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Mucho Gusto

Peach Crumble

One of my most cherished family traditions is going fruit picking. Whether it’s under the hot summer sun or in the chilly fall breeze, walking through the endless rows of fruit trees never fails to bring me joy. From crisp apples to juicy peaches, my mouth waters as I taste the delicious fruits we just picked. Ending our trips with some freshly made apple cider or a scoop of decadent peach ice cream is always a delight. 

For me, the best part of fruit picking is coming home with bags full of fruit just waiting to be turned into a delicious dessert. Today, I’m sharing a peach crumble recipe, an experiment of mine I made after I went peach picking. After an enjoyable but long day, this recipe was simple to make, requiring less than 10 minutes of prep time. 

From the more acidic golden peach to the sweeter white peach, any type will work for this recipe. Some even prefer to use nectarines, which are closely related to peaches but have a subtler taste. What matters most is using the ripest, freshest fruit you can find; for peaches, that would be in the summer months. Regardless of which type of peach or nectarine you choose to use, the fruit softens as the oat-based crumble crispens as the dessert bakes, creating a wonderful textural contrast. The peaches melt in your mouth after just one bite. The cinnamon perfectly complements the brown sugar in the crumble and the natural sweetness of the peaches. Some people like to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, adding an extra layer of sweetness while also creating a cold contrast to the warm peach crumble. 

Ingredients:

Peach Filling

  • 6 ripe peaches, sliced 
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2-3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Crumble

  • 1 cup oats
  • ½ cup butter, melted 
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon 

Directions:

First, preheat the oven to 350 °F. To make the peach filling, combine the peaches, flour, sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Gently mix the ingredients together, ensuring that each peach slice is evenly coated with the other ingredients. Transfer the filling to a lightly greased baking pan. 

Next, make the crumble by combining the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon together in a bowl and mix until well combined. Feel free to add more sugar for some extra sweetness. In a separate bowl, add the butter to the oats and mix thoroughly. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the oat and butter mixture and stir to combine. Make sure the dry ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the oat mixture. 

Place the crumble on top of the peach filling in the baking pan. Bake the peach crumble for at least 40 minutes, or until the sugar is completely melted and the top is golden brown. Let cool for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. For an extra sweet treat, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Enjoy! 

Recipe Adapted from Joyous Apron’s Easy Peach Crisp

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The Original (Homemade) Chipwich: The Perfect Summer Treat

Free time in summer looks different than during the rest of the year. Instead of curling up with a nice blanket inside or watching a movie with friends, my summer consists of lounging by the pool, warm sunset walks, and  hanging out with friends under the heat of the sun. Nothing leaves me craving ice cream more than being outside in the scorching 90 degree heat! While the classic scoop of your favorite ice cream in a cone is always a good choice, sometimes it can be fun to mix things up. So, if you’re in the mood for a fun-to-make, sweet, and cooling summer treat, I highly suggest this Chipwich recipe.

The Chipwich was originally sold en masse in New York City in 1982 after being invented by a New York lawyer named Richard LaMotta. The cookie ice cream sandwich was sold in  60 food carts for $1, an expensive price for street food typically sold at a quarter of the price. Despite this, within two weeks of being released, LaMotta’s vendors sold around 40,000 chipwiches a day, allowing him to start his own Chipwich company. In 2007, Nestle acquired LaMotta’s chipwich company and sadly discontinued the original Chipwich. However, when the Original Chipwich returned to the market in the summer of 2018, the New York Times gave it first place on its list of “The 7 Greatest Packaged Foods, Ranked.”

While the Original Chipwich is delightful, nothing beats the aroma of freshly baked cookies and the satisfaction of biting into a homemade treat. The Chipwich has everything you want in a dessert, with vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two golden-brown chocolate chip cookies, and an edge rolled in chocolate chips. When you make warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies, dipping the freshly baked cookies in a glass of cool milk makes them ten times better, but this is already built into the Chipwich. On a hot day, the ice cream melts just enough to soften the two cookies; the chilled chocolate chips add a semisweet crunch; the coolness of the ice cream provides the perfect chilly snack to devour in the sweltering heat. With whatever cookies or ice cream you decide to use to make your chipwich, the only nonnegotiable step to making the perfect chipwich is freezing the cookies before sandwiching the ice cream in between; this helps make sure the cookies don’t crumble in the process of sandwiching. Even more, the Chipwich doesn’t have to be eaten right away. It can be eaten in the moment or stored in the freezer for later. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll have a delicious treat perfect for a hot summer day. 

