homemade sweet and salty trail mix recipe | writes4food.com

Sweet and salty trail mix.

So, apparently next Wednesday, August 31, is National Trail Mix Day. Who knew?!

The folks at Nuts.com asked if I’d share my favorite homemade trail mix recipe, and since I now have trail mix on the brain, I thought I’d oblige. Besides, I’m anticipating an upcoming road trip vacation this fall, and my own trail mix is a staple item on my packing list for travel of any sort.

Since I don’t have a big sweet tooth, my ideal trail mix recipe blends sweet and savory flavors, with healthy cereal and nuts and just a bit of peanut butter. I think this trail mix is fairly virtuous compared to the prepackaged stuff you might find in the grocery … but c’mon, it can’t be all twigs-and-berries, right? Hence, a handful of Reese’s Pieces.

The problem, of course, is that I now have a stash of this trail mix at my desk, and I … can’t … stop … nibbling …

homemade sweet and salty trail mix recipe

makes about 4 cups

1 cup oat or wheat square cereal
1 cup pretzel nuggets, sticks, fish or mini twists
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted almonds
1/2 cup large raisins
1/2 cup Reese's pieces

Toss everything together in a large bowl, and store in an airtight container.

freshly grown figs

Fun ingredient of the week: figs.

This isn’t so much a recipe post, but a little celebration of gardening success. A couple of years ago, when I visited Vicky Tewes’s lovely Thistlehair Farm in Union, KY, she had several large fig trees growing in pots around the farmstand. That fall, I found a potted fig at a local nursery and brought it home. It died of overwatering in the garage that winter. Fast forward to last spring, when I again found a potted fig — variety Chicago Hardy — and brought it home. It bore a couple of puny figs last fall, and it didn’t die of overwatering in the garage last winter.

Double-fast-forward to last week, when the tree brought forth maybe four dozen beautifully ripe figs. Chicago Hardy for the win!

fig tree

In spite of our first-winter failure, I’ve found the fig remarkably easy to grow, once I, um, fig-ured it out. The tree itself is beautiful: shapely, with lovely leaves. It likes sun and heat. Seeking to bolster its output this year, I did some online research and found that figs need ample water and fertilizer in order to produce fat, juicy fruit. We watered the tree every day in the hottest stretch of summer (when, you know, it wasn’t downpouring). I fed it every 3 weeks or so, using Espoma’s Garden-Tone organic fertilizer.

Very early in summer, the tree was full of thumb-sized fruit, green and hard as pebbles. About a week ago, overnight, a number of the fruits turned deep purple. I picked just a couple, but noticed that every day the remaining purple figs were getting bigger and softer. So I waited to pick more, and then … boom! They all got fat and soft and perfectly ripe, all at once. Before the ants and chipmunks could feast on them, I used a paring knife to trim a colander-ful of figs off the tree.

So, what do you do with fresh figs?

Figs, meet your BFF: prosciutto.

Grilled Figs in prosciutto recipe

Here's the very best thing to do with fresh figs: Cut 1 dozen fresh figs in half. Cut 3 pieces of thinly sliced prosciutto, the best you can find, into 4 strips, and wrap each fig half in a piece of prosciutto. Grill over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the prosciutto is a little charred and crispy. Throw a heavy dose of freshly ground black pepper over. Pop one of these little fruity-porky gems in your mouth, and I promise you: You'll go find a fig tree of your own this fall. (Cincinnati peeps, check Natorp's.)

recipe for smooth tomato gazpacho | writes4food.com

Creamy tomato gazpacho.

Recently, I shared my mom’s make-it-every-summer recipe for gazpacho, that lovely cold soup packed full of seasonal vegetables. Here’s another take on gazpacho that I really like; it includes a bit of bread that’s traditional in Spanish recipes, which gives the soup a bit of body without weighing it down.

Like all gazpacho recipes, this one’s best made at least 1 day before you plan to enjoy it. Hop on over to your backyard garden or local farmers’ market to pick up all the goodies and pull out the blender — it’s gazpacho time, people!

Smooth & creamy gazpacho recipe

4 cups chopped tomato (about 3 large)
1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 hamburger or hotdog bun
6 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry or champagne vinegar
Pinch of cumin (optional)
Pinch of smoked paprika or pimenton (optional)
Sea salt and finely ground pepper

Tear about one-quarter of the hotdog or hamburger bun into small pieces; measure out 1/4 cup of bread (packed). Transfer the bread, tomato, bell pepper, garlic, 6 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, cumin and paprika to a blender. Pulse a few times to chop, then purée the mixture until it’s completely smooth and rather frothy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Taste the gazpacho and add salt and finely ground pepper; blend to combine. Transfer the gazpacho to a glass bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Cut the remaining bun into 1/2-inch cubes. In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it shimmers. Add bread cubes, toss to coat with oil and sauté the croutons until they’re deeply toasted and dark golden all over, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve gazpacho topped with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.

Awesome summer corn recipes.

Around here, we’re knee-deep in corn season, and these hot days are producing fat, sweet, juicy ears of summery goodness. Local sweet corn has been amazing, and we’re smart to eat our fill of it while we can. Now, I’m a buttery-corn-on-the-cob girl all day long, but sometimes I want corn in a different way: raw kernels scattered over a plate of sliced tomatoes, say, or quickly sautéed. So here’s a roundup of my favorite summer corn recipes. Get thee to a farmers’ market!

easy food-processor gazpacho | writes4food.com

Mom’s quick gazpacho.

This easy tomato gazpacho recipe