Eggplant and Barley Salad

Summer has been very hot in New Jersey this year. I don’t think it’s usually quite this hot, although I don’t know for certain as it’s only our second summer here. When the heat rivals summer in the Midwest, meals for us usually consist of whatever Alex has grilled that day, leftovers from when Alex grilled, pancakes (because I use an electric griddle), or BLTs, which are really cooling if you (perhaps heretically) microwave your bacon and don’t heat up your oven or a frying pan.

This Eggplant and Barley Salad from Smitten Kitchen is really very nice in the summer, once you get past the steps of roasting vegetables. I first made this salad a few years ago, and I really liked it. Alex doesn’t like eggplant, but he enjoys this salad. Roasting the eggplant makes it a little less eggplanty and more delicious. The barley is tender yet chewy, flavored with cumin and coriander. The grain is surprisingly good cold. I usually don’t like salads because dressing is too vinegary or assertive, but this salad is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, all of which I like. Tomatoes and roasted zucchini (and olives, if those are your thing) give the dish extra flavor. I love the balanced flavors in this dish.

This is a delicious, flavorful summer salad. It works great as a make-ahead vegetarian/vegan meal and is perfect as leftovers on a lot summer day. We had 4 dinner-sized servings plus some for a toddler, but it would yield more as a side dish.

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One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes

One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes is one of my favorite new dishes. I’ve made it several times already since I first tried it. It involves minimal prep – maybe about 10 minutes while you cut everything up and heat the pot. It’s easy enough to do with a toddler playing at your feet, or sitting on the counter watching you. It’s ready after 30 minutes of hands-off cooking. It smells amazing by the time it’s done, more amazing than you think anything with this few ingredients can be.

This will serve two and a toddler as a vegetarian meal, or more as a side dish.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

When I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake on the Smitten Kitchen website, I knew that it would be what I made Alex for his birthday. And I did, a little late, in 2014. It turned out beautifully, perfectly, but I never got around to blogging about it. So this year again, I baked for his birthday.

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This is a fantastic cheesecake. The chocolate cookie crust was delicious, as was the peanut butter cheesecake, as was the chocolate fudge layer hidden beneath the cheesecake layer. Chocolate ganache covers the entire thing (and hides any cracks or flaws you might have, though mine surprisingly didn’t crack).  The peanut butter cheesecake was smooth and creamy; it paired perfectly with all the chocolate. Overall this was a dense and rich cheesecake. I needed to cut slices very thin – about as thin as I could with a cheesecake – in order to be able to finish a slice. The only downside was that the crust was a little dense and hard in the corners where the sides met the bottom; that was the case two years ago as well, and I wish I knew how to fix that.

Given the separate layers, I find this an impressive dessert to make. No layer was particularly difficult to make. It took a little time and planning, but I didn’t have trouble making it with my toddler watching me (though it helped that she snacked on chocolate animal crackers in the meantime). I had it done in a morning, aside from the ganache on top.

If you love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, this is definitely a dessert for you.

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Chocolate Sheet Cake

My mom has had a recipe in her recipe box for a chocolate sheet cake for as long as I can remember. She kindly texted me a copy of it a few weeks ago when I really, really wanted to make a sheet cake. I thought it was a Texas sheet cake. It’s not, although it’s similar. Although I thought I wanted to make a Texas sheet cake, I trusted that I’d had and enjoyed this cake before, so I went ahead with it.

It’s been a while since I’ve tried a recipe that wasn’t published online or in a cookbook, so I was a little nervous. However, the cake was delicious. It’s basically a frosted brownie. I inadvertently halved the oil in the cake, but it still came out very moist and stayed moist for a week.  The cake itself was tender and chocolatey; it’s a definite keeper.  Our least favorite part was the icing, which came out sugary – crystalline and fragile. The cake definitely needs a light icing, and although this one provided just the right amount of coverage and kept the cake from drying out, I’ll try a ganache next time for a better texture.

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Date Shake

Recently Smitten Kitchen wrote about the Palm Springs Date Shake. I’d never heard of a date shake before, but I have a bag of dates in my pantry that I never use, and I (suppose I’ll admit that I) always have two or three kinds of ice cream in the freezer. There was no good reason for me not to try a date shake, and the recipe required minimal effort, which is how much I want to exert on my cooking nowadays.

I don’t usually make milkshakes. They require an obscene amount of ice cream in them, and it’s easier to just eat the ice cream. However, this milkshake was surprisingly good. I always forget how delicious dates are; when I eat them, I wonder why I don’t eat them more often. The dates made the milkshake taste honeyed to me, even though there’s no honey included. The nutmeg was subtle but delicious.

The recipe is incredibly simple. Only thing to remember is to chop and soak the dates in boiling water for at least 15 minutes, and that can be done well in advance (which is best, in my opinion, so you can chill them and have the coldest milkshake possible).

I don’t know if this is healthier than normal milkshakes, but I’m going to pretend that it is since it contains fruit. It’s definitely worth making more than once.

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Fajitas

I finally have a favorite recipe for fajitas. It’s delicious, fast, and incredibly easy to make. Previously, I made fajitas before using a recipe from a cookbook I’d had for years; they were always tasty, but I recall the recipe being a little involved, though I can’t remember how. But leave it to Smitten Kitchen to again give a delicious, streamlined recipe that I can count on.

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What do I love about this recipe? Little things. You cook the vegetables before the meat, then add it back – I can’t recall ever seeing that in a recipe like this (which is essentially a stir-fry). The marinade for the meat has little liquid, so you don’t have to drain it. You just dump the meat into the skillet, and there’s no mess and no waste! I’ve made this with beef and with chicken, and they were equally delicious, but I favor using beef mainly because I can buy precut stir-fry beef.

The marinade was flavorful but not spicy. The meat and vegetables cooked perfectly in my cast iron skillet. It was quick for me to combine the spices and lime juice (I use bottled) to marinate the meat and to cut the vegetables (while Amelia had her afternoon snack), and that could easily be done the night before. The fajitas took very little time to cook, and were great as leftovers too.

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Carrot Soup with Sesame and Chickpeas

One of the soups that I’ve made a few times recently(ish) is the Carrot Soup with Tahini and Chickpeas from Smitten Kitchen. It’s a healthy and delicious soup, and is pretty quick and easy to make.

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The soup itself is lightly spiced. Do not skip the sesame-lemon drizzle! It provides a definite punch of flavor, making the soup anything but boring.  The addition of chickpeas also makes this more interesting than your usual blended veggie soup. In some ways, it’s like eating a soup version of hummus. As a meal, this soup is light but filling. It’s also vegetarian and vegan!

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Slow Cooker Chicken Chili

Cooking is much easier with a one-year old than it was with a baby. It got better when she was able to sit upright and play with toys or watch me from her high chair. Now that she can toddle into and out of the kitchen, I can get much more done!

Still, I prefer to cook things that require minimal effort and time, things that I don’t have to focus on. This usually means using my slow cooker. Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted the perfect recipe earlier this year – a chicken chili made entirely in the slow cooker. No soaking beans. No browning meat.

I love this recipe. I just throw all the ingredients in the crockpot and let it cook until dinner. I only have to cut up an onion and a jalapeno (if I use a whole pepper instead of chili or pepper flakes, which I usually don’t). I don’t cut up my chicken first; after 10 hours in the slow cooker, I easily break it up with a sturdy serving spoon. And this chili even turns out if I forget that I’m out of onions when I make it (oops).

This was a great chili and a perfect slow cooker meal. It was delicious and not too spicy (as long as I added the amount of jalapeno I wanted). As a chili, it’s hearty and healthy. This is way, way better any of my attempts to make a chili with ground turkey. This recipe is not as tomatoey as when I make a chili on the stove, but that’s not a big deal. Leftovers are great. And my one-year-old absolutely devours it, meal after meal.

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Belgian Brownie Cakelets

Anyone who’s read this blog knows I love chocolate. Let me introduce you to one of the purest and most delicious chocolate things I’ve made.

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Over the weekend, I finally made time to make the Belgian Brownie Cakelets from Smitten Kitchen. This weekend was dreary, bringing colder weather as well as snow for the first evening of spring. I didn’t have much in my house that I wanted to cook, though it was a good weekend to cook. This recipe really brightened the whole weekend.

The ingredient list is simple but decadent. Lots of chocolate, butter, and eggs; some sugar; a little salt and flour. It’s rich, but worth every calorie. The recipe itself was easy to assemble as well. Just melt together butter and chocolate; whisk in everything else; let rest; scoop into a muffin tin, then bake. It’s not a flourless cake, but it’s pretty darned close, and is better than most of those cakes that you find. You could substitute in some cocoa powder if you needed to make it gluten-free.

These were amazingly good, just as dense and rich and chocolatey as you might imagine. The cakes were soft and moist; when we microwaved them for 15-20 seconds, they became even richer and more decadent. They’re perfect for entertaining, since they’re individual desserts. Just garnish with a dab of whipped cream and a raspberry or mint leaf. It’s also perfectly fine to split a batch with your husband, for no reason at all except you can.

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Blueberry Pie (updated)

Happy Pi Day!

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I had a bunch of frozen blueberries, so I made a blueberry pie. I have a cold right now,  so this recipe was about as much effort as I wanted to put into a pie – minimal.

I made this recipe in 2010 when I first started this blog, and it’s still a good, straightforward pie. Not too sweet. I think it turned out better this time. The recipe called for optional cinnamon, which I omitted. I think some lemon zest (probably one lemon) would be a nice addition. I used frozen wild blueberries but extended baking time by about 15 minutes.

I used refrigerated pie crusts as well, since I just don’t have time or inclination to make my own. I find that refrigerated pie crusts stick to whatever pie plate I use, but I always forget to grease the plate in advance. Don’t make my mistake!

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