Recipe:

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½  cup softened butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ⅓ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or 1 cup  semi-sweet chocolate chips if you are not using the dark chocolate chunks)
  • ⅓ cup dark chocolate chunks
  • 1 quart or 2 pints vanilla ice cream (I like Graeter’s Madagascar Vanilla)
  • 1 ¾ cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Begin by whisking together the sugar, salt, and butter until it is a smooth consistency. Add the egg and vanilla extract to this mixture and beat until uniformly combined. The mixture should be  fluffy enough that when the whisk is lifted, the ribbons of mixture from the whisk do not fade into the mixture’s surface immediately. Add the flour and baking soda by folding the mixture inwards with a spatula. Once doughy, fold in the chocolate chips and chunks. Chill the dough for a half hour in the refrigerator and then use an ice cream scoop to place 6 cookies 4 inches apart on a lightly oiled cookie sheet (parchment paper can also be used). Bake cookies for 12-15 minutes. 

Once cooled, place the cookies on their tray in the freezer for at least an hour. Before removing the cookies from the freezer, pour the mini chocolate chips into a medium sized bowl and set aside. After the cookies have  frozen, sandwich at least one scoop of ice cream between two cookies, making sure that the ice cream reaches the edge of the cookies. Roll the edges of the sandwich in the mini chocolate chips until all sides are covered. Finally, either wrap each sandwich individually in parchment paper and freeze for later or eat upon completion. 

While this recipe shows you how to make the classic chipwich, there is also room for experimentation! Instead of chocolate chip cookies, you could use peanut butter chocolate chip cookies for a more nutty hint, or chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla. If you’re feeling extra bold, you could even use a dark cherry or strawberry ice cream for a fruity twist! There are so many delicious combinations, so grab a friend, eat up, and enjoy! 

Cookie recipe adapted from Tasty

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Horchata (de Arroz y Canela)

When most people think of their favorite summer drink, they probably immediately think of lemonade. And how could they not? After all, it’s a sweet-and-sour, cross-cultural classic loved by all ages! As a kid, I remember summertime as the time for lemonade stands with friends, pouring my own hard work in every cup and tasting the sweet, child-like fun in between customers. 

Personally, a couple other icy cold drinks come to mind for me. My childhood was filled with lots of fresh lemonade, of course, (always homemade by my grandma and kept in big pitchers in the fridge) but it was also brimming with horchata, rosa de jamaica, and aguas frescas. These were the special summertime flavors crafted by my grandma for the whole family to enjoy after long days playing or working in the sun. As a child, seeing these fun drinks in the fridge made me even more excited for the future of my lemonade stand business… 

Like lemonade in America, horchata is a staple in Hispanic culture. The bright and crisp-tasting liquid’s history is rooted in Valencia, Spain, from ground tiger nuts. When I visited Valencia years ago, I remember having some of the best, yet most unfamiliar and unique horchata of my life—it had a much nuttier and richer flavor. The odd, small, and green bean-looking seeds were sold by vendors in canvas sacks up and down the streets, as was the drink. 

This popular, traditional beverage has variations in Mexico, the Americas, and West Africa, all of which evolved from this Spanish tradition. It goes by many names (horchata de chufa in Spain, kunnu aya in West Africa, and agua de horchata in Mexico) but is always delicious. Besides the original tiger nut version, the diverse drink can be made from melon seeds, sesame seeds, jicaro seeds, or herbs. It is a plant-milk based drink, served hot or cold, and my family’s version uses white rice, which is common in the Americas. Horchata de arroz is the most popular recipe in Guatemala, where my grandma is from.

