Tag Archives: fast

Hi there

Hey, everyone. It’s been a while, I apologize. But! I’m going to show you something tasty and so quick you’ll be eating a satisfying lunch or snack in no time.

Ready? Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Strawberry basil grilled cheese
adapted (barely) from here

Notes: I used Russian black bread, which was lovely. I think any bread you’d like to use for a sandwich would be nice. As for the cheese, I used mozzarella. The original recipe recommends smoked cheddar or jack. I think gouda or a few dots of goat cheese could be interesting. Or then again, why not brie?

  • 2 slices bread
  • enough slices of cheese to fit comfortably on your sandwich
  • 3 or 4 basil leaves
  • a handful of strawberries (I used about 8-10 small ones)
  • splash of balsamic vinegar

Rinse and slice strawberries, place in a small bowl or cup. Splash with balsamic vinegar and let sit for 15 – 30 minutes.

Start a small pan heating with a touch of olive oil over medium-low heat.

Assemble sandwich: layer cheese, strawberries, and basil leaves onto bread, top with other slice.

Cook in pan, pressing down a few times to get a nice browned and slightly panini-esque flatness to the sandwich. Grill, flipping occasionally to prevent burning, until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes total. I like to place a lid over the sandwich to speed the cheese-melting along. Or, use a panini press.

Tah dah, you have a sandwich. Also, we think this formula would work wonderfully with all sorts of fruits and herbs and cheese. Peaches splashed with balsamic or red wine vinegar + fresh ricotta + basil, maybe? Plums dashed with cider vinegar + mozzarella + arugula (+ prosciutto or other cured ham?!).

What other combinations would you try?


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Speaking of different…

This was supposed to be a post about the empanadas my best friend Kelly and I made when she visited a few weekends ago, but it’s not. It also could have been a post about Pati’s Mexican Table and all the yummy food she made and how beautifully charming the Mexican Cultural Institute in DC is, but…it’s not. (Those posts will come, though, don’t you worry.)

Instead, I bring you something different. Something completely different.

You know what I’ve discovered the past three-odd weeks that I’ve been a full-time working woman?  It’s not always fun to cook when you come home at 6:30 or 7. Sometimes you just want a glass of wine and dinner to appear magically, you know? And sometimes on the weekends, you’re tired and feeling lazy and don’t really feel like cooking. Luckily, quick meals that still taste good actually do exist, and sometimes their inspiration comes from a cafeteria in one of the House of Representatives office buildings. Like I said, completely different.

Everyone say a big thank you to B. for this one – he’s had it at the cafeteria in his building, and I most definitely would never have tried it if not for his high praise. Its main ingredient is something I’ve never, ever cooked and something I’ve only eaten once and absolutely hated: tofu. And guess what else? This whole meal took 30ish minutes from start to finish. Boom.

It’s spicy, it’s Chinese-y, it’s healthy, and it’s quick-y. What’s not to love?


Sweet and Spicy Chili-Glazed Tofu
adapted from here

  • 1 lb or 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or, if you discover you only have about 1/4 cup sugar left, you could also use agave nectar)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (we used Sriracha!)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons neutral tasting oil
  • 1 1/2-inch to 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
  • Salt to taste

Rinse and drain tofu. Slice into 1-inch cubes. Pat with cloth or paper towels to remove excess water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together sugar, water, chili garlic sauce, and vinegar.

In small pot or pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar-chili-garlic mixture. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until glaze thickens to syrup-like consistency, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat up a large skillet (or a wok if you happen to have one). Coat the bottom with enough oil to cover evenly. Add tofu and stir-fry until the outsides start to turn golden brown, about 15 minutes. Don’t worry too much about getting each and every side of tofu golden, but try to ensure at least 2 of the sides are golden. Remove from heat and toss with sweet chili glaze. Serve with rice, and garnish with chopped peanuts, scallions, or cilantro, if you like. I would also recommend you serve it with a quick sauté of fresh ginger, a few tears of kale, and a touch of rice wine vinegar.

Don’t worry, the next post from us will almost definitely be Mexican.
Until then,


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How to make yogurt better

This will be a short post, but I have something I need to share. It’s so simple, and so good, and it makes yogurt taste, like, 10 million times better.

Disclosure: I’m not a picky person, and I’ll try almost any food you put in front of me, but I’m more than a little picky about textures. Cookie dough? Great. Cake batter? Slimy, ew, no. Pudding? Meh…acceptable, on occasion. Overcooked spinach: akin to slimy lettuce, aka no. And don’t get me started about jello, unless it’s, shall we say, a little edgier than the jello given to children. Or unless I’m sick – but only then. You might be able to see where this is going: yogurt. I don’t like yogurt. It’s slimy. Bleh. I’ve always wanted to like yogurt, but the only way I can manage it is if it’s covered in a lot of granola, covering up the slimy texture.

Until now. I’m still cheating and removing the slimy texture of yogurt, but the result is so good and you need to make it now. This can hardly even be called a recipe.

I make a delicious, fresh, tangy cheese by straining yogurt in cheesecloth. All you do is line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth, place a few gobs of plain yogurt (good quality, whole-milk is best, but I made it with a cheapo nonfat yogurt once, and it was still good) on the cheesecloth, cover with plastic wrap, and place the strainer over a container tall enough to catch the whey without touching the strainer. Let it sit in the fridge for 8 – 24 hours, until the gob of yogurt has turned into a creamy, soft cheese. Put into an airtight container, and store for up to a week or so. That’s it! Oh, and if you by chance ran out of cheesecloth and the only store that sells it in your tiny town is only driving distance and you don’t own a car, you can also use coffee filters. Just so you know.

Of course, I am not the first to make this strained yogurt cheese. Many different countries make this. In America it’s known as Greek yogurt, although the version I make is much thicker than the Greek yogurt available from grocery stores.

My favorite way to eat this cheese is spread on toasted bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of freshly cracked pepper. Or spread over toast and drizzled with honey and a touch of flaky salt. It also serves as a beautiful base for tzatziki, resulting in a thicker, more meaty dip than with normal yogurt. You could make a deconstructed dip by placing a mound of the cheese in a pool of olive oil, cracking pepper or salt on top, and serving with flat breads. Maybe add a bit of ground cumin or cayenne, to add some spice. I imagine it would also be good spread on a sandwich with a spicy jam and ham. The possibilities are endless.

Coming up: a post about apples, and a soup I made from different winter squashes and black beans. This is also really good, and you will probably want to make this as well. I wouldn’t hold it against you.


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Fresh and fast: Avocado and Tomato Salad

I’m afraid I have a natural rebellious streak, but I will concede that sometimes the very best course of action is simply to do what you are told.  Case in point:

Why argue with a perfectly ripe avocado? Black-skinned Haas avocados were a staple menu item when I was growing up.  When I first moved to Germany it was rare to see a Haas-type avocado – the stores all had those giant light-green-skinned oval-shaped rocks imported from Israel or South Africa, while I longed for the delicious nutty-flavored, creamy-textured avocados of my memory.  I’m sure the other kind is good if that is what you are used to, but fortunately, we started getting what I think of as the real deal a year or so ago, and ever since then, I’ve been eating lots of avocados.

This really isn’t a recipe but rather a suggestion for a tasty quick lunch.  Cut up a perfectly ripe tomato, or if you find yourself in the happy circumstances of having fresh sweet cherry tomatoes (love my little terrace garden), cut them in half and salt lightly.  Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and cut the half with the pit sticking to it in half again so you can flick the pit out.  Stick toothpicks in the pit and suspend it pointy-end down and half submerged in a jar of water until it sprouts roots and leaves (that step is optional, of course).  Score the avocado flesh (awesome, I think I may be entering the first stage of trilingualism – at first I wrote fleisch instead of flesh!) and pull the chunks away from the peel with your knife.  Give it another sprinkle of salt, lightly mix, and if desired, add a generous splash or two of bottled hot sauce.  Tapatío is my choice and I keep a little bottle in my desk for just such a time as this.  By the way, although it is made in California, Tapatío is the favored brand of all the tapatíos, or natives of Guadalajara, Mexico that I know.

If you want to be fancy like me, serve this salad on your finest office dinnerware.

When I was on my way home from work today and thinking about what I would write in this post, I was planning to go off a bit in agreement with Mark Bittman’s recent Op-Ed piece on the myth of junk food being more affordable than real food.  I’ll refrain and let you read it yourself if you’d like, without a lecture from me.  But I do hope you’ll give this easy-to-pack lunch a try….no refrigeration or equipment other than a knife needed, faster than the fastest fast-food place around, and infinitely better (and in case you are wondering, the total cost was about $1.35…and yes, I do know how many calories are in an avocado, but I’ll take that over a side of fries most any day).


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Easy quick pickles

I just love fall. It’s been a rainy week, but after a summer like this one, I’m quite content. Plus, this gives me an excuse to wear jeans, and scarves, and boots!

It’s been much too long.

First, a word about our house: we (or rather, I) decided it should be called “The Dacha.” I’m more than a little obsessed with Russia, and since I studied there for nine months I will not apologize. Dachas are these lovely little country homes that many Russian city-folk own. They range from quaint and shed-like to country mansions, depending on said Russian’s income. I’ve never actually been to one (yet), but most also have little plots of land attached where people have their own gardens and grow anything. I want a dacha. And so, in the tradition of house-naming started in college, the new house is the Dacha. (Matt, by the way, jokingly though at times aptly said it should be called The Gulag. Oh, Matt.)

I digress. The Dacha recently inherited two lovely cucumbers.

Since only two of the Dacha-dwellers actually like cucumbers, I made quick pickles. And, since we were talking about Russia earlier, I’ll tell you a little anecdote: pickles are a much loved thing in Russia. A common way to drink vodka, for example, is to take a shot or a sip and then (quickly) eat a pickle or tomato after. Mmm, Russia.

These pickles are very easy and need hardly any time to cure. I crafted this recipe from a combination of a few different pickle recipes, but was originally inspired by a delicious bagel I had eaten in Florida, of all places. They suggested I try my everything bagel with a shmear of cream cheese (duh) and a few slices of their homemade pickles. It was so very delicious, I had to try to recreate these pickles and put them on anything topped with cream cheese. It may sound weird at first, but trust me – cream cheese and pickles were made for each other. Also, vodka.

Quick cucumber pickles
Adapted from a recipe for quick pickled vegetables. Makes enough brine and pickles to fill two 1-quart jars.

  • 1 or 2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced (peel if you like, wash skin well otherwise)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced

For the brine:

  • 1 ½ cup cider vinegar
  • a few drops of balsamic vinegar (no need to be high quality), just for kicks
  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill, or several fresh sprigs of dill, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (or 2 or 3 teaspoons if you are named Kara)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper, or to taste
  • 2 whole cloves
  • a few shakes of ground turmeric, optional

Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes, until barely soft. Remove onions and set aside on a plate. Add the cucumbers and cook for just a minute; set aside on plate, turn off heat, and allow everything to cool. Once everything is room temperature(ish), divide the cucumbers and onions evenly between two 1-quart glass jars, or place everything in a large airtight container. Top with the brine, and refrigerate. They’re ready to eat right away, but I think they taste better the next day. I also happened to have a dried red chili pepper and added that to one of the jars. I can’t really taste the difference, but it looks cool, no?


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Fig Jam and Prosciutto Pizza, and leftovers

This is a tale of toil, agony, tears, and patience.

I’m new to the world of breads. Yeast used to make very nervous. It’s alive and temperamental, and you have to tread carefully to get it to do what you want. As any aspiring cook must do, I forced myself to confront my fear of yeast.

First, Janessa gave me a Kitchenaid stand mixer for graduation. Who can be scared of making bread when they have THIS beautiful thing, begging to be used?  So, after mastering a good sandwich bread and a rustic French style bread, I turned to pizza dough – specifically, the Pioneer Woman’s pizza dough, which sounded so easy and almost too good to be true.


I started with an inspiration from The Pioneer Woman’s many pizza recipes, and sought to create my own twist by substituting some whole wheat flour in her pizza dough and adding caramelized red onions to her Fig-Prosciutto Pizza, while taking out the arugula. (Do most people like arugula? I just can’t.) My housemates and I were very, very pleased with the results, but the dough just wasn’t what I wanted.  I’m one of those cooks who will expect nothing less than perfection and will be sort of sad if something I’m making doesn’t turn out exactly how I wanted.

I’m still haunted by my harrowing experience with lemon squares: they were my specialty, you see, and once when I was seven or eight, I forgot to add the sugar. The sugar! They ended up with a weirdly brown and crispy topping that tasted nothing like the lemony bliss my tried and true Gold Medal Flour children’s cookbook recipe usually brought. This sad story ended with me running with tears down my face to my room, where my mom tried to comfort me by telling me that at least the crust still tasted pretty great. Thankfully, I haven’t had any similar traumatic cooking experiences since.

Back to the pizza: The toppings were delicious, but the dough texture wasn’t pizza perfection. I had pretty much decided that this isn’t the dough for me and that I would have to try a more complicated recipe I found over at 101 Cookbooks. I will, someday, try this recipe, but I’m honestly a little intimidated by anything that comes from Peter Reinhart. He really, really knows his stuff, and I am but a young grasshopper.

The dough recipe I provide from the Pioneer Woman says it’s best to make the dough one day ahead of time, if not more, so it can ferment. I made the dough one day ahead of time and used half of the dough for Fig Jam and Prosciutto pizza, with less than perfect results. All is not lost! I quite happily discovered that this dough is really, very good after 5 days and with a few tweaks in the baking method. Without further ado, here’s the Fig Jam and Prosciutto Pizza recipe with the tweaked dough and a creative leftover idea after.

Fig Jam and Prosciutto Pizza
Slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman’s Fig-Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula


▪   1 recipe pizza dough (I used this dough recipe and substituted one cup of all purpose flour with whole wheat. Use whatever recipe you like.)

▪   4 or 5 tablespoons fig jam

▪   3 or 4 slices of prosciutto

▪   12 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

▪   1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

▪   1 heaping teaspoon of brown sugar

▪   olive oil


Preheat oven to 480 degrees Fahrenheit, with a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet on the middle rack. It’s important to preheat your baking sheet in order to get that nice crusty crunch.
Heat a little olive oil in a sauté pan and sauté onions in the brown sugar until caramelized, about 10 minutes; set aside.
Flour all surfaces of the dough then roll it out onto a piece of parchment paper that will fit your pizza stone or baking sheet. I actually just used my hands to spread it out, which worked quite well. And, well, I currently don’t own a rolling pin and use an old, washed wine bottle instead. Frugality!

Next, spread the fig jam over the dough. Even if it doesn’t seem like enough jam, try not to over do it; I added a bit too much this time and it made the dough soggy in places.

Add the mozzarella slices then top with prosciutto and caramelized onions. If you like, top everything with a little more mozzarella, either finely chopped or shredded. (I was too impatient too shred, so I opted for chopping.)

Slide the pizza on the parchment into the oven (this may require four hands), and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until the cheese and crust are nicely golden.

What to do with the other half of your pizza dough

Last night I made pizza with leftover chili*. Yes, from leftover chili. Oh man, it was so good.

I prepared the dough as per the instructions above, then spread a thin layer of barbecue sauce over it (I just really love barbecue sauce. Like, unhealthily so.) Next, the fun part: leftover chili! I was afraid of adding too much and weighing the pizza down, so I used about ¾ to 1 cup. I topped it all off with some grated Pepper Jack and Colby Jack cheese then transferred the whole thing to the hot baking sheet. 12 minutes later, the cheese was golden, and the crust? Perfect. It’s definitely not Italian, thin crust style pizza, but it had the nicest crunch and texture. I added a little green with a handful of coarsely chopped cilantro.

Creative leftovers are fun.



*Special thanks for the leftover chili from Braeden’s mom. 🙂

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Summer Nights – Watermelon and Feta Salad

A recent dinner at our friends’ house was excellent. Everyone liked my blackberry pie (recipe to follow in a later post), and in addition to flavorful grilled steak, there was a fabulous eggplant parmesan and some amazingly delicious salads. In fact, one of those salads had just two ingredients:

Watermelon and Feta Salad

This one isn’t complicated.  In fact, that’s it.  Really, just chunks of cold sweet crisp watermelon with feta cheese crumbled over it.

If you have such things available, you could mix it up a bit by throwing in some chunks of crunchy chilled jícama and maybe some freshly chopped cilantro, basil, or mint, depending on your preference.  I’ve only seen jícama in a German store once in the last nine years – it was actually fairly recently and it was 7 euro (yep, about $10) for a root about the size of a softball, so I passed on it.  But I’m starting to wander, so let’s get back to the salad!  Jazz it up if you like, add a vinaigrette if it sounds good (maybe a pear balsamic crema or something like that), but be assured, the simple two-ingredient version is sublime.

Mmmmm, they sent us home with leftovers!  I snapped a shot before devouring everything on the plate (also pictured: Deana’s eggplant parmesan and Nina’s insalata capresa).

Do try this salad while there is still good watermelon!


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