Un-Boring Salads

thefreshexchange-camillestyles-156Yesterday I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Things Cooks Know, and the topic was “Un-Boring Salads.” I was so excited to dive into the episode – I eat salad for lunch several times per week because it’s easy, cheap and healthy to throw something together and store it in our office fridge, but if I don’t mix things up a bit, eating salad can get old really fast. Over the summer, I found three heavenly recipes for salad that you just must try. They have been in heavy rotation since I discovered them, and they’ve awakened a creativity in the cooking compartment of my brain, encouraging me to try out equally yummy and interesting veg + fruit combinations. Check out the recipe links below, and let me know if you have any delicious salad recipes that I need to try!

Raw Broccoli Chopped Salad via Camille Styles

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Strawberry, Quinoa, Spinach & Cashew Salad via Julia’s Album

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Tomato, Nectarine & Mozzarella Salad via Camille Styles

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P.S. Need something sweet for dessert after eating a healthy salad? On a whim I made these four-ingredient Nutella brownies last night and they are insanely delicious. They are my new favorite fast & satisfying treat!

Photo at top via Camille Styles, showcasing another salad I need to try: Kale & Sweet Potato Salad with Ginger Dressing

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Village Baking Co. Boulangerie

Mom & Dad came to visit a few weekends ago, and on Saturday morning Mom & I snuck away to Village Baking Co. Boulangerie to reward ourselves for completing a super-sweaty Bikram yoga class. We had discovered the original outpost a few years earlier, but since then the company expanded and built a boulangerie on the other side of town. We determined that this new-to-us expansion was reason enough to justify a visit, so we made our way over to lower Greenville Avenue, where there’s been a revival of restaurants over the last couple of years. Situated in between several new eateries is Village Baking Co. Boulangerie, inviting with its darling patio and the wafting aromas of baked goods and coffee. The interior decor is just as you’d imagine a classic French bakery to be, with white-washed walls and gorgeous pastries glistening behind glass cases. After debating between several scrumptious-looking options, Mom and I ordered a pretzel croissant, a lemon tart, and a pistachio éclair, all of which were just heavenly. We drank almond milk lattes and savored our treats, our environment, and our time with each other. It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

Peach Season

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetWhile we were at the ranch a few weekends ago, my sister-in-law, Christy, and I went peach-picking. The idea came from my mother-in-law, Denise, who had peaches covering every available surface in her kitchen when we arrived, spurring on a conversation about her recent outing to pick fruit at a local farm. I’m not much of a peach girl, honestly, or at least I thought I wasn’t – I don’t like the way peach-flavoring has become associated with an overly-sweet sugary taste – but when I tasted the fresh ripe peaches, I was smitten. These perfect pieces of fruit were more like a combination of a juicy peach and a tart, flavorful nectarine (one of my favorite fruits). Instantly, I was hooked.

IMG_2677Christy and I wound our way through a dusty back road to Childress Farm, a family owned farm and ranch where peaches, blackberries, pecans, and other treats grow in abundance. We met one of the brothers who owned the farm, and he was so funny and kind, indulging us in conversation about his property and produce. He instructed us to fill a half bushel to our heart’s content, eating as many free peaches as we’d like during our adventure (for the record, we each had at least three). The sun was beating down on us and though many people had already come through to pick peaches, there were still many thriving trees full of ripe fruit. We had the place to ourselves so we chatted while we sorted through the peaches, picking those that were ripe or on their way to becoming ready. Peach juice dribbled down my chin as I snacked on one piece of fruit after the next, and the sky was perfectly blue. In that heavenly moment where all truly seemed right in the world, I realized I was officially a peach convert. Now I’m counting down the days until next year’s harvest! In the meantime, we’ll use up the 80+ (yes, you read that right – 80+) peaches that are stored in the freezer in pies and cakes and muffins and breads

Asparagus Tart

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Last Sunday, Korena and Ian came over to celebrate the arrival of spring in Texas with a backyard barbecue. James used his Big Green Egg grill to smoke some heavenly ribs while I whipped up some icy margaritas for cocktail hour. Korena brought a yummy potato salad studded with poblano peppers and corn and, as a starter, an asparagus tart from our mutually favorite cookbook, The Forest Feast. The appetizer was beyond delicious. The asparagus was tender and the capers, pine nuts, herbs, and garlic packed such a flavorful punch. Korena used goat cheese instead of the recommended brie as the base of the tart and it added the perfect hint of decadency. Find the recipe here and if you try it out, let me know if you enjoyed it as much as we did. It would pair perfectly with a cold glass of rosé and a salad full of spring produce. And check out these gorgeous photos that Korena snapped during our barbecue and posted on her blog – aren’t they beautiful? (Sneak a peek at more of her pretty pictures here.)

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Pasta-Making Class

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIt’s been a whirlwind around here, literally speaking, as Dallas has experienced lots of crazy (to us!) weather, including tons of snow and, this week, lots of icy rain. But the skies parted last Wednesday and the weather was beautiful – sunny and warm(ish) and blue skies. It created the perfect backdrop for possibly one of the best dates of all time: a pasta-making class.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetJames and I spent our evening at Central Market, our favorite grocery store – it’s gorgeous and filled with the very best goodies, and it’s also home to an excellent cooking school. We’ve contemplated the idea of taking cooking classes there for a few years now but they fill up so quickly (usually a month or two in advance) that we never found ourselves with tickets to attend one. This time we planned ahead, poring through Central Market’s website in early January to find just the right class to take. There were so many good options (Jamaican food! risotto-making! French cuisine! knife skills! sushi-rolling!) but we finally settled on the pasta-making class. We rarely make pasta at home so it felt like such a treat to spend an evening learning how to prepare it and, of course, indulging in a plateful (or five) of homemade noodles and sauces.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe class exceeded all of my expectations – I had hoped it would be wonderful but I had no idea how elated I would feel throughout the entire evening. The cooking school’s kitchen was immaculate and spacious, filled with top-shelf appliances and pretty countertops. A long table was set in the middle of the room with pretty plates waiting to be filled and appetizers to munch on during the initial demonstration. The instructors were talented, patient, helpful, and fun, and they were quick to refill our wine glasses. We got to make so many treats – spinach pasta, fettuccine with lemon cream sauce, tonnarelli with butter & rosemary sauce, pasta with pesto, ravioli with ricotta & parsley, Naples-style green lasagna with basic tomato sauce. It was HEAVENLY. We also learned how to make our own basic egg pasta, which was so extremely easy that I couldn’t believe it was true until I tried it myself. It caused James and me to add a KitchenAid mixer (+ attachments!) to our wish list. We got to take our dough home with us, so it will be waiting in the freezer until we have the right equipment to transform it into noodles.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetJames and I had so much fun learning new things, cooking together (one of our favorite hobbies), and indulging in the most delicious pasta we’ve had in a long while. We can’t wait to sign up for another class!

Ina Garten

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetLast night my girlfriends and I went to see Ina Garten speak at SMU. I have always loved the chef’s show, Barefoot Contessa, so I jumped at the chance to snag tickets when we learned that she would be in Dallas. The only two words I can think of to describe how I felt as I listened to her speak are in rapt. I was totally captivated by her, this incredible powerhouse of a woman who is so completely intelligent, humble, talented, hardworking, and hilarious. I loved learning about her background (I had no clue that she was formerly a White House nuclear policy analyst?!), her sweet marriage to her husband, Jeffrey, the way she likes to spend her day (with coffee and oatmeal for breakfast, a morning walk to the beach, a day full of filming/cooking/editing, an afternoon yoga class, and dinner with friends), and her favorite recipes from her newest cookbook, Make It Ahead (the marinated feta and the chocolate cake with mocha frosting).

One of the things that struck me most is how hard Ina works. I didn’t realize that she owned her specialty foods shop, Barefoot Contessa (which was already called that when she purchased the store – I had always wondered about the meaning behind the name), for 18 years before deciding to try her hand at writing cookbooks and then, fortuitously, ending up in the world of television. She told us the tale of how her love affair with food began, and I have to recount it here because I found the story to be so fascinating. While traveling and camping throughout Europe on her honeymoon, Ina said that she learned that beautifully simple foods are the most pleasurable ones to enjoy. She and her husband, Jeffrey, were on a strict budget of $5 per day – if they spent $6 one day, they could only spend $4 the next. Though they experienced some cold temperatures at the beginning of their trip, they decided against purchasing a $35 camping heater because it meant they would have to cut their trip a week short. So instead of eating in expensive restaurants, they spent lots of time shopping in the affordable local markets, selecting freshly baked breads, oozing slices of Brie, and decadent peaches to eat as they picnicked in fields and on park benches. Those experiences taught her about the inherent beauty in simply prepared, local, fresh foods. This set the tone for how she cooked when they returned back in D.C., where she increasingly grew weary of her job at the White House. She found so much more joy in throwing dinner parties for her loved ones on the weekends than advising on nuclear policies during the week.

One day she read an ad in The New York Times about a specialty food shop that was for sale in the Hamptons. After discussing it with Jeffrey, the couple decided to put in a low bid on the store. The very next day, the shop owner called Ina and told her that her offer was accepted. She was shocked (I think she said her exact reaction was, pardon my French, “Oh, shit,” which sent the audience into a fit of laughter), and she realized that her life was about to change in ways she couldn’t imagine.

Ina bought Barefoot Contessa in March, when the Hamptons were devoid of visitors. For weeks, as she worked alongside the former shop owner, there was little cash in the register at the end of each day. They hardly made any sales, causing her to wonder what she had gotten herself into. She officially took over the store on Memorial Day Weekend, at the height of New Yorkers flocking to the Hamptons for respite from the city for the summer, and suddenly everything changed. On the Friday of that weekend, Barefoot Contessa sold every food item on the store’s shelves. Every single one. Blown away, Ina asked the shop owner how they would ever be able to replenish their stock by the time the store reopened in the morning. Pointedly, the shop owner told her they would be staying up all night, baking and cooking and stirring and sautéing as they recreated all of the treats they put in the store’s display cases, and that’s what they did. Early on Saturday morning, after the women had cooked as much as they possibly could, Jeffrey went to the next town over and bought every muffin, pastry, and croissant at a local bakery, cramming all of the sweets into his Fiat and bringing them back to Barefoot Contessa to resell. Ina laughed as she recounted the tale, mentioning that she hopes she never runs into the family who ran that bakery. What she learned, though, is that in order to really and truly purse your wonderfully scary dreams, those amazing jobs or career paths that terrify you, you have to “jump off a cliff and learn how to fly on your way down,” just like she did when she bought Barefoot Contessa. I love that sentiment – it’s so brave and bold and beautiful, just like Ina.

I can’t wait to dig into my copy of Make It Ahead (which came with a signed bookplate, so special!), and then I’ll have to start a collection of all of Ina’s cookbooks! Do you recommend any of her books in particular? She is my new favorite person, I think. I would love to meet her someday!

Recipe Testing

3e4d4c12ece789356fcc9905169ffc7eRecently I’ve been devouring my cookbooks as though they were novels, poring over them as I lie in bed each night. I take notes on which treats I want to try and, as a result, we have been cooking a lot lately. Reading my cookbooks has also inspired me to try out all of the recipes I’ve bookmarked online over the months (okay, let’s face it, years). We’ve discovered so many new kitchen staples, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite recipes that we’ve tried here. Nearly everything we’ve made has been a winner! Some are from those delightful cookbooks I’ve been pawing through (like The Forest Feast), and others have been gems discovered online. Take a peek at the list, and let me know if you try your hand at making any of these recipes yourself!

From The Forest Feast:

From It’s All Good:

From The Sprouted Kitchen:

From The Blogosphere:

  • Oven-Baked Chicken with Lemon & Thyme – Cooking chicken has always intimidated me, for some reason, but now I have a go-to method for making chicken that creates a flavorful, delicious, and juicy outcome. You must incorporate the lemon and thyme for extra special flavor that will have you coming back for seconds.
  • Soba Noodle Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing – This is delicious and light, and it gets better each day that it’s left mingling in the fridge. I really liked taking this to work for lunch for several days in a row.
  • Green Detox Smoothie – I crave this delicious blended concoction on a daily basis and, as a result, have been enjoying it every morning for breakfast. I was scared of using the spirulina at first because it smells terrible but you can’t taste it at all and the superfood’s benefits are mind-blowing. The pomegranate seeds on top are a must – they are so yummy!
  • Thai Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes – So much flavor! We ate these while I was cleansing so the sweet potatoes were perfect but the chicken mixture would be good on top of anything – rice, quinoa, noodles.
  • Chicken & Poblano Chili – If James had to pick a favorite from the bunch, I think this would be it. This chili is hearty and packed with great spicy flavor. (The original recipe calls for turkey, which would probably be delicious, too.)
  • Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies with Pretzels & Toffee – I mean, DELIGHTFUL.
  • Egg Muffins with Vegetables – Great for breakfast on the go.
 Image via The Everygirl

The Forest Feast

FF_printed_cookbook_001One of my favorite birthday presents was a beautiful copy of The Forest Feast, a cookbook that features deliciously easy vegetarian recipes, all of which are accompanied by whimsical watercolor illustrations and gorgeous photographs. The book itself was so lovely to receive, so pretty, in fact, that it was easy to leave propped up in a prominent place in our kitchen…and then left untouched. Until yesterday, when I realized what a travesty it was to leave the gorgeous book on the counter by its lonesome and proceeded to read the entire thing cover to cover, earmarking each delicious recipe that I want to try (essentially all of them). Everything looks so mouthwateringly-delicious, and each recipe contains just a few uncomplicated steps, illustrated brilliantly and clearly, which is perfect for visual learners like myself. Nearly every recipe contains basic ingredients that are typically on hand, paired with a few items from the produce section. It’s the perfect cookbook.

tumblr_m2nqa8k9AX1r4p2epo2_1280Coincidentally, Korena got the cookbook for a gift, too, so for the past 24 hours, we’ve been sending each other a flurry of text messages about the treats we want to try. I gave the Red Roasted Vegetables a whirl last night (using asparagus and tomatoes instead of carrots), and they were delicious – the cinnamon added such an unexpected kick. Korena raved about the Corn & Cauliflower Tacos, which I can’t wait to cook next, and tonight she made the Butternut Caprese, which looks unreal.

tumblr_m72nuht6qh1r4p2epo1_1280 tumblr_m72nuht6qh1r4p2epo2_1280 tumblr_m72nuht6qh1r4p2epo3_1280I can’t recommend this cookbook enough. The simple recipes, pretty illustrations, and the chapter devoted solely to cocktails make it absolutely worth adding to your collection!

Photos via The Forest Feast

The Best Bruschetta

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetKyla, Laura, and I had a blast at Kyla’s parents’ house in Fort Worth this weekend. We invited ourselves over for a slumber party and were treated like the back home ballers that we envision ourselves to be. Kyla’s parents, Denise and Kyle, are so much fun to be around, and Denise is an insanely talented cook to boot (she used to manage her own catering company). She made a delicious dinner of chicken scallopini, a simple green salad, and individual berry crumbles a la mode. Before dinner, we made Denise’s bruschetta recipe, which we had all unanimously requested because it is so seriously delicious (especially when paired with a lovely glass of wine and your jammies). Though bruschetta is typically reserved for the summertime when tomatoes are in season, I find it delectable all year round. There’s something comforting about enjoying a warm slice of tomato-topped bread with salty parmesan cheese and just a hint of sweetness. While I admittedly haven’t tried many bruschetta recipes, I think I have a good reason: Denise’s recipe is so perfect that I don’t want to try anyone else’s.

Bruschetta

Recipe via Denise Kiser

Ingredients:
  • Olive oil, heavy splash
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 roma tomatoes, diced
  • Balsamic vinegar, heavy splash
  • Brown sugar, heavy pinch
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Grated parmesan for topping
  • Baguette
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush baguette slices with olive oil on both sides and bake until crisp.
  2. Heat a heavy splash of olive oil in a skillet. Add the minced shallot and stir until coated in oil, then turn down the heat to medium.
  3. Add the garlic and stir continuously, ensuring that the garlic doesn’t burn.
  4. Add in the diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and salt & pepper. Stir everything together to ensure that the ingredients are mixed well.
  5. Take the mixture off heat and stir in the fresh basil.
  6. Top baguette slices with tomato mixture and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Pumpkin Chili

Whew, it’s hard to get back into the swing of things after Christmas, isn’t it? Especially when New Year’s Eve lurks just around the corner. James and I spent Christmas at the ranch with his parents, siblings, aunt, nieces, and nephew (12 of us in total!), and we had an absolute blast. Our five days in Cross Plains were filled with lots of runs and walks on long dirt roads, snuggles with our 11-month old niece, playtime with all of the ranch puppies (Callie included!), many stolen naps, several game nights (have you ever played Telephone Pictionary? holy fun!), a triple date with James’s sisters and their husbands, and, of course, plenty of delicious food. We celebrated my birthday on Saturday and I got to pick out the menu, so I chose some of my favorite dishes from James’s mom’s repertoire – breaded pork chops, mashed potatoes with white gravy, beet & citrus salad, and spiced green apples. For dessert we had another one of my favorites, the rhubarb-strawberry crisp that James’s mom served at our rehearsal lunch. It was heavenly!

When we got home, James tended to some chores around the house (namely taking down the Christmas tree, le sigh) while I tossed in a load of dusty laundry and got to work on a super basic pumpkin chili that Becca passed my way. I tweaked the recipe slightly, adding in some grass-fed ground beef from the ranch as well as our favorite ranch-style beans. Don’t get turned off by the idea that there’s pumpkin in the chili – it just adds a good richness, no sweetness (as long as you don’t mistakenly buy pumpkin pie filling!). The cumin and chili powder in this dish are the stand-out flavors, and I love them. You can use any kind of beans that you like. I think this would be delicious served alongside some cornbread and topped with green onions and sour cream.

Pumpkin Chili

Recipe adapted from Julia’s Album (photo from Julia’s Album as well)

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 2 cans Rotel tomatoes with diced chiles
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1 can ranch-style beans with jalapeños
  • 1 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • Salt & pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Season beef with whatever you like – we prefer onion powder, hot salt, and pepper. Place ground beef in the skillet and cook until brown.
  2. In a large pot or second skillet, cook chopped onion and minced garlic in remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes on medium heat until soft.
  3. Add pumpkin, canned tomatoes & chiles, vegetable broth, black beans, garbanzo beans, and ranch-style beans. Add ground beef.
  4. Add half the cumin and half the chili powder, stir everything well, and season with salt and pepper. Taste your chili and season if needed. If desired (and yes, we do desire it!), add the remaining cumin and chili powder.
  5. Bring to a boil. Make sure to stir all ingredients together well to combine flavors and spices. Reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes longer.
  6. Top with green onions and sour cream and serve with cornbread.