Black Bean Taco Salad (Vegetarian)

black-bean-taco-salad Kate from Scratch

There are only two days left of summer vacation before the beginning of third grade for Trey (including today).  So, I will be making this post very brief, since I have about a week’s worth of promises to pack into two days.

Go me!

Well, fortunately, I’m good with deadlines.

And, Unfortunately, I’m terrible with legitimate segues, so let’s just talk about taco salads.  Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.

This is a bit sweet, a bit spicy, a little light, yet still hearty.  It’s savory and simple yet different from what I might normally make on an average weeknight, which is always exciting.  This vegetarian version of the traditional beef taco salad is perfect for this time of year and (in my opinion) far better than the taco salads of your past.

You can pair it with corn on the cob or saffron rice or just serve it on its own.

Black Bean Taco Salad (vegetarian)

Black Beans (serves 6)


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 large jalapeño chili, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon (generous) roasted ground cumin (regular cumin is fine too)
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1 14 1/2-ounce can vegetable broth
  • The juice of one lime
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • Chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley if you hate cilantro)
  • salt and pepper, to taste (Note: I added about 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon smoked chili pepper to suit my tastes, but I’m not on a salt restrictive diet and I like things spicy.  So, vary to your needs and tastes!)

DIRECTIONS: Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili and cumin and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add beans and broth and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Coarsely mash beans with potato masher. Continue boiling until thick, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with lime juice, zest and salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro if desired.

Note: this can be served as a side dish as well, or follow directions for black bean taco salads, below.

Black Bean Taco Salads

makes 6


  • 4-6 cups corn tortilla chips of your choice (a “family size” bag should be more than sufficient)
  • prepared black beans (recipe above)
  • 4-6 cups chopped baby romaine or other lettuce of your choice
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 1/3 cup taco sauce or fresh salsa, or both if preferred
  • fresh avocado and sliced tomatoes (unless you hate avocado or tomatoes, then don’t use them)
  • (optional) squeeze of lime, sprig of cilantro or flourish of parsley, sour cream for garnish

DIRECTIONS: Divide chips evenly among plates (or wide bowls).  Ladle the black beans over the chips to your liking.  Top with one overflowing handful of chopped lettuce.  Sprinkle with cheese and top with taco sauce, salsa, avocado and tomatoes as you see fit.

Garnish with a lime wedge (for them to squeeze over the salad at the table) and add cilantro and sour cream to the top, if desired.





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Seared Tofu with Green Beans

seared tofu sweet soy glaze-2

This is one of those weeknight dishes that can be presented as opulent and swanky but is actually as simple and humble as a Tuesday “chicken night”.  It’s extra firm tofu, rid of excess moisture, then quickly marinated with a sweet soy glaze, fresh garlic and ginger, and just a splash of lime and pineapple juice for a bit of acidy and sweetness.  Then to balance that tangy sweetness, we added a bit of heat via cayenne pepper, though a dash of sriracha would work just as well.   Then it’s just seared in a pan with a little oil and served over a bed of sautéed greenbeans.

Basically, if you are making chicken for five people and there’s one or two vegetarians that need some love, this an ideal alternative.  I will often pair this with a side of cold noodle salad or a even a simple leafy salad.

For fall, once the breeze starts to kick up and the leaves begin to tumble and the evening air brings a decided chill worthy of an oversized soft and luxurious sweater, I will add a potato dish.  –Perhaps scalloped potatoes or a baked sweet potato with chive butter.

Oh!  And, I’ve included many tips at the bottom of the recipe to help those that may not be familiar with all of the ingredients.

Seared Tofu with Green Beans

Sweet and spicy marinated tofu with garlic, ginger, pineapple and lime over a bed of green beans .  This can be dressed up to appear entirely more fancy than its humble nature.