You might be familiar with this style of horchata, as it is sold alongside tacos and burritos at your local Mexican taquería. Cold, creamy, and smooth, this horchata is full of fragrant cinnamon and a fruity vanilla sweetness, but is still somehow refreshing and light. I always think of this as drinking a melted coconut popsicle minus the coconut flavor and with an emphasis on the fresh milky and smooth consistency. This delicious cinnamon and rice milk drink is thirst-quenching and perfect for the hot, sunny days we have ahead of us. So, swap out the lemonade with horchata and experience the other side of traditional summer drinks while you bask in the sunshine. This sweet, blissful drink might even give you the sensation of being on a tropical island vacation. Each tasty sip will make you “Mmm” and “Ahhh.”

Ingredients: (makes a full pitcher-size serving)

  • 1 ½ cup white rice
  • 8 cups water
  • About 4 cups of milk
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  •  ½ cup of sweetened condensed milk (or sweeten to your liking)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon

Procedure: 

Soak the rice in a pot with 4-5 cups of water for about 8 hours. Without disposing of the water, strain the rice from the water. Transfer the water to another pot if need be. Grind ½ cup of the soaked rice in a blender and add  the conserved rice water from earlier. In a separate pot, boil an additional 4 cups of water with a cinnamon stick until it bubbles, for about 10 minutes. The water should be aromatic and brown in color. Pour the cinnamon water into the rice water. You can remove the stick now or continue to let it soak in the mixture and remove it later. Add the 4 cups of milk. The goal is to combine the water with enough milk so that it’s somewhat creamy, but not thick or overpowering. If the drink is diluted and thin, add more milk to balance the consistency of the mixture. If the mixture is thick and heavy, add more water. Add the vanilla extract and condensed milk to sweeten the mixture, and mix well. Pour into a large pitcher, store in the fridge, and enjoy a cold glass of horchata all summer long with family and friends! 

Cover photo courtesy of House of Yumm

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Grilled Corn Summer Salad

The perennial 4th of July menu: hamburgers, hot dogs, with a side-act accompaniment of corn on the cob. While the Independence Day tradition carries an abundance of nostalgia that our taste buds savor, I’d argue that even the classics yearn for an upgrade. 

Of all the summer staples, I have always found a hassle with corn on the cob. Butter dripping down my face, an awkward turn of the cob, and far too many kernels getting stuck in my teeth. For me, eating corn on the cob always tastes like indulgence at an uncomfortable expense. And cutting the corn off the cob with a plastic knife on a flimsy paper plate is always a challenge. Plus, the act of doing so guarantees to be followed by the glares of those who ask, “What are you, five-years-old?,” and the subsequent arrival of my blushing cheeks that can prelude white and blue. 

This grilled summer corn salad promises to please those who want to refurbish their neighborhood cookout spread, or those who simply have wrestled with tricky cobs of corn long enough, like myself. The best thing about corn on the cob is that its preparation is effortless. This fresh corn side remains easy to make, serve, and most importantly, easy to eat. 

This dish introduces a hint of lime and cilantro, which along with a slight bite of red onion perfectly complement the fresh flavors of the corn.  Red bell peppers and sweet cherry tomatoes add substance and a variety of textures to the salad, creating the perfect spoonful. For spice-loving crowds, chopped jalapeño can be woven into its fresh flavors, and for those who want to transform the side into a centerpiece, the dish superbly matches with a bowl of cold orzo pasta. The recipe that I introduce below is a wonderfully simple rendition of the dish, yet it is easily adaptable to any occasion.

Ingredients:

5 ears of corn

1 red bell pepper

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup red onion, diced

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

1 lime

¼ cup of cilantro

Preheat the grill to 425 ℉. Shuck a few layers of the husks—the leafy green covering—off the five ears of corn. Leaving a couple of thin layers on, wrap each ear in tin foil and place on the grill to cook on each side for about four minutes. Once cooked, uncover the corn ears from the tin foil and place them directly on the grill for two minutes on each side to lightly blacken the kernels. Remove from the grill and place on a plate to cool. Without a grill, you can also easily prepare the corn by placing it in a large, tall pot of boiling water for roughly six minutes. 

Dice your peppers, red onion, and halve your cherry tomatoes. Once the ears of corn are cool, cut the corn off of the cobs by placing the narrowed end of the ear on your cutting board and slicing downward with a large knife perpendicular to the cob. Make sure to break up the kernels from one another after cutting. Place the ingredients in a large serving bowl.

Drizzle olive oil and squeeze the lime over the fresh ingredients. Add salt and pepper and toss the corn salad to make sure it is evenly coated in the olive oil and lime juice. Chop up the cilantro and mix it through the dish. Serve and enjoy!

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Italian Biscotti

Crunchy and nutty, with a hint of sweetness, biscotti is a quintessential Italian breakfast treat and a Vuono family favorite. Americans use the word, biscotti, to simply refer to this delicious crescent-shaped and crisp cookie. On the other hand, Italians have a very broad definition of the word “biscotti,” using it to refer to different types of cookies, and they call this specific twice-baked biscuit, cantucci.

Tracing back to Ancient Rome, biscotto derives from the Latin roots “bis” for “twice,” and “cotto,” for “cooked.” The most traditional biscotti, or cantucci, comes from the city of Prato, in the Tuscan region of Italy. Traditionally, biscotti are often made with almonds, which is the recipe my family still lives by today.

Although modern variations of biscotti can be made with raisins or other dried fruit, chocolate, or types of nuts, I believe this classic Tuscan recipe is truly the best–and most authentic. These biscotti are perfect with a cup of coffee, or as I ate them growing up, with a glass of milk. 

My father’s side of the family is very Italian, and I grew up surrounded by great cooks. My cousins and I always loved being the designated taste testers.  Whether we were tasting the al-dente of the penne for pasta dinners or licking the spoon from the tiramisu dessert, we always hung around the kitchen, waiting to try anything we could get our hands on. My grammy, the biscotti expert, taught me how to make these delicious biscuits. Throughout the years, I learned to perfect the recipe with her words of wisdom. I truly learned from the best, and I hope that this recipe satisfies all your biscotti cravings!

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg to brush on loaf
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons crushed anise seeds
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (Add a little more to measuring cup for sprinkling on floured board)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds

Instructions

First, preheat the oven to 350℉. Crack the eggs in a bowl, and beat with a whisk or fork until well-blended. Then, mix in the oil and add the sugar until it has fully dissolved in the mixture.

Incorporate the crushed anise seeds, baking powder, vanilla, and salt into the mixture.  Carefully stir in the flour, making sure there are no lumps or clumps. Add in the slivered almonds and continue to mix. At this point, the dough should be quite stiff and easy to mix by hand.

Next, take a cutting board and coat it with flour. Separate the dough into three equal parts. Knead and roll each segment of dough into a long roll until it loses its stickiness. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper and place each long loaf equal distance apart on the pan.

Crack another egg into a separate bowl and beat. Once the egg is fully whipped and fluffy, brush it over each loaf so that each cookie will have a nice shine after it bakes. 

Bake the loaves in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is light brown. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice each loaf on the diagonal and place each piece back on the parchment. Bake for 10 more minutes–hence the twice baked tradition of this cookie. Remove from the oven, and let cool. Once they are hardened, they are ready to serve! Buon Appetito!

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Banging Black Beans

Refried beans are synonymous with Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine, but are eaten in countless other Latin American cultures as well. They are a relatively new dish, popularized in the last century alongside many other Tex-Mex staples like fajitas or chili con carne. The name refried beans can cause some confusion because the beans are not literally fried twice—a more apt description would be “well-fried beans,” the direct Spanish translation of “frijoles refritos.”

Cooking refried beans can be as simple or complex as you’d like. The easiest iterations of refried beans consist of nothing but beans, a source of fat, and spices. Many recipes call for the addition of fragrant vegetables such as sauteed onion, pepper, or a sofrito. In northern regions of Mexico and most of the United States, this dish is traditionally made with pinto beans, but can be made with any bean you prefer. Black beans are the second most common choice, and my personal favorite. No matter which bean you choose to use, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying refried beans in any form, you certainly understand why the dish came to be so popular. The uses for refried beans are almost inexhaustible: it can be served as a dip on its own, or can be combined with other dips and condiments like your favorite guacamole and queso to make a 7-layer dip, a crowd-pleasing game day staple. Refried beans also make a fantastic enchilada filling, and on rice it becomes a deceptively simple standalone meal. They’re simple, filling, and make a fantastic accouterment or even main dish whenever you decide you’re craving some Tex-Mex food.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼  large red onion, finely chopped
  • ½ poblano pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 cups black beans, cooked and drained 
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder 
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

In a large saucepan, saute the onions and peppers in the olive oil over medium-high heat until softened and beginning to brown. Add the black beans, cumin, and chili powder to the saucepan, toasting them briefly, about 30 seconds, before adding the vegetable stock and bringing the mixture to a gentle simmer. Lower the heat and reduce the mixture, stirring occasionally until the beans are tender and the liquid has reached a saucy consistency. This will take about three to five minutes. Mash with a potato masher or fork until the beans reach the desired consistency, mix in the lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. You’re now ready to enjoy some banging beans however you please!

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Homemade Hummus

Created in the 13th century, hummus is a well-known chickpea-based dish with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean origins. In fact, “hummus” literally translates to “chickpeas” in Arabic. Hummus has since spread across the world, becoming a beloved snack in countries everywhere. As a result, hummus has become very versatile, often used as a dip or spread onto sandwiches and wraps or served with falafel. Today, many unique variations of hummus exist. Some, for example, add beetroot to the hummus, resulting in a beautiful magenta-colored dip; others add fig and honey or cocoa powder for a sweet take on the traditional recipe.

With brands like Sabra sold in just about every grocery store, most people rely solely on store-bought hummus. As it turns out, however, hummus is actually quite simple to make, requiring a food processor and a few key ingredients, like chickpeas, olive oil, and tahini. Despite hummus’ widespread popularity, the inclusion of tahini, a sesame seed paste, is very controversial: while some people despise the slightly bitter taste of the tahini, others love the nuttiness that it adds to hummus. Even more, tahini excels at thickening the chickpea purée, creating the perfectly-textured dip. Personally, I always include tahini in hummus because I love the ingredient’s earthiness and richness. 

Ingredients: 

  • ¼ cup tahini 
  • ½ lemon, juiced 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained 
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika 
  • Salt to taste 

Instructions:

In a food processor, blend the tahini and lemon juice together until a smooth paste forms. After this, add the olive oil and garlic to the mixture and blend until well combined. Next, add half of the chickpeas to the food processor, and blend until a smooth mixture with no visible chunks forms. Repeat this process with the remaining half of chickpeas. Add the cumin powder, ½ teaspoon of paprika, and salt to the mixture, and blend until well incorporated. If the hummus is too thick, add some water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. When ready to serve, garnish the hummus with the remaining paprika. Feel free to customize this recipe with your favorite flavors! Some people enjoy adding more garlic or paprika, and others add red chiles, roasted red pepper, or fresh herbs. If you dislike tahini, you can add extra olive oil to thicken the chickpea puree instead. Serve as a dip with pita chips or vegetable slices, or use as a spread in a sandwich or wrap! Enjoy! 

Recipe Adapted from Easy Hummus (Better Than Store-Bought)

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Peanut Butter Chip Oatmeal Cookies

On a school night, a hot summer night by the bonfire, or anything in between, there’s nothing better than a freshly baked cookie oozing melted chocolate. Ever since childhood, the cookie-eating experience is a fond memory that always warms my heart; the delectable, aromatic smell of vanilla and warm sugar fills my nose as I hold the soft yet crispy cookie in the palm of my hand. Every bite is bliss, especially accompanied by my Nonna’s caffè latte for dipping. I savor every last fallen cookie crumb, admiring how a few basic ingredients came together to form a sweet, comforting, homey treat. 

Chewy, gooey, caramelized cookies (topped with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course) are not just a common craving, but probably my all-time favorite dessert. It’s no wonder why: from the nostalgic experience to the mouth-watering flavor, freshly-baked homemade cookies have a way of making everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. Not to mention, cookies are so versatile! From classic chocolate chip, to festive nut and cranberry, to candied caramel, and even everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, the flavor options are endless! So, with such limitless options, how do you make a decision? What should you put in your cookie? What if you’re in a hurry, or not much of a baker? This recipe has you covered!

Peanut butter and chocolate are just about the best combination I can think of, especially when you have a hankering for a sweet treat! Whenever my sweet tooth kicks in, I crave this iconic pairing.  Simple and tasty, these peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies will do just that. Not only do these cookies  take only 25 minutes to make, but they only require one bowl and ingredients you likely already have on hand. Plus, if you ask me, the chocolate chip versus oatmeal cookie debate is flawed—clearly, the best combination is when these cookies join forces to form a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, and this one even has peanut butter! It can’t get much better than that! Take your late night snacking or midnight dessert to the next level with this fun, quick, and easy cookie recipe; you will be dreaming about it after!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ tsp sea salt (extra for topping)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup creamy salted peanut butter
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbsp chocolate chips (extra for topping)

Instructions:

Start by preheating your oven to 350℉ and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. As an alternative, you can also lightly grease the pan with cooking spray or butter. 

In a medium mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients: oats, flour, sea salt, baking powder, and brown sugar. Mix until the dry mixture is homogeneous and light tan in color. Next, add peanut butter, vanilla extract, and egg, and stir until well combined. A sticky but compact dough should form. If the dough is too dry, add more peanut butter, or a splash of milk. If the dough is too wet, add a bit more flour. Now stir in the chocolate chips. 

After you finish making the dough, scoop the dough out with a spoon, making each scoop about 1 ½ tbs in size. Form the dough into little balls with your hands. Place them on your prepped baking sheet and press each ball down lightly to form the traditional disc-like cookie shape. 

Bake the cookies for about 6 minutes, and then take them out to add more chocolatey-goodness—top each cookie with a few more chocolate chips and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt. Pop them in the oven again so that the chocolate chips on top start to melt, about 4-6 minutes, or until they are golden brown and the edges are lightly crisp. The total baking time should be about 10-12 minutes. By the end, the cookies should have doubled in size. After removing them from the oven, let the cookies cool on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. 

This recipe makes about 12 cookies. Share with friends and enjoy this easy, sweet treat whenever your sweet tooth kicks in!

Adapted from The Minimalist Baker’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cover image courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction

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Spring Salad

As the seasons change, so do cravings. Specific dishes just make sense in different parts of the year. On rainy autumn days, I always want to curl up with a bowl of warm soup; on frigid winter days, a steaming cup of hot chocolate just hits differently. In the upcoming sunny, spring days, when the air smells fresh and flowers bloom, the world will begin to crave something fresh to eat. Or, at least I will. 

Salad in any form, with its combination of fresh ingredients, seems like the embodiment of spring in a dish. By definition, a salad should have fresh leafy greens, which reminds me of the return of greenery in springtime. Whenever I think of salad, I tend to gravitate towards a spinach base, but alone it is too plain. The addition of tomatoes, black beans, and pasta, however, can elevate a salad, freeing it from its relegation as a side dish and transforming it into a full-fledged meal. A delicious pasta salad can provide the perfect transition dish from those richer winter meals to the lighter spring and summer dishes.

In my opinion, pasta in salads just makes them more filling and delicious. For salads, the best pastas have unique shapes. The more fun their shape, the better. With their ridges and curves, pastas like fusilli, campanelle, farfalle, and radiatore, are able to collect the salad dressing and grated cheese, adding more flavor in each bite. Mixed with black beans and cherry tomatoes, this salad has hints of earthy and sweet flavors, which are enhanced further by the balsamic vinegar glaze. The sprinkle of parmesan cheese adds some saltiness to the dish, complimenting the pasta well. While these ingredients seem like they would clash, they are pantry staples, and, I swear, their flavors actually go surprisingly well together! Whether you’re looking for a quick and easy dish for lunch, or something light to eat on a fresh spring day, this salad is sure to satisfy. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 box pasta (16 oz.)
  • 1 container of spinach (12 oz.)
  • 2 cans black beans (15 oz.)
  • 5 cups cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup balsamic glaze 
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Heaping ¾ cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

First, bring a pot of water to a boil, add the pasta to the water, and cook according to the instructions on the pasta box, which vary depending on the pasta type. Next, rinse and halve the cherry tomatoes. Similarly, rinse the spinach and canned black beans. As with any salad, the ingredients are flexible. Arugula or baby kale are good substitutes for spinach, and garbanzo beans or lentils are alternatives to black beans. You can always add chicken or tofu to make it more filling. 

After the pasta has finished cooking, strain and place into a large bowl. Next, pour the black beans and cherry tomatoes onto the pasta, and top with the spinach. With salad tongs, mix the salad until all ingredients are equally distributed. To top it off, drizzle the balsamic glaze and olive oil over the salad and mix a second time to incorporate the dressing. Finally, add the parmesan cheese and some freshly ground pepper and salt to taste, and voila! You’ve got yourself a quick, easy, and delicious spring pasta salad. Enjoy!

This recipe serves 3-4 people.

Cover photo courtesy of Pinch of Yum

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Blueberry Brie Grilled Cheese

Writing this recipe, I imagine myself sitting in the conference room of Runway Magazine; well-acquainted with the infamous fictional character Miranda Priestly. I see her furrowed brow, I shiver from her glaring eyes, and I hear her cold tone as she sarcastically remarks, “Fruit? For Spring? Groundbreaking.” 

Fruit, like florals, evoke this exaggerated eye-roll in the name of an outdone, over-used, and repeated theme when introduced as the statement piece in a Spring dish. They are the equivalent of florals of a spring clothing line—severely lacking the element of surprise. How many times have fruit, specifically berries, been the cover of food magazines this time of year? Probably far too often. Yet, despite my hesitation to choose this recipe in an often dire need to move away from the status quo, I pick this blueberry-based dish because it is, in fact, groundbreaking.  

This recipe presents a new take on a classic comfort food, exquisitely repurposing blueberries in an unpredictable combination. Pairing the bitter flavor of arugula with the creamy texture of brie and the salty-sweet trade of honey and balsamic vinaigrette, the homemade blueberry compote perfectly enhances every bite of this sandwich, creating a redefined grilled cheese. 

Posing as strong contender to the pineapple-on-pizza debate, this salty-sweet pairing may open the floodgates to controversy. However, the buttery brie, and the sweet, fresh berries, in this grilled cheese guarantee to win over any skeptics. And while this recipe may stretch the traditional, and simplistic, definitions of a grilled cheese, it proves to enhance the glory of the original sandwich to make it a Spring must-try.

Image courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries

4 tablespoons (or more) unsalted butter, room temperature

8 slices sourdough bread, 1/2 inch thick

1 wheel brie cheese

2 tablespoons honey

Kosher salt to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups arugula 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Instructions:

Place the blueberries into a saucepan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of butter. Mash the blueberries softly and let them cook for about 5 minutes while stirring frequently. Move the pan off the stove and let the blueberries sit until they are ready to be used.

Cut the sourdough into 8 half-inch slices and lightly butter both sides of each slice. Cut the brie cheese into quarter-inch slices with or without the rind, depending on your preference. Place 4-5 slices of brie on each of 4 slices of sourdough. Drizzle the brie with honey and sprinkle salt to taste. Spoon the cooked blueberries on top of the brie. 

Now, move onto the remaining 4 slices of sourdough. Lightly coat one side of each piece with balsamic vinaigrette, and then place a handful of arugula on top. When ready, flip these slices on top of the other slices prepared with brie and blueberries, making 4 closed sandwiches.

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place 1 or 2 sandwiches in the skillet, depending on what fits comfortably. Lay another skillet on top to add weight, functioning like a panini press. Cook for about 4 minutes, while adding pressure on the top skillet so that the bottom of each sandwich turns golden brown. Turn the sandwiches over, adding a bit more butter to the pan if needed. Cover again and cook, pressing, until the other side is golden brown and cheese is fully melted. This should take about 4 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into halves. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches and enjoy!

Makes 4 sandwiches. 

Cover photo courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod