute the stevia for a teaspoon of organic sugar. I also used regular sea salt, rather than celtic.

The result was a colorful, delicious addition to our meal! I will definitely be making this slaw again! It’s just the right amount of spicy (though if spicy isn’t your speed, simply omit the jalapeno) and the crunch of the cabbage gives it a satisfying texture. The hint of fresh ginger is also a pleasant pop to the taste buds.  If you’re in need of a new side dish, try this one tonight!

Spicy Slaw

½ head purple cabbage, shredded
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Place the cabbage, cilantro, carrot, jalapeño and ginger in a large bowl. Toss veggies with lime, olive oil and stevia, then sprinkle with salt. Serve.

A Fourth of July Feast

I’ve always loved the 4th of July. When I was younger, we used to have huge family picnics at our house. My aunts, uncles and cousins would come over for a day of swimming, games and lots of eating. Once it got dark, we’d all gather on the front steps of my house and watch the fireworks that my neighbors and cousins were letting off in our cul de sac. (Probably not the safest thing to do, but it was definitely fun to watch.) My husband knows how many happy memories I have of the 4th, and two years ago, he added to them by proposing to me over the holiday weekend in the backyard of the house I grew up in. And over the last several years, I’ve started having my own 4th of July parties in Connecticut with friends and family. This year, Johnny and I hosted his brother, Justin, and his wife, Lauren, as well as his cousin, Jenny, and her husband, Bob. Armed with Elizabeth Karmel’s grilling tomes—which she was kind enough to send me after I interviewed her recently—Johnny and I decided we would grill as much as possible. (Since we don’t have a grill in the city, we take full advantage of the one at my father’s house whenever possible.) This year, in addition to chicken, burgers, clams and corn, we also made several pizzas. I started grilling pizzas a few years ago and I can’t believe I didn’t do so sooner. They’re so easy to make—especially if you buy the dough—and cook up really quickly. Let the dough sit out for an hour or so before rolling it out into a pizza shape. (Mine are always a bit oblong, and never symmetrical, but this doesn’t seem to affect their taste.) Brush both sides with olive oil and then place on the grill over direct heat and close the grill. Let it cook for about 3-4 minutes and then check it. (They burn super easily, so as soon as it’s lightly browned, flip it.) Add whatever toppings you want, turn the center burner off (for indirect heat)  and then close the grill and let the pizza cook until the bottom is browned and the cheese is melted. I did a version of our pesto, roasted peppers, chicken pizza and I also debuted a new pizza:

This one had an olive tapenade that I made using Elizabeth Karmel’s recipe (it’s at the end of this post), cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, grated fontina, pecorino romano and basil. I also found a recipe in her book, Pizza On the Grill, for a berry pizza, which I served as dessert on the 4th:

I didn’t have all of the ingredients for this one, so I just added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the dough while I was kneading it, then brushed it with canola oil. Once both sides were grilled, I removed it from the heat and spread it with one cup of ricotta cheese that I had added 2 tbsp of sugar and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla to. I then topped it with strawberries and blueberries and drizzled it with honey. It was a huge hit!

Though we did make pizzas all three nights we were in Connecticut, there was plenty of other food as well. I made the barley salad again, as well as a rotini pasta salad with spinach, ricotta, and golden raisins that I found in Real Simple several years ago.

I was tired of turkey burgers, and when a recipe for beef and bulgur burgers landed in my inbox last week as part of Whole Foods Market’s newsletter, I decided I’d make those too. They have cinnamon and allspice in them which gives them a delightful aroma and taste. Next time I may use less bulgur as they were a bit crumbly once they were on the grill, which made them harder to flip:

And finally, since my brother-in-law is a big fan of mixed berry desserts, I found a recipe for mixed berry spoon cake in my Food & Wine cookbook, so I prepared that as well. Justin gave it his seal of approval. It’s especially good warm, though eating it cold for breakfast this morning was tasty too:

It was a fantastic weekend full of good weather, good company and good food. What more can you ask for? Below, I’ve listed all of the recipes I used. Email me with your favorite 4th of July dishes!

Black Olive Tapenade

2 cups kalamata olives, drained and pitted

Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup lightly packed Italian parsley leaves

2 tablespoon olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Rotini with Spinach, Ricotta, and Golden Raisins

1/2 pound rotini (or fusilli or bow-tie pasta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach—thawed, drained and squeezed of excess moisture

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup whole or part-skim ricotta

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Cook the pasta to the label directions. Drain and return to pot. Add the olive oil, spinach, scallions, raisins and basil and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta and balsamic vinegar; stir. Add to the pasta mixture and toss lightly. Top with the Parmesan and pine nuts if desired.

Note: I usually make this dish with a full pound of pasta, but I don’t increase all of the ingredients. I usually add a little more olive oil (especially if I’m serving it the next day) and sometimes I add more ricotta if it looks a bit dry. I’ve made it with and without the pine nuts. The pine nuts are a nice touch, but not necessary if you don’t have them. But don’t skip the raisins. They add a hint of sweetness that really makes the dish.

Beef and Bulgur Burgers

2 cups water
1 cup bulgur wheat
Canola oil
1 1/4 pounds (95-percent) lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion, plus sliced onion for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
6 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted
Green or red leaf lettuce
2 tomatoes, sliced

Bring water to a boil in a small pot over medium high heat. Add bulgur, cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until water is almost absorbed and bulgur is just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover pot, fluff bulgur with a fork and set aside until cooled. In a large bowl, mix together beef, bulgur, parsley, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and chopped onion. Form mixture into 6 patties and season all over with salt and pepper. Grill patties, flipping once, until deep golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Filling

4 pints strawberries (2 pounds), hulled and quartered

2 pints blackberries (12 ounces)

2 pints raspberries (12 ounces)

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

In a bowl, toss the berries with the sugar and cornstarch and let stand for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar, lemon zest, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and vanilla. Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients until evenly moistened, then whisk in the melted butter until smooth. Spread the filling in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon the batter on top, leaving small gaps. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and a toothpick inserted into the topping comes out clean. Let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Quinoa With Zucchini, Tomato and Mozzarella

Our pantry is well-stocked with grains: quinoa, barley, wheat berry, bulgar wheat, and while I enjoy them all, I find that quinoa is the most versatile—and fastest to prepare. I’ve begun using the superfood as a base in much the same way I’d use pasta. I boil up a batch in chicken broth (it only takes 15 minutes!) and then toss whatever I have on hand into the pot. Today it was zucchini, tomato, garlic scapes and fresh mozzarella. I sauteed the zucchini and scapes while the quinoa cooked, adding a little bit of chopped leeks to the pan as well, since I have a bunch in the fridge from last week’s oat risotto (which I think I will be making again tonight.) When the quinoa was done, I dumped the skillet’s contents into the pot, added the fresh mozzarella, tomato and a handful of fresh parsley and basil. It was a quick, healthy lunch with enough leftovers for the rest of the week.

Haven’t tried quinoa yet? Get to the store, stat! It’s so, so tasty and even better for your body. Instead of pasta tonight, substitute quinoa and add your favorite vegetables, cheese, and/or nuts. (Walnuts, golden raisins and feta is another one of my favorite combos.) Then leave a comment and let me know how you liked it!

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