Awesome side dishes to make for Memorial Day.

Tired of the same ol’ same ol’ side dishes for your Memorial Day feast? Looking for an alternative to goopy mayo potato salad? Here you go: My very best side dishes for grill-outs, backyard parties and picnics. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

whole grain farro salad with corn and tomatoes recipe | writes4food.com

Whole grain salad with tomatoes and corn.

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know that I am All. About. Lunch. (See this great library of healthy lunch recipes.) A good lunch fuels my afternoon and keeps my brain and body working. Plus, we just need to take a mid-day break — get away from the desk, stretch, workout, have something wholesome and delicious to eat. This recipe for farro salad with tomatoes and corn epitomizes the Good Lunch. And it’s a great side dish for grilled chicken.

Packed with whole grains, an easy vinaigrette, sweet vegetables, herbs and a bit of cheese, it’s everything you want in a lunchtime salad recipe. Make a batch of this on the weekend, portion individual servings into lidded jars, and you have a fantastic, pack-able, desk-able lunchtime salad.

farro (whole grain) salad with tomatoes and corn recipe

makes 4 servings

1 cup pearled farro
3 cups water
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup minced chives

In a saucepan, combine farro and water; add 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until farro is al dente, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Pour half of dressing over farro while it's still warm and toss to coat; let cool to room temperature. Add cherry tomatoes, corn and mozzarella and toss to combine; add remaining dressing and combine. Top with fresh herbs.

arugula green garlic pesto recipe

Arugula green garlic pesto.

A glut of almost-too-mature arugula in my backyard vegetable garden just begged to be turned into pesto (it was a little too pungent to toss in a salad). You know what else begged to be turned into pesto? A couple of heads of green garlic I picked up from the farmers’ market.

What is green garlic? Simply, it’s garlic that hasn’t fully grown into the cloved head we all know as garlic. Harvested in the spring, it’s milder and brighter-tasting than mature garlic. I don’t have enough garlic growing in my garden to dig any up early, so I find it at farmers’ markets in our area. I use green garlic as I would regular: sautéed with vegetables over pasta, in salad dressing, or here, in this recipe for arugula and green garlic pesto.

Toss this arugula-garlic pesto with pasta for a quick and easy dinner, or stir it into scrambled eggs or a frittata. Arugula pesto also makes a great go-with for grilled Italian sausages and potatoes. Or drop a spoonful into a bowl of homemade minestrone.

Keep an eye out for green garlic this spring and give it a try!

arugula green garlic pesto recipe

makes about 1 cup

4 cups (lightly packed) arugula
2 heads green garlic (including pale green part)
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 cup (lightly packed) grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until the pesto is smooth. Store refrigerated up to 2 weeks and frozen up to 1 year.

spinach frittata with herbs recipe | writes4food.com

Spinach frittata with fresh herbs.

This beautiful frittata recipe combines three terrific spring ingredients: farm fresh eggs, spring greens and tender herbs. We make frittata all the time — it’s kind of my “desperation dinner,” when nothing else sounds good or I’ve not been to the store for a few days. Frittata is way easier to make than its cousin, the omelet (no flipping required!) and it can take on any manner of add-ins.

Here’s a simple frittata recipe with sweet spring greens: use a quarter pound or so of spinach, spicy arugula, Swiss chard, mustards, sorrel, whatever you find at your farmers’ market. A bit of onion adds some depth of flavor. But the crowning touch is a shower of fresh herbs; in the photo above, I used parsley, chives and chive flowers.

spinach frittata with fresh herbs recipe

serves 4

5–6 ounces fresh spinach, chard or other cooking greens, washed, thick stems removed
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Lightly chopped fresh herbs for serving (parsley, chives, scallion greens, tarragon)
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat broiler. Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium and add the greens with any water clinging to them and cook, tossing gently, just until they’re wilted. Remove to a colander, rinse with water to cool, then press out as much liquid as you can. Coarsely chop the greens. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until it shimmers; lower heat, add onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 7–8 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown. Add the greens and a pinch of salt and stir. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil; add a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the eggs into the skillet; cover and cook until the eggs are mostly set but a little moist on top. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil until the frittata puffs and browns lightly. Sprinkle with chopped herbs and Parmesan; cut into 4 wedges.

best chocolate chip bar cookies EVER | writes4food.com

The best chocolate chip bar cookies.

In honor of National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, which is Sunday, May 15, I give you this: The. Very. Best. Salty. Chocolate. Chunk. Bar. Cookie. Recipe. Ever. I mean, EVER! It’s my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, hands-down.

Grab some really good chocolate chips and/or chunks, the best you can buy. And some coarse sea salt. And, you know, the butter and flour and sugar and stuff.

C’mon, these are bar cookies! They don’t even require effort. Make a batch, already!

salty chocolate chunk bar cookie recipe

makes about 30 bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (see Note)
1/2 cup chocolate chunks, divided
1/2 cup good quality toasted unsalted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon good-quality flaky sea salt (like Maldon)

Note: Use a combination of dark, milk or semi-sweet chocolate in this recipe. I like Barry Callebaut chocolate chunks from King Arthur Flour; if you don't have chocolate chunks on hand, just use 1 cup of chocolate chips, reserving 1/4 cup for topping as directed below.

Preheat oven to 375°. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a bowl and hand-held mixer), cream the butter until it's smooth; add the sugar and cream together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in vanilla extract. Add flour and table salt, mix gently to combine thoroughly. Add chocolate chips, 1/4 cup chocolate chunks and chopped pecans; mix to combine—the dough will be more crumbly than your typical cookie dough.

Line a rimmed 12-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Place a plastic baggie over your hand (to prevent sticking) and use that to press the crumbly dough evenly into the paper-lined pan. Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chunks over the dough and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of flaky sea salt. Bake for 25–28 minutes, or until cookies are nicely browned and pulling away from the pan slightly. Cool for about 30 minutes, then use the parchment paper to carefully lift the cookie out of the pan and cut into squares. (These cookies get crispy like shortbread, and cutting them after they're fully at room temperature is messy; better to cut them when they're just slightly warm.)

puff pancake (Dutch Baby) croque-monsieur style | writes4food.com

Dutch baby croque monsieur-style.

The Dutch Baby (aka the puff pancake) has been a favorite of ours for awhile. But apparently it’s sort of a thing now; I’ve seen recipes for the puff pancake, both sweet and savory variations, kind of all over the place.

And why not? Whether you go sweet or savory, there’s pretty much no better breakfast or brunch dish than the Dutch Baby. It’s super easy to make, incredibly delicious and sooooo impressive. If the omelet and the popover got together, the Dutch Baby would be their love child.

For Mother’s Day brunch, I thought to do a Dutch Baby croque monsieur-style, topped with ham, Gruyere and the traditional dusting of powdered sugar. It did not disappoint. We enjoyed this with a few thyme-roasted cherry tomatoes on the side. Perfect.

croque monsieur style dutch baby (puff pancake with ham and gruyere) recipe

serves 3–4

3 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup minced fresh herbs (chives, thyme, parsley or a combination)
4 tablespoons butter
3–4 slices good-quality ham
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 425°. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and salt. Whisk until no lumps of flour remain, then whisk in herbs. Place a heavy, ovenproof 10-inch skillet in the oven; add butter and heat the butter until it melts. Carefully pour the batter into the hot pan. Bake 20 minutes, until the pancake is puffed and golden. Top the pancake with grated Gruyere, then arrange the ham slices on top. Reduce oven temperature to 300°; return the pancake to the oven and bake until cheese is melted and the pancake is deeply golden brown around the edges, about 5 minutes more. Dust with powdered sugar; cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Note: To make a sweet Dutch Baby, omit the herbs, ham and cheese and add 1 tablespoon granulated sugar to the batter. Serve with a generous dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

 

A brunch menu for Mom.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, and I know there’s one thing my Mom would love — brunch. Yours too? Here are some great recipe ideas for your Mother’s Day brunch!

chicken salad with carrot and fennel | writes4food.com

Beautiful chicken, carrot and fennel salad.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and who am I to argue. I love a good bowl of steel-cut oatmeal to get me started, sure.

But I’d suggest that lunch is even more critical. A crummy lunch, unsubstantial and eaten in a hurry, is the surest way to trainwreck my afternoon. If I grab a bagel or a bowl of cereal, I’ll spiral into a carb crash around 2:00, and my mood and productivity go out the window. Give me a good lunch, one with protein, lively textures and happy flavors, and I’m set for the rest of the day.

This lunchtime salad recipe with chicken and vegetables is the perfect solution: fresh, bright, clean. Make it on Sunday and you’ll have lunch for a couple of days; this keeps well in a jar in the fridge so it’s super portable.

lunchbox salad with chicken, carrot and fennel

(makes 3 lunchtime servings)

1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 fennel bulb
3 large carrots
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted in a dry skillet and crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash and trim the end off the fennel bulb; cut the fennel in half and use the tip of a knife to cut out the tough inner core (it’s the dense triangular center of the bulb). Cut each half again in half lengthwise, then slice very thinly crosswise. Peel carrots, then using the peeler, cut into long strips; stack strips together and cut crosswise into 3-inch (or so) lengths. (Be sure to reserve your vegetable scraps to make homemade vegetable stock.) In a large bowl, combine chicken, fennel, carrot, fennel seed, oil, vinegar and parsley. Season well with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve at room temperature.

healthy hummus-guacamole dip recipe | writes4food.com

Fresh chickpea (or edamame) guacamole.

Have you ever spotted fresh garbanzo beans in your grocery or food shop? They’re amazing: bright and green and full of flavor, funny wrinkly little beans tucked into puffy green shells.

When I spotted fresh garbanzos at Madison’s at Findlay Market recently, they sort of asked to be cooked up and mashed with avocado for a very spring-ish version of guacamole.

This guacamole-hummus recipe (let’s call it ‘guacamus’) couldn’t be easier. Adding fresh chickpeas (you can easily substitute frozen peas or edamame, lightly cooked) to guacamole lightens this fantastic dip-cum-spread tremendously. A bit of lemon juice brightens the flavor and enhances its spring-iness.

cooking fresh chickpeas | writes4food.com

guacamole-hummus dip recipe

(serves 4)

3/4 pound fresh chickpeas in the shell (about 1 1/4 cups shelled); see Note
1 large avocado
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Smoked paprika and good olive oil for serving

Note: If you can't find fresh chickpeas, substitute 1 1/4 cups of fresh or frozen shelled English peas or edamame.

Remove the fresh chickpeas from their shells; place them in a saucepan and cover with water; add a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook the chickpeas until they're tender but not mushy, 4–5 minutes. Rinse the chickpeas under very cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer the cooked chickpeas to a bowl and use a fork or immersion blender to coarsely mash them. Add the avocado and mash to combine. Stir in lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the guacammus to a serving bowl and sprinkle liberally with smoked paprika and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with toasted pita chips or tortilla chips.

baby kale caesar salad recipe | writes4food.com

Baby kale caesar salad.

I’ve recently begun contributing the occasional local food feature — along with a simple recipe or two — to the Cincinnati Enquirer. I’m something of an old-school journalist type, and I value ink-on-paper media in a world of digital information. I’m perfectly happy to read The New York Times on my tablet during the week, but gimme the printed edition on Sunday so I can page through it at luxurious leisure. For awhile, our local paper considered doing away with its Wednesday food section, then resuscitated it with syndicated feature content. When a new editor approached me to ask if I’d contribute, I was happy for the opportunity to put the local back in local food coverage.

For this week’s “what’s in season now” feature story, I scouted farmers’ markets in town to get a sense of what growers are harvesting for our tables. At the Madeira Farmers’ Market, I spotted a bin full of baby kale from Elmwood Stock Farm — so beautiful! I shared this recipe for baby kale caesar salad with Enquirer readers this week; here it is for you!

Baby Kale caesar salad recipe

serves 4

4–5 ounces baby kale (or a mixture of baby kale, arugula, lettuce, other spring greens)
2 thick slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2–3 anchovy filets (to taste), chopped
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the croutons: Preheat oven to 350°. Tear the bread in bite-sized pieces and lay it on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss the croutons with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt; toast, turning occasionally, until they’re dried and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

For the dressing: In a small food processor or blender, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, anchovies and garlic; blend to combine. Add the olive oil and blend until smooth. Add the egg yolk and blend until the dressing is thick and smooth. Stir in half the Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad: Pinch off any long stems from the kale. Toss the greens in a large serving bowl and season with a pinch of salt. Spoon some of the dressing along the side of the bowl and toss the greens gently to coat, adding more dressing if needed. Add remaining Parmesan and a generous grind of black pepper and toss. Top with croutons and a shower of grated Parm.