  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger root
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne (This addition makes the dish HOT AND SPICY so add less or more to suit your tastes)
  • 2 tablespoons naturally sweetened pineapple juice
  • the juice from one lime
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 package extra firm tofu, drained of all excess water
  • 1-2 tablespoons canola oil (or another high smoke point oil that your prefer )
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 pound trimmed fresh green beans (that’s about 4 cups for those wondering)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
  • toasted sesame oil (optional, yes, but recommended) for serving
  • three tablespoons sliced scallions (whites and greens mixed) for garnish
  • Serves: 4
  • Preparation time: about 30 minutes (mostly just to marinate, so it’s hands-free downtime)
  • Cook time: ten minutes
  • You will need: Large plastic zipper bag and a nonstick pan.
  1. In a large plastic zipper bag, combine brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, cayenne, pineapple juice and lime juice and zest.   Slice the prepared tofu and add to the bag.  Remove air from the bag and massage the marinade into the tofu until evenly coated.
  2. Leave marinating tofu alone for fifteen minutes to an hour, at room temperature.
  3. In a nonstick pan over high heat, drizzle  a tablespoon of oil and add the green beans.  Toss for five minutes or until tender, yet still crisp.  Remove from pan and place on serving dish (like a bed for the tofu slices to lay on).
  4. Drizzle one tablespoon oil in same pan over high heat and sear tofu until golden brown, or about a minute on each side.  Place tofu over the bed of green beans.
  5. Last, add the marinade from the bag directly to the hot pan.  While whisking, pour in the cornstarch and water mixture.
  6. Bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce until it’s reduced to about 3/4 cup, or about 6 minutes.
  7. Pour sauce over the tofu and the  green beans.  Top with scallions and drizzle two teaspoons toasted sesame oil over the entire thing. Serve with a side of sriracha for those that can’t get enough spice.

Tip 1 : Keep your ginger root in the freezer.  It makes it super easy to chop and will stay fresh for up to two months.

Tip 2: Think of tofu like a sponge.  If you freeze and thaw your tofu, it gives it a more firm (more chewy “meaty”) texture that I personally prefer.  I don’t like not chewing my food and I don’t like tofu that’s gelatinous.  I like it to have some oomph.  If you’re pressed for time and/or paper towels (for pressing the excess water out from the tofu), you can evaporate the water within the tofu by placing it in the microwave.  Over the years I’ve found that the microwave is the fastest and easiest method for removing the excess water.  I put the brick of tofu in a microwave safe colander over a regular dinner plate and pop it in for three minutes on high.  You can see all the steam being cooked out as it goes. If opposed to using the microwave, you may place the drained tofu between two plates with kitchen or paper towels on either side of the tofu. Repeat with dry towels until spongelike.  Remember the more water you remove from the tofu, the more marinade (flavor) it can absorb in its place.  The marinade is what makes it delicious.

Tip 3:  Wash your lime before you zest the peel.  Also, you only want to “zest” the green part of the peel.  The white part is bitter and will not make anything delicious.

Tip 4:  Cornstarch and water is called a slurry which is the easy and fun-loving cousin of a roux, (because it thickens up sauces without a lot of effort).  HOWEVER, you must bring the sauce to a full boil after you’ve added the cornstarch, otherwise it will not thicken.  It’s important.

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Six Fresh Tomato Recipes To Make In August

It’s almost August and that means that tomato season has officially arrived.

Here are six recipes to try before the season (and dare I say summer) officially comes to an end.

1) This first recipe is a simple appetizer that mixes grilled corn with avocado and citrus which is then stuffed into plum or cherry tomatoes and garnished with cilantro.  You can alternately chop up the tomatoes and add them to the salad for faster and easier preparation (skip the stuffing part).  Grilled Corn and Avocado Salad Stuffed Tomatoes are a fresh start to any summer meal. grilled-corn-avocado-tomato2) This next recipe is for all of you who think you don’t like tomatoes. You probably just had a bad one once and if I don’t convince you, maybe this Six Cheese Tomato and Chard Pizza will. It is a surprisingly light and earthy twist on traditional pizza. The greens mix well with variety of cheeses which are highlighted by the sweet acidity of the tomato slices and accented with garlic and herbs.  Try this if you’re still on the fence about tomatoes.  You might be swayed. Tomato-chard-pizza 3) Tomato and Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta uses eggplant as its canvas, which shares the season and pairs nicely with tomatoes.  The eggplant is roasted and then scooped out and sautéed with shallots and garlic and (of course) fresh summer tomatoes.  It’s light and perfect for a party appetizer. Kate-from-scratch-roasted-eggplant-bruschetta4)  This Spinach Caprese Salad is a much lighter take on traditional caprese recipes (skewers, salads and sandwiches) due to the added spinach.  It’s light, easy, fast, and never disappoints.  Add one part balsamic with two parts olive oil and shake for a fast and easy balsamic vinaigrette which enhances the tomato and spinach. spinach-capresesalad5) Next up is Tomato and Scallion Quesadillas.  This is  a little lunch quesadilla recipe that directly resulted from the year I decided to plant entirely too many tomatoes. It uses black beans and sharp and tangy cheese as the base of the filling.  The tomatoes and scallions marry everything together.  It’s fast and easy and delicious. tomato-scallion-quesadillas 6) This Tomato Focaccia is for the more brazen tomato lover.  The tomatoes melt into the seasoned dough and can be  topped with any type of cheese and herbs you’d like. You could do chèvre and thyme or parmesan and basil, depending on what you’re in the mood for.  And, if you’re not so sure about risen dough from scratch, you can always use the store-bought dough.  Nobody will ever know the difference. fresh-tomato-focaccia

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French Toast Bread Pudding (AKA “Overnight French Toast Casserole”)

I’m not sure who started the concept of “Baked French Toast” and the not so distant relative of such a dish known as the “French Toast Casserole” but the last time I checked, these seemingly new dishes, (cultivated by massive amounts of online recipes) are all just bread pudding recipes.

[Sorry, interwebz.  I'm just calling it like I see it.]



So, if you’ve been drinking the baked french toast kool-aid, allow me to explain a bit.  You see, bread pudding takes pieces of day old bread and soaks them in a buttered dish with an egg custard (usually it’s an overnight soak).  This egg custard can be flavored anyway you’d like, but I personally prefer mine with a bit of maple syrup, a sprinkle of brown sugar, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.  You could add some bits of dried fruit if you’d like.  Then that ‘s baked in a preheated oven until firm.  It’s then served warm with fresh fruit and maybe a bit of whipped cream or confectioner’s sugar.

Is this sounding familiar?  Yeah…That’s because that new “baked french toast casserole recipe” that you found on the internet is actually just bread pudding that’s been baked a few minutes longer.

However, to simplify things (and hopefully people’s search results) I’ve re-merged these “two” completely (not) different dishes into one.   I mean, I’m on the internet too.  I might as well be part of the solution (problem?) and remind people that “baked french toast casserole” is actually just bread pudding.  If I’m wrong, I’d love to hear why because I’ve looked into it and from where I sit, I’m definitely the opposite of wrong.

And, to be honest, no matter if you call this, “I invented the internet and the wheel and sliced bread ..breakfast dish” it still tastes good, so I give credit where it’s due.   But, that’s just a really bad title.

French Toast Bread Pudding

Serves: 8

Prep: Overnight

Bake Time:  40 minutes

(AKA “Overnight French Toast Casserole”)

  • butter, for baking dish
  • 8-10 slices of mixed sandwich bread cut in half or 1 loaf of french bread with ends removed (must be standard, not baguette sized) cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 7 extra large eggs, whipped until pale yellow
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup hot buttered maple syrup (maple syrup with a pat of butter melted into it)
  • 2 cups whole milk, more if needed
  • sprinkle of sea salt
  • confectioner’s sugar, fresh fruit, lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional) for serving.

Rub softened butter onto all sides of a 9×13 inch baking dish (See note*).

Take your whipped eggs and add vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add milk to the hot buttered maple syrup [to temper it] and stir.  Pour milk into eggs and whisk.  Pour egg custard over the bread in your buttered dish.  Cover and place in refrigerator over night, or for at least three hours.

To bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Remove cover from the baking dish and place on a baking pan (in case it bubbles over).   Sprinkle the top with sea salt and bake in preheated oven for 35 to 50 minutes, depending on how firm you prefer it to be and the dimensions of your pan.

Allow to cool slightly and serve with fresh fruit, lightly whipped cream and/or confectioner’s sugar if desired.

*Note: 9×9 (3 inches high) 9×12 or 9×13 (2 inches high)  or 9×15 (1 inch high) or anywhere between will work fine, it will only vary how much surface area you have, much like brownies.  If you have more surface area, the bread pudding will bake (and concurrently dry out) more quickly, so you will need less baking time.

Additional notes: If some of the bread looks dry after soaking overnight, you may add an additional splash of milk before baking.  The amount of liquid needed will vary depending on the type of bread used and how much liquid that bread is capable of absorbing.







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Savory Watermelon Panzanella



Panzanella is a classic summer salad that requires little effort and zero cooking.  It’s easy, delicious and can be served as a complete meal, especially on an exceptionally heat-ridden day as we have here, today.

This particular version has a twist, though.  Since we’re about a week or two shy of full blown tomato season, I figured I’d use half tomatoes and half watermelon and then balance out that extra sweetness with some acidity (balsamic) and some  heat (red pepper).   As the salad sits, the extra crusty bread soaks up the sweet juices of the watermelon, the freshness of the cucumbers and the sweet yet savory ripe tomatoes which plays nicely off of the balsamic vinaigrette.

It’s very refreshing and light yet satisfying and easy.   It’s perfect for today.


Savory Watermelon Panzanella

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 as a meal, 6-8 as a starter course or side dish

for the balsamic vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons finely minced sweet red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey

for the salad

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes, deseeded (about 2 tomatoes)
  • 1 1/2 cups bite sized seedless watermelon pieces
  • 2 cucumbers, deseeded and chopped into bite sized pieces (about three cups)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped basil
  • 2 cups cubed hard crusted rustic Italian bread
  • shaved parmesan
  • extra virgin olive oil

Note:  This salad is best with high quality balsamic vinegar which is both thicker and sweeter than average.  However, if you heat lesser quality balsamic vinegar until it thickens slightly, you may use that as a substitute for the more expensive version. Also, if your bread is extra fresh, I recommend toasting before adding to the bowl so it doesn’t become mushy.

  1.  Make vinaigrette: In a large salad bowl, whisk together the vinegar, onion, garlic, red pepper, and honey.   Set aside for about ten minutes while the onions and garlic soften in the vinegar, then whisk in the olive oil.
  2. Lightly season the tomatoes, watermelon and cucumber pieces with a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper before dropping them into the bowl with the dressing.  Add the bread pieces and basil to the salad bowl and toss everything to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and finish with shaved parmesan and an additional drizzle of olive oil (optional).


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Strawberry Muffins

strawberry muffins Kate from Scratch

Right now, I’m supposed to be on vacation, but I made these muffins and couldn’t stop myself from grabbing a quick photo and sharing them with you before I go and do vacationy things.   Plus, they’re just too cute in their little red white and blue surroundings.  I couldn’t not post these with the Fourth of July coming up.  In addition to being perfect for the season, they are also fantastic, both in taste and texture.

They’re great to take on the road if you’re headed out to the beach this weekend or on your way to a friend or relative’s house.  They’re good for an on-the-go breakfast or a sweet afternoon snack.

Oh, and before you look at the ingredients list, allow me to explain something:

You see, I don’t bake very often and when I do, I do it right.  These muffins are not low-fat, nor are they low sugar (at all).  They are, however, delicious, moist, crumbly and perfectly speckled with cinnamon.  They’re spiked with a bit of lemon zest and hit of vanilla extract for a fuller flavor profile.  If you bake muffins every day and are in danger of muffin excess, you could reduce the butter and/or the sugar if you really wanted.  Some might add yogurt or low fat sour cream or even  applesauce in place of the oil or butter (I do not recommend that though – just eat fewer muffins).  I did not skimp on these and I didn’t regret it at all.

Next time I might add a splash of bourbon and brown the butter before adding, but I haven’t tried that yet either.

And now if you’ll forgive my brevity, I will eat a perfect strawberry muffin and then be on my way to do relaxing things and maybe even go have some fun.  Happy Fourth of July (and Happy Canada Day for all you Canadians too)!   Enjoy the long weekend.  I’ll be back in one week with massive amounts of summer recipes to share for all occasions.

See you soon.

Strawberry Muffins

Makes 24 small muffins (or 18 large muffins: see note at the bottom of the recipe for alternate baking instructions).

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 stick of butter, melted (warm, not hot)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 2 cups diced fresh strawberries
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Line 2 (12-cup standard) muffin pans with muffin/cupcake liners.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.  Use your hand to create a well (an indentation in the shape of a small bowl) in the center of the dry ingredients.  Add buttermilk, vanilla extract, eggs, butter, oil and sugar to the well.
  4. Start with a fork (or a very small whisk if you have one) and gently mix the ingredients in the well until combined, adding as little of the dry ingredients as possible.
  5.  Now, using a rubber spatula, mix small additions of the dry ingredients into the (center) wet ingredients with each turn around the bowl.
  6. Once just combined and a little lumpy, stop mixing (do not over-mix or you will have tough muffins).   Fold in strawberries and lemon zest.
  7.   Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin pans and bake in preheated oven for approximately 13-15 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins spring back sufficiently when gently pressed.

NOTES FOR LARGER MUFFINS: If you prefer larger muffins, divide batter among 18 muffin cups and  bake for an additional 8-10 minutes for a total of 20-25 minutes (or until cake tester comes out clean or the tops of the muffins bounce back when gently pressed).

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Egg Drop Soup

Egg drop soup only requires about five ingredients and ten minutes of time, which makes it one of the easiest things to make.  It’s filling, nutritious, light, healthy and easy.  I am a big fan of all of those things.

Egg Drop Soup

Granted, you can be your naturally fancy self all you’d like and make a fantastic stock from foraged spring mushrooms and cook that low and slow for days before straining and using for this soup.  But, I’ll leave that option to you.  You can add some wilted baby bok choy or spring peas or serve with some crispy noodles if you’d like.  But, for today, on this rainy spring afternoon, I’m keeping things quite simple.


Egg Drop Soup

  • 2 tablespoons grated or minced fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 teaspoon sriracha (optional)
  • 1 quart (32 ounces)  prepared stock
  • 1 egg, beaten at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat medium saucepan over high heat.  Add ginger and sriracha.  Cook for seven seconds while stirring then add stock.

Bring to a rapid boil and then remove from heat.  While broth is still hot but not boiling, pour egg slowly in a thin stream while stirring broth simultaneously in one direction (creates a whirlpool effect as the egg is being poured to create ribbons).  Once egg is poured in, remove spoon to prevent further breaking of the egg.  Add scallions and sesame oil.  Cover and allow to sit for two minutes to ensure the eggs are fully cooked.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot.  Enjoy.



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Simple Garden Tomato and Basil Pasta

If you’re a bit further south than we are, I’m sure you’ll be overrun with tomatoes and zucchini soon if not already.  We’re still greeted by occasional sixty degree days and even cooler nights, so while my tomatoes were scavenged at the farmer’s market, my little diva of a basil plant happily provided.

thin and crispy neopolitan pizza-2
It’s a different sort of basil than I’m used to, and it’s called “African Blue Basil”, which is a little bit… spicy.  It’s not habanero spicy, but it has just a hint of zip, (like arugula) and pairs nicely with the super sweet cherry tomatoes.  An added bonus is the gorgeous purple flowers that grow off the top of the tall yet sturdy plant.  It’s working for me.

The canvas of the day, is just a simple (Monday) spaghetti, pan fried with garlic, olive oil, pecorino, a small egg and a few breadcrumbs to bump it up and hold the ingredients together.  It’s very easy and delicious and if you have any simply dressed pasta (salt and olive oil, maybe a pat of butter or a very thin layer of sauce – whatever your family does for a simple pasta is fine) from last night in your refrigerator, this is a great way to use it up. Any cut of pasta will do and the quantities are very malleable.  While I am required to write specific quantities, I suggest you take the creative culinary liberty on this dish.  Please go ahead and add a bit of this and that, or omit this and that, to suit your tastes and what you have on hand.  It’s one of those recipes to make your own.

I happened to add some nori and chili flakes and a handful of smoked mozzarella, because..why not?  I had it and figured it would be good and you know, it really was.  Those extra ingredients added a bit of complexity of flavor and bumped up the nutritional value as well, but aren’t necessary for the dish to be delicious.  If you prefer to omit them, feel free, it’s your house and your pasta.  I’ll never know.

Make it your own and enjoy.

Simple Garden Tomato and Basil Pasta

  • 1 pound dried pasta, prepared to al dente
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 large or 5 small cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 2 cups, halved, cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup pecorino romano, + 2 tablespoons more for serving
  • 3 tablespoons seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 small egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large handful fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving (I used “African Blue Basil” from my garden)
  • a pinch of nori flakes (optional, for added nutrition and depth of flavor)
  • sea salt and additional red pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup diced fresh smoked mozzarella or feta (optional) if desired.
  1. Rinse your fully prepared pasta lightly under a drizzle of cold water in a colander and set aside over a bowl to drain.  Note: this rinses extra starch allowing it to not stick together in the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a very large nonstick skillet or wok over medium high heat.  Add olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and cherry tomatoes and toss until fragrant (do not burn the garlic, please.  Brown garlic is not tasty).
  3. Add  pasta and egg and toss for one minute, or until egg is almost fully cooked.  Add pecorino and breadcrumbs and toss for ten to fifteen seconds more, or until egg and other ingredients are fully incorporated with pasta and evenly coating the pasta and tomatoes.
  4. Place into a large family style pasta or salad bowl and tear a large handful of basil over the top.  Add a pinch (that’s about 1-2 teaspoons) of nori flakes if you desire and have them on hand. Toss while adding salt and pepper to taste.  Add additional basil and pecorino over the top if desired.
  5. Serve warm with diced smoked fresh mozzarella or feta if desired (or alternately serve cold with a drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil or a side of balsamic vinaigrette as a pasta salad).
  6. Enjoy.


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30 Minute Thin and Crispy Pizza

A thin and crispy Neapolitan pizza made in only thirty minutes?  I had always believed that was preposterous before I discovered a special little secret known as “pizza crust yeast”.  For a fast fix, this turned out beautifully and in only a matter of minutes.  I topped it with freshly plucked basil from my herb garden and overall, I was quite impressed.

thin and crispy neapolitan pizza

30 Minute Thin and Crispy Pizza

Note: Makes one thin crust fifteen inch pizza.  The use of “pizza crust yeast” allows this particular pizza to be made within the half hour and the thin nature of it allows it to bake up fast.  Do not over-do the toppings.

Prep Time: 15 minutes     Bake Time: 15 minutes

  • 1 3/4 to 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 envelope Pizza Crust Yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup very warm water (about 125 degrees F)
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup sauce
  • 1 cup cheese
  • 1/2 cup toppings

Basil, for serving – optional
1.  Preheat oven to 425°F.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour, pizza yeast (do not dissolve), sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Add very warm water and oil.  Mix well until blended, thoroughly. Gradually add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.  Dough should form a ball and will be slightly sticky.
3.  Knead on a floured surface, adding additional flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 4 or five minutes.
4.  Pat dough with floured hands into six inch disk.
a)   Directions for dough tossers:  Lift disk and toss from one hand to the other, then holding it at the edges, turn it like a steering wheel with hands until about fourteen to fifteen inches wide. Toss over fists and place on a large greased pizza pan (size of pizza dough – 15 inches- or larger).
b)  Directions for dough rollers: You may roll dough on a floured counter to 15 inch circle; place in a large greased pizza pan or baking sheet.  Form a rim by pinching the edge of the dough and allow to rest an additional five minutes before topping and baking.
5. Top with sauce, cheese and toppings of your choice, being sure not to overload the dough or add too much of anything in the center of the dough.
6. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown and bubbling.  Allow to sit about five minutes before slicing and serving with freshly plucked basil.

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Banana Bread

banana-bread-recipebanana-bread-recipeMax places his freshly washed hands upon the flour and measuring cups.  I, still in the kitchen, type in “banana bread recipe” and watch from the corner of my eye.  I’m expecting a definite go-to recipe to pop up at the top of my search results, much like it always does for classics like rice krispy treats or blondies.

He decides it’s time to get the eggs out from the refrigerator, which he does.  He then looks over and waits patiently at the table as my eyebrows furrow and I squint at the ambient glow of my laptop screen.  Did I type that wrong?  I sift through and click and re-sift, then search once again and get nothing but flooded with random excessive information.

I wonder…

I mean, it’s not that complicated.  It’s a quick-bread, for goodness sakes! And just because a recipe is deemed “standard” doesn’t mean it isn’t exceptional.  Or perhaps being standard is the exception with recipes, currently.

I mutter, “I mean, really… How can there be this many variations on such a simply delicious thing like banana bread?”

Max has flour in a bowl, and I hear *whap* as he cracks the egg and drops it effortlessly into the mixing bowl.  I quickly snap to attention, though slightly impressed by his skills (he’s only four and not a single shell).  I move to him and pick one recipe at random based on basic (awful) search engine results.  We begin testing.

Naturally this turned into a banana bread baking excursion.

The most frustrating portion of this particular project is that the differences are slight between recipes: vanilla or no vanilla, cinnamon or no cinnamon, nuts or no nuts, brown sugar or white sugar, 325 degrees or 350.  Just between us, though, I think that last difference has to do with someone’s oven running a bit hot or perhaps them baking on a low oven rack.  Or, maybe they used a different type of baking pan (glass versus nonstick yields a big difference, as you know).  It happens, though.  Back to testing.

I deciphered the recipes and compared the ingredients and quantities of each late at night.  I have baked and tested those recipes worthy of breaking a few eggs, based on known working ingredient ratios for sweet quick breads.

We taste and rate the results.

I also gave a few recipes extra points for nuts and chocolate chips (That’s totally fair).

The resulting standard banana bread is soft, fragrant with bananas and has just a hint of vanilla and cinnamon.  It doesn’t require any distinctive ingredients or fancy supplies and it allows room for further adaptation.  It’s adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence and upon testing three times, has never done me any wrong, despite my inquisitive nature. It works no matter if I add one or two small handfuls of chocolate chips or a dash of chopped mixed nuts. It even works when I let Max measure my flour (use discretion there, though, I did help a little).

It works wonderfully every single time and it will always be delicious with unfailing certainty, which is all I ask of a banana bread recipe.

Banana Bread


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 (very) ripe bananas
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup nuts or chocolate chips for topping 

Confectioners’ sugar, for serving


  1.  Place oven rack in top third of oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Lightly grease, or spray with cooking spray, a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  3. Prepare dry ingredients: In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl mash 2 bananas with a fork and set aside.
  5. Prepare wet ingredients: In a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer bowl),  add remaining bananas and sugar.  Whip bananas and sugar together using an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk for at least three minutes.  Add butter, eggs, and vanilla,  and cinnamon, mixing after each addition, scraping down sides as needed.  
  6. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in three additions, gently mixing until just combined after each addition.
  7. Fold in fork-mashed bananas, gently but evenly.
  8.  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Give the pan a good rap on the counter to get any air bubbles out.
  9. Bake for about 1 hour or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. 
  10. Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes or so, and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Note: Serve slices lightly toasted and warm with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar


Adapted from Tyler Florence @ Food


Posted in All, Basics, Breakfast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments