There’s a certain fascination with a vegetable garden for someone who loves to cook as much as me. Planting begins as soon as the temp. clears 32 degrees, around late April in NJ. It’s year two for my little garden and once again, my enthusiasm has yielded so many thriving plants, it’s hard to tell one from the other. So, several days ago I was shocked to find a 4-pound yellow squash growing under a canopy of basil. The dish came quickly in my mind (how fun to pick and cook in a matter of minutes!) and I can’t wait to see what my ‘secret garden’ brings me tomorrow.
There are thousands of recipes for this Spanish raw vegetable soup, but the bottom line is it’s a chopped salad in a bowl. As a home cook, you can pick and choose your vegetables from whatever’s in the fridge or your garden. If the ingredients are fresh, you can’t go wrong. Adding spicy poached shrimp keeps it light and healthy with a little punch of protein to make it a substantial meal.
Sometimes the best recipes are the ones that are made the most. This one for lemon bars has been a “keeper” in the SHC kitchen for over 20 years. While the success of most baked goods is exacting measurements, this is one of those recipes in a constant tweaking mode. Finding the perfect sweet/sour combo makes them irresistible and earning the title ‘best lemon bar’.
What could be better on Mother’s Day than showing your mom some love from the kitchen? Mozzarella, tomato and basil are pretty spectacular on their own, but bake them in a tart and they’re transformed into a rich, layered dish of gooey mozzarella, tender tomatoes and a puffy basil custard finish. You’ll instantly be elevated to favorite child status no matter your age.
What do you get when you cross a pie with a bar? A slab pie of course. It’s everything great about a fruit pie but made in a baking dish so it’s thinner and manageable enough to pick up with your hands just like a lemon square or a brownie. It’s logical and genius because one slab pie feeds a crowd, can be made in advance and totally portable. With the clock is ticking on summer fruit, now’s the time to savor every last bite before it’s all a distant memory.
July 4th is just a little more special in my little town of Summit, New Jersey. That’s because Summit is all-American all the time. Our neighborhood, with 30-plus kids, means instant play dates, pick up ball games, sleepovers and potlucks without ever leaving the street. But, on July 4th, Summit hosts a fireworks display that rivals anything in a larger city. Families all over town host open houses and cookouts and not much has changed in the last fifty or so years. So, if you’re bringing potluck to someone’s house this July 4th, here’s an all-American recipe for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. They couldn’t be easier to whip up and they just happen to be gluten free too!
New Jersey is so much more than diners, Bruce Springsteen and The Sopranos. The real secret is the beaches – all 130 miles – stretching the entire length of the state. You could walk (or run) for miles on sugar white sandy beaches with waves big enough for surfing all year long (just ask my brothers). So, what’s better than an après beach day of cocktails and canapés? A simple mixture of local crabmeat with horseradish and grainy mustard is elegant on garlic butter toast or as a casual dip with crackers. New Jersey at its finest.
It’s been a perfect storm in the Secrets of a Home Cook kitchen. First, baker extraordinaire, Dorie Greenspan’s been talking up her strawberry shortcake recipes and with strawberry season in full swing, it’s all I want to eat right now. Second, my mom (mom extraordinaire) brought me gorgeous vanilla beans from her recent trip to India. The result is my own version of vanilla bean strawberry shortcake. It really is a very easy recipe with vanilla beans throughout. They’re a bit pricy but worth the few extra dollars and you can find them right next to the extract in the baking aisle.
Like the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year….” That would be when summer fruit hits the supermarkets and just about every other place that sells produce. All this vibrant seasonal fruit is just right for a summer tarte tatin. It’s an upside-down tart where the fruit is caramelized in butter and sugar. Typically it involves apples, but you can save those for the cold weather. Apricots are at their peak right now and they fill in quit nicely for the most beautiful summer dessert you’ve ever seen (and tasted).
There’s a certain fascination with a blood orange. Ordinary on the outside, the inside is like Andy Warhol pop art, bloody red and otherworldly. They thrive in cooler weather so they’re in season right now and it’s worth seeking them out. It’s a sweet and less acidic orange, great for snacking or the main ingredient in these showstopper blood orange oatmeal cookies.