Easy skillet pita bread.

As the evenings heat up in the summer, one of my favorite things to do for dinner is to prepare a simple, almost no-cook meal of tomatoes dressed with salt, pepper and really good olive oil, some meats and cheeses, homemade hummus or tabbouleh and good pita bread. While I love the authentic pita breads I buy at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports at Findlay Market, sometimes I like making my own pita.

Making pita bread is easy and fun, a good introduction to bread baking because it doesn’t require precise shaping or lengthy baking. In fact, my favorite way to make pita bread is to cook it on the grill, because it gets this lovely smoky taste.

These homemade pitas don’t really resemble the store-bought pocket bread that you may be used to; they’re more like chewy flatbreads, the kind you might have wrapped around gyro meat at a good Greek deli.

Give these a try this summer!

easy whole-wheat pita bread recipe

makes 8

1 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. good olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the dough hook (or in a large bowl), whisk together water, yeast and a pinch of sugar (this feeds the yeast and starts its fermentation) to dissolve. Let sit until foamy like the head of a beer, up to 30 minutes. Add flours and olive oil and begin to mix on low speed (or with a wooden spoon). After a few seconds, sprinkle the salt over the dough and increase the mixer speed to medium. Knead dough for 5 minutes, until it is smooth and a little sticky. Scrape it out of the bowl onto a piece of waxed paper. Rub the bowl with a bit of olive oil and return the dough, turning to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot for 1 hour, up to 2, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

On a lightly floured surface (I like using a pastry cloth), divide the dough into 8 pieces and form into evenly shaped balls. Set the balls aside on a baking sheet, covered with a towel or plastic. One at a time, using as little flour as you need to prevent the dough from sticking, roll the balls into thin rounds, about 8 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Lay the rounds between sheets of waxed paper on the baking sheet as you work. (You'll get better at the rolling as you go.)

Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. It's hot enough when a few drops of water splatter and sizzle. Drizzle a bit of olive oil in the skillet, and use a wadded up paper towel and tongs to wipe out the excess and leave an even film of oil. Place 1 dough round in the hot skillet; cook 1 minute. (If the round is thin enough, it should puff up like a pocket bread; if it doesn't, don't worry ... it's still delicious.) Flip the pita and cook 2 minutes more, until it's charred in spots. Lower the heat slightly if the pan gets smoky. Re-oil the pan after every 2 or 3 pitas. Alternately, you can cook the pita rounds on a well-oiled grill over medium heat, 1 minute on the first side and 2 minutes after you flip them. Serve warm.

 

Easy individual strawberry trifles.

Ohmygoshohmygosh … so many strawberries! I just may turn into a strawberry. I’ve picked them, purchased them, shrubbed them, sliced them into my cereal. But this season, my favorite way to enjoy strawberries involves my very favorite cake recipe: French Yogurt Cake.

The Easy Strawberry Trifle recipe below is hardly a recipe at all: Cut up slices of French Yogurt Cake, top with macerated strawberries and dollop with whipped cream.

Here’s the secret to the perfect dessert, folks (and you can thank me later): Perfect whipped cream. Whipping a bit of plain Greek yogurt with heavy cream creates a thick whipped cream that remains stable in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Plus, it adds a lovely tang that counterbalances the creamy sweetness.

Make these easy individual trifles all summer long: slice juicy local peaches instead of the strawberries, then move on to red raspberries, blueberries and other seasonal fruit (or a combination of any). Toss the fruit with Meyer lemon zest, which adds a lovely floral-citrus perfume to the dish; if you can’t find a Meyer lemon, or use a mix of orange and lemon zest.

easy individual strawberry trifles

makes 4

1 pint local strawberries
1 tsp. Meyer lemon zest (or a combination or orange and lemon zest)
1 to 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 to 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 thick slices French Yogurt Cake (or Heavenly Pecan Pound Cake)

About an hour before serving, halve or quarter the berries and toss with Meyer lemon zest and sugar (adjust amount depending on how sweet your berries are). Let sit at room temperature. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a wire whisk), whip together the yogurt and cream until soft peaks form; add powdered sugar to taste and vanilla. Whip to firm peaks. Cut the cake into cubes and distribute among 4 dessert glasses or pint canning jars. Top with fruit and generous dollops of whipped yogurt cream. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.

Basic fruit shrub.

Here in Cincinnati, shrubs are a *thing*; there are two outfits that I know of (Queen City Shrub and Chimera Shrubs) that are making these old-fashioned-but-new tonics. What’s a shrub, you ask? It’s an infusion of fruit or spice with sugar in vinegar. A vinegar shrub makes a lovely mocktail with soda water, and an even better cocktail with your favorite spirit. Shrubs have been showing up on bar menus all over town in the past couple of years.

We recently bought a bottle of amazing Ras al Hanout Haymaker Shrub from Queen City Shrub—its bold Moroccan spice makes the perfect companion to bourbon. And while the pro shrub-makers concoct all kinds of interesting flavor combinations, shrubs are super easy to make at home.

And now’s the time to do it, when spring and summer fruit is at its peak.

I turned part of a batch of recently picked strawberries into a simple homemade strawberry shrub this week, and it will flavor our summer cocktails all season long. You can substitute rhubarb, peaches, raspberries, nectarines or any other seasonal fruit for the berries in the recipe below. And I’ve included a recipe for the strawberry shrub and gin cocktail Rob dubbed Another Shrubbery. Cheers!

BASIC Fruit SHRUB RECIPE

makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups ripe fresh fruit, washed, hulled, and cut into chunks (see Note)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vinegar (I used 1/2 cup red wine vinegar and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar)
1 large sprig thyme, mint or basil (optional)

Wash a quart Mason jar and lid, then sterilize them by pouring boiling water over them; let them sit for 10 minutes, then empty and cool.

Add the fruit and sugar, and use a wooden spoon to mash the fruit to create a chunky mixture. Top the jar with the lid and let it sit on the counter overnight. After 24 hours, add the vinegar and herbs, if using. Cover and gently shake the jar until the sugar has dissolved. Stash the jar in the refrigerator for 1 week. Strain the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the solids with a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid and flavor. If you'd like a clear shrub, strain it again through a coffee filter (this will take several hours). Wash and re-sterilize your jar and lid; transfer the shrub to the jar and refrigerate up to 6 months.

ANOTHER SHRUBBERY COCKTAIL

makes 1 drink

2 ounces gin
1 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 ounce strawberry shrub
3 dashes orange bitters
Club soda

In a highball glass with ice, stir together the ingredients. Top with club soda, and add a mint or basil sprig for garnish, if desired.

how to cook with garlic scapes

What to do with garlic scapes.

They’re here—in my own garden and at farmers’ markets—just in the last week: Garlic scapes!

What is a garlic scape, you ask? The scape is the little curlicue sprout that shoots from the top of a hardneck garlic plant. Many home gardeners and professional growers cut off the garlic scape to direct the plant’s energy toward growing a fat bulb (the underground part) with large, flavorful cloves. In our hardiness zone 6a, scapes typically arrive in early June (garlic is harvested in late June to early July); this season they’re a few weeks early in my garden.

Garlic scapes have a milder, “greener” flavor than garlic cloves, and you can chop the green parts and use them in place of (or in addition to) the cloves. Garlic scapes make a healthful way to add taste and interest to your springtime cooking.

What to do with garlic scapes? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Chop them finely and add to your favorite homemade vinaigrette dressing
  • Chop them and toss with a pint of cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme sprigs, salt and pepper and a good glug of olive oil, wrap the lot in foil and grill-roast for 15–20 minutes
  • Make garlic scape pesto
  • Chop them and use as you would garlic cloves in any recipe
  • Mix minced garlic scapes with softened butter, fresh herbs and salt and pepper, dollop on a grilled steak

Like everything wonderful, garlic scapes are a fleeting, seasonal pleasure. If you can find a bagful at your farmers’ market, by all means bring some home. I spotted garlic scapes on several tables at the Hyde Park Farmers’ Market; Madison’s at Findlay Market sells garlic scapes from Niemeyer Farm, and they’re popping up on restaurant menus around the region.

About the illustration: The generous and talented Linda Cassady provided the lovely image of garlic scapes. Linda is a Chicago-based illustrator and designer. See more of Linda’s work in her illustration portfolio.

Herb marinated goat cheese.

Here’s your perfect pre-dinner nibble for these increasingly warm days: a pretty jar of homemade marinated goat cheese, with sprigs of herbs and lemon peel to give the tangy cheese an even brighter flavor.

Simply layered crumbled fresh goat cheese in a glass jar (hello, Weck Jars!!) with sturdy herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme. Serve the marinated cheese at room temperature with Homemade Sea Salt Crackers or toasted baguette rounds.

A jar of homemade marinated goat cheese, some crackers and a dish of Butter Roasted Nuts … add a glass of rosé and you’ve got a party!

herb marinated goat cheese recipe

makes about 2 cups

6 ounces fresh goat cheese
4 (3-inch) sprigs fresh herbs (use woody herbs like rosemary, oregano and/or thyme)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 (1-inch wide) strips lemon peel
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
Homemade crackers or toasted bread for serving

In a large lidded jar (I love a Weck 1L jar), pour a thin film of olive oil; sprinkle with red pepper flakes and add an herb sprig. Crumble goat cheese into bite-size chunks and layer about half the cheese in the jar. Add 2 herb sprigs, a piece of lemon peel and a pinch more red pepper flakes, drizzle with olive oil. Add remaining goat cheese chunks and finish with remaining herbs, lemon peel and another pinch of red pepper flakes. Pour remaining olive oil over the cheese and herbs; don't worry if the cheese isn't completely submerged, but add a bit more oil if needed to nearly cover it. Make the marinated goat cheese at least 1 hour before serving to let the flavors emerge. Store leftovers in the refrigerator, being sure to take the jar out of the fridge about 1 hour before serving to let the oil liquefy.

Grandma's red raspberry chiffon pie recipe | writes4food.com

Grandma’s red raspberry chiffon pie.

My grandmother has been very much on my mind these past few weeks. I feel her presence in my garden, where I’m so fortunate to have a number of beautiful, spring blooming plants (like Lily of the Valley and Jack in the Pulpit) that I transplanted from her yard many years ago. And I feel her presence in my kitchen, where I share her affinity for cooking simple, good food, with love, from scratch.

This recipe for raspberry chiffon pie is hers, and it’s a dessert that I remember her making often when I was growing up. It’s super easy, and, as is my preference, not too sweet. I made this recently, and I swear, I felt her hand on my shoulder when I was whipping the cream.

What recipes do you make that connect you with loved ones? Please share your experience in the comments below!

Grandma's Red Raspberry Chiffon Pie Recipe

Serves 8

1 prepared graham cracker crust
1 envelope (1 Tablespoon) unflavored gelatine
3 Tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cups crushed fresh red raspberries (from 2 6-ounce packages)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream

In a heatproof glass bowl set over a pan of water (or the top of a double boiler), whisk together the gelatine and cold water to combine; let sit to soften the gelatine. Over hot water, stir the mixture to melt and dissolve the gelatine (it will yield a milky, smooth and slightly thick liquid). Let cool slightly. In a bowl, combine crushed raspberries, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Stir in the melted gelatine, a bit at a time, to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate the mixture until it's partially set.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), whip cream to firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the raspberry mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the rest of the whipped cream to gently but thoroughly combine. Spoon the mixture into the graham cracker crust. Refrigerate for several hours until set.

Buttermilk biscuit muffins.

Can we call these ‘buffins’? I think we can coin that phrase, right here and now.

I was inspired to tinker with this recipe for buttermilk drop biscuits baked in a muffin tin after having something similar with my brother, Bill, over breakfast recently. I tried a couple of different recipes to start with, making my own adaptations along the way, before I got it right. These are so, so good!!! Seriously good.

The dough has extra baking powder for lift (be sure to use aluminum-free baking powder, like Bob’s Red Mill or Rumford brands, so you don’t end up with buffins that have a metallic sort of taste). It’s slightly softer, with more liquid per flour, than a basic biscuit recipe would produce. And because you bake these in a muffin tin, there’s no kneading or cutting. You could get a larger yield—8 or 10 biscuit muffins—if you make them smaller. But why?

Swishing melted butter over the top is optional, of course, but why not gild the lily? I wouldn’t stop you from sprinkling a bit of Maldon sea salt over those buttered tops, either. Whip up a batch tonight!

Buttermilk Biscuit Muffins (or 'Buffins') recipe

Makes 6 large or up to 10 small

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons aluminum-free baking powder
3 tablespoons cold butter
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup buttermilk, plus a bit more if needed
1 tablespoon melted butter, for finishing
Sprinkle of Maldon sea salt, for finishing

Grease 6 (or up to 10) muffin cups. Preheat oven on the convection setting to 425° (your oven will automatically adjust the temperature to 400°) or to 400° on the regular setting.

In large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the cold butter into thin slices and toss with the flour mixture; use a pastry cutter to work the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Cut the shortening into chunks and work it into the mixture in similar fashion. Pour the buttermilk over the mixture and use a rubber spatula to gently fold the ingredients to combine; if you find extra loose flour at the bottom of the bowl, drizzle a bit more buttermilk down the side of the bowl, up to 1 tablespoon, to help it work into the dough. It will be soft and a bit lumpy. Scoop even mounds of dough into the prepared muffin pan, rounding the tops. (If you're making 6 biscuit muffins, the dough will mound high out of each cup.) Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tops of the biscuit muffins are golden brown. Brush each with melted butter and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt, if desired. Serve warm, with lots more butter.

homemade egg noodle recipe | writes4food.com

Dorothy’s homemade noodles.

So many memories of cooking with my grandmother, Dorothy, came flooding back over the past 10 days as we celebrated her rich and enduring life. Memory No. 1 is, without a doubt, her homemade egg noodles. This is her recipe.

When I first asked her to show me how to make egg noodles, she gave me the whole “a pinch of this and some of that” routine … and I was like, “C’mon Grandma, I need a recipe!” She managed to actually document her homemade noodle recipe for her cookbook, “Home Cooking with Dave’s Mom.” Still, there’s a lot of feel to making noodles. The dough should feel smooth and not sticky. When you roll it out, it should be so thin you can see type on a newspaper page through it. When it’s dry enough, it will feel rough, like the outside of a baking potato.

I have plans to do a whole lot of cooking in Dorothy’s honor in the coming weeks. Making her recipes connects me to her. I will feel her hand on my shoulder as I’m muscling the rolling pin. I will hear her say, “Hi, darlin’.” She’ll be right here, in my kitchen. Always.

HOMEMADE EGG NOODLE RECIPE

serves 4

2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1–3 teaspoons water

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and the salt together. Place the flour in a large bowl, and make a well in the center. Add the egg/salt mixture and stir with a fork to combine. Add 1 teaspoon of water and stir to combine. If the dough feels dry or crumbly, add more water a few drops at a time. Dig your hands into the dough and knead for 2 or 3 minutes to combine thoroughly, adding more water or flour if needed to create a smooth dough that's slightly tacky. Transfer the dough to a flour-dusted pastry cloth and divide it into thirds. Turn the mixing bowl over the dough to cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes. Take one portion of dough and dust it liberally (and the pastry cloth) with flour; roll it into a large circle that's as paper-thin as you can get it. If the dough seems too stretchy and doesn't want to roll, let it rest for another 30 minutes. Repeat rolling the other two portions of dough. Set the rolled dough rounds aside on paper towel to dry. The dried dough should feel slightly leathery: rough on the surface but still pliable. When it reaches this point, roll each round into a cylinder and cut the dough into 1/2-inch strips. Unfurl the noodles and place them on a rimmed baking sheet to dry, preferably overnight, tossing occasionally to ensure even drying. To store your homemade egg noodles, place them in a zip-top plastic bag; they'll keep well for 6 months. Cook the noodles for 5 to 8 minutes in well-salted boiling water.

savory granola recipe | writes4food.com

Savory granola topping.

On the heels of my recent collection of non-lettuce salads, allow me to share my favorite topping for such salads: savory granola.

If you’ve been hanging around here for awhile, you know I’m a granola devotée — see my favorite recipes for granola including Granddad’s Granola, Cherry-Chocolate Cookie Granola and my Best Almond-Flax Granola recipe.

This is a savory variation, with fresh thyme, Parmesan and olive oil. Scatter this topping over a plate of lightly dressed seasonal vegetables with sea salt and avocado wedges. Savory granola gives a bit of bright crunch to a basic roasted vegetable soup. It’s great as a cocktail nibble. Get creative: this is a super fun recipe!

SAVORY GRANOLA RECIPE

2 cups oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 cup Parmesan
Fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 325°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, seeds, salt, Parmesan and thyme. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the oil and egg white; pour this over the dry mixture and stir well with a rubber spatula to thoroughly blend the liquid and dry ingredients. Transfer the mixture to the baking sheet and press it down firmly with the spatula. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring the granola and rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Reduce the oven temperature to 250° and bake for 15 minutes more. Remove the pan from the oven and let the granola cool and crisp up. Break into large chunks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Best non-lettuce salad recipes.

Far as I know, it’s written nowhere in any culinary bible that salad must begin with a pile of shredded iceberg or mixed baby greens.

While I love a simple green salad (here’s my best recipe for homemade vinaigrette dressing), I’m drawn to non-lettuce salads. Chefs everywhere have stepped away from that steakhouse staple, the Blue Cheese Wedge Salad, and the basic house salad to experiment with salads that feature seasonal vegetables in really interesting combinations. I love this kind of non-lettuce salad topped with a sprinkling of toasted seeds or tossed with chunks of hearty toasted bread, or even savory granola.

Here’s a roundup of my best non-lettuce salad recipes. Give the ol’ iceberg a rest!