Tag Archives: picinic worthy

Hummus

Hummus definitely falls into that category of foods where you ask yourself, “Is it worth making this or should I just buy some?”  There are plenty of good brands of hummus to purchase, especially if you doctor it up with a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkling of zatar spice.  The thing is you can never quite buy yourself the super smooth, fresh tasting, garlicy punch of your own homemade hummus.  There are a zillion of hummus recipes out there and once again I have practically tried them all to try and find the right combination of teqniques.  Most purists will tell you to start with dried chickpeas, soak them over night, cook them with baking soda etc etc but at that point, for me at least, the scales of why can’t I just buy this and dispense with the hassle starts to tilt into convince’s favor.  So canned chickpeas it is.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be some work involved.  I found the somewhat tedious task of taking the skins off of the canned chickpeas makes for a substantially smoother and better tasting hummus.  It’s not as easy as just dumping the can into the food processor but at least it’s not a multi day effort.  To peel them, drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.  Then take the chickpea between your fingers and gently squeeze – you will find the weird white casing comes right off.  For a can of chickpeas it took me about 15 minutes – just turn on your favorite cooking show and get lost in the mindless task.

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From my research I learned that the other benefit of cooking your own chickpeas was that when they are warm they take on the other ingredients better.  Well here we can easily cheat that by quickly nuking the skinned chickpeas in the microwave for a couple of seconds before adding them to the food processor.  After that its just a matter of taste with the amount of tahini, lemon juice and garlic.  The recipe below is how I like it but play around and see what you like best – some people really want more of that sesame tahini flavor, others really hate lemon juice and replace it with water.  The method is the key and once you have that down the sky’s the limit.  Hummus away!

Hummus (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  simple but not too simple method of making hummus
Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained with the skins removed (see above)
  • 5 -6 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons tahini sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil and zatar for serving (optional)

Once all the chickpeas are peeled (see above on how to remove the skins) place them in a  microwave safe bowl and microwave them on high for 20 seconds.  Add the warmed chickpeas to the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides.

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If its not as smooth as you would like add more warm water.  Chill for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld – serve room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of zatar (optional).

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Hummus

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Time: 2 minutes (plus 15 minutes to peel the chickpeas
  • Print

Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained with the skins removed (see above)
  • 5 -6 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons tahini sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil and zatar for serving (optional)

Once all the chickpeas are peeled (see above on how to remove the skins) place them in a  microwave safe bowl and microwave them on high for 20 seconds.  Add the warmed chickpeas to the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides.  If its not as smooth as you would like add more warm water.  Chill for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld – serve room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of zatar (optional).

Ham and Cheese Panini

This rainy spring weather has me in the mood for comfort food and what fits the bill better than a warm cheesy gooey sandwich??  They key to a sandwich this simple is the best ingredients – imported ham, fresh bread, peppery mustard and rich cheese all come together for the perfect combination.

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I made mine in my panini press but you can easily just make this in a skillet like a regular grilled cheese.  I got my ham at Dean and Deluca and had them slice it impossibly thin.  Make sure its high quality, salty ham so that it almost melts along with the cheese.   The bread is a nice pullman loaf from Spring Mill Bread Company – no Wonder bread please!  Mustard makes a really nice foil to the rich ham and cheese so make sure to use a spicy dijon.  I really like this version that has green peppercorns in it but any strong mustard will work.

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So get out of the rain and make this delicious sandwich – in only a couple of minutes you will be warm and happy.

Ham and Cheese Panini (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  rainy days
Special Equipment:  panini press (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons room temperature butter
  • 4 slices of white sandwich bread
  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 pound of thinly sliced ham

Butter one side of each piece of bread (it is important to have room temperature butter so it spreads thinly and easily).  On the other side of the bread (the non buttered side) spread a thin layer of mustard.  Divide the ham and cheese and pile them up on 2 slices of bread on the mustard side, then place the other 2 slices in top to create two sandwiches with the butter sides out.  Heat the panini grill (or a skillet over medium high) and add the sandwiches.

Toast for 3 minutes or so until the bread is nicely browned and the cheese has melted (if you use a skillet use a plate and push down on the sandwich in the pan, flip once – it may take a minute or two longer).  Let rest for 1 minute then slice in half.

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Ham and Cheese Panini

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 4 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  panini press (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons room temperature butter
  • 4 slices of white sandwich bread
  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 pound of thinly sliced ham

Butter one side of each piece of bread (it is important to have room temperature butter so it spreads thinly and easily).  On the other side of the bread (the non buttered side) spread a thin layer of mustard.  Divide the ham and cheese and pile them up on 2 slices of bread on the mustard side, then place the other 2 slices in top to create two sandwiches with the butter sides out.  Heat the panini grill (or a skillet over medium high) and add the sandwiches.  Toast for 3 minutes or so until the bread is nicely browned and the cheese has melted (if you use a skillet use a plate and push down on the sandwich in the pan, flip once – it may take a minute or two longer).  Let rest for 1 minute then slice in half.

A Picnic Among the Vines

Oh I love a picnic!!  Especially now that the temperatures are returning to pleasant.  Recently Patrick and I introduced our favorite vineyard in Virginia, Greenhill Winery, to some friends.  I have posted about this place before and it just keeps on charming us.  We have been club members for the last year and the best part is that gives you access to their Manor house that has a great patio overlooking the pond.  However, any spot there would be perfect for a picnic and really this picnic would be perfect in any spot!

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Since I knew we were doing to be drinking Bordeaux style wine I put together a French inspired picnic basket.  The best part of French picnics is that many of the items are store bought so it’s really just about assembling them prettily.  We started with a cheese board of course.  Three to four cheeses are all you really need and our friends Ariana and Callan picked a perfect mix of brie, blue, aged goat and a sharp cow cheese.  I rounded out the selection with some fig jam (this brand is my fave and easy to find in most grocery stores), olives, cornichon, grapes and crackers.  Bring a real cutting board and cheese knives to make this no cook starter more special but also easier to eat – who wants to balance a paper plate on their knees trying to cut cheddar with a plastic knife???  I also used my favorite Weck glass containers, ideal for picnics as they double as serving containers and don’t leak.

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Sandwiches are a picnic staple for a reason – sturdy, easy to make in large quantities and eaten room temperature – my baguette was just crying out to be used.  Per my husband’s request I made a sandwich you can find all over the streets of Paris, ham and butter.  Before you shake your head we are talking imported Prosciutto de Parma, high butterfat European style butter and freshly baked bread.  Simple, so the ingredients really matter, but so so good.  I grabbed the prosciutto from my beloved A. Litteri, which is right next to Union Market.  Inside the Market I hit Righteous Cheese for the European butter and Lyon Bakery for the baguette.  Make sure not to be stingy with that butter!

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I wrapped each sandwich in wax paper and tied it with bakers twine to give it that Parisian touch.  Since I still hadn’t cooked anything yet I figured I would stretch myself and make an easy side of green beans.  I blanched green beans and tossed them with olive oil, white wine vinegar and lots of garlic.  Let it sit overnight and you have a nice crisp salad to counter balance the richness of the butter and prosciutto.  Last but not least we had to have dessert.  A quick trip to a local French bakery for macaroons would be perfect.  I made Blackberry Financiers, little French tea cakes packed with almond and blackberry flavor.  A couple bottles of wine, this picnic and the lovey setting almost had us believing we were in France.  Fill up your basket and picnic the weekend away!

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Farro Puttanesca

All summer long I feel like I am looking for fresh salads that can multi purpose – as a side to grilled chicken one night for dinner, leftovers for lunch, eaten at room temp for a picnic, easy for a potluck…the list goes on.  Grain salads are great for this because even the sturdiest of greens will wilt under dressing and heat, and they are more satisfying if eaten on their own as a vegetarian meal.  Farro is my favorite grain by far – it’s Italian so of course yummy, it is also good for you and very easy to cook.  I featured it before in this salad and got rave reviews from readers.  This one is even better for summer months as it doesn’t require any oven usage, a must in my DC kitchen.  Puttanesca is an Italian sauce that is usually served over pasta (though makes a terrific topper for fish or chicken as well).  Rumor has it that ladies of the night used to make this tangy pungent sauce and put it out to attract customers.  I always like a saucy story to go with my food but have no idea if that’s where the name came from.  What I do know is that the mixture of salty olives, tangy capers, sweet onions, briny anchovies and juicy tomatoes make for a perfect summer salad.

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Farro Puttanesca (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  picnic must haves
Special Equipment:  none

  • 1 cup farro
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
  • 1 tablespoon rinsed capers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste or 1 anchovy (yes you can omit but trust me, keep it in)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • parsley

In a pot cook the farro in boiling salted water (like pasta) for about 20 minutes until tender, drain.  Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the capers, kalamata olives, tomatoes,.anchovy paste, and thyme and cook for 4 minutes more for the flavors to combine.

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Add the wine and turn to medium high and cook for another couple of minutes until the wine cooks out.  Add the drained farro into the pan, toss all together and serve with chopped parsley on top.  Can be served hot, room temperature or stored in the fridge for several days.

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Farro Puttanesca

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 1 cup farro
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
  • 1 tablespoon rinsed capers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste or 1 anchovy (yes you can omit but trust me, keep it in)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • parsley

In a pot cook the farro in boiling salted water (like pasta) for about 20 minutes until tender, drain.  Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the capers, kalamata olives, tomatoes,.anchovy paste, and thyme and cook for 4 minutes more for the flavors to combine.  Add the wine and turn to medium high and cook for another couple of minutes until the wine cooks out.  Add the drained farro into the pan, toss all together and serve with chopped parsley on top.  Can be served hot, room temperature or stored in the fridge for several days.

Chicken and Rice Summer Salad

Sometimes I can really over romanticize meals and entertaining.  I blame it on years of Martha Stewart magazine spreads of perfectly coordinated but yet spontaneous gatherings.  Then Pinterest came along and just about ruined me.  The never-ending stream of precious parties (thrown by actual event planners I might add) makes me ache to be that pulled together and cool.  Picnics in particular have a certain allure – everyone gathered around a giant blanket eating individually portioned food, drinking champagne and always an adorable dog or kid thrown into the mix.  So every summer I am desperate to create a picnic but usually it’s deemed too hot or too buggy (why is no one in those magazine spreads shown dousing themselves in Off??).  Last year I finally got my chance with a fall trip to a Virgina vineyard – I made a lovely spread for Patrick and our friends Dave and Ashley, right down to the monogrammed bags.  People at the vineyard kept asking at what gourmet shop we had bought such awesome  lunches – I was beyond proud of myself.

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Just a couple of weeks ago opportunity struck again – we were staying in our friend’s house on the Eastern Shore and didn’t feel like shleping a ton of food up with us to cook.  They have a great picnic table by the water so I created a greek themed picnic dinner complete with this Chicken and Rice Summer Salad.  I wanted everything to be served room temp and easy so I rounded out the menu with olives, pepadew peppers, the greek caprese salad I posted in the Caprese Twists post, store-bought hummus and pita.  The salad really was the star with carmelized shallots, tender zucchini and the punchy dressing.  This salad is perfect for picnics or for bringing into work for lunch, as it gets better with a little time.  I was nervous to dress it too soon so I packed the dressing separately and dressed it before eating but we had leftovers the next day and they were delicious so if you want to go ahead and dress it by all means.  Hope you all can squeeze in some more picnics before the end of the summer!

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Chicken and Rice Summer Salad (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  picnics on Pinterest
Special Equipment:  box grater

  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini or 1 large, grated
  • 2 chopped fresno chilis (or 1 jalapeno seeded), chopped
  • 2 cups of cooked white or brown rice
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts (poached or from a rotisserie chicken), shredded
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
  • the juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and cook for approximately 5 minutes until nicely browned and carmelized.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reduce the heat to medium.  Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper – add more olive oil if needed.  Grating zucchini is a “grate” trick – it makes them really quick cooking and easy to incorporate into pasta sauces, salads like this one, or soups.

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Cook for 5 minutes more until the zucchini are no longer raw, have softened and most of the liquid has cooked off.  In a small bowl whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, dijon mustard, garlic and honey together with salt and pepper.  In a larger bowl combine the shallots, zucchini, rice, chicken, and fresnos.  If you are serving right away toss with the dressing.  If it seems a little dry you can drizzle it with a bit more olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  If you are making it ahead you can keep the dressing separate and store for up to 3 days in the fridge, then toss before serving.

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Chicken and Rice Summer Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  box grater

  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini or 1 large, grated
  • 2 chopped fresno chilis (or 1 jalapeno seeded), chopped
  • 2 cups of cooked white or brown rice
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts (poached or from a rotisserie chicken), shredded
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
  • the juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and cook for approximately 5 minutes until nicely browned and carmelized.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reduce the heat to medium.  Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper – add more olive oil if needed.  Cook for 5 minutes more until the zucchini are no longer raw, have softened and most of the liquid has cooked off.  In a small bowl whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, dijon mustard, garlic and honey together with salt and pepper.  In a larger bowl combine the shallots, zucchini, rice, chicken, and fresnos.  If you are serving right away toss with the dressing.  If it seems a little dry you can drizzle it with a bit more olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  If you are making it ahead you can keep the dressing separate and store for up to 3 days in the fridge, then toss before serving.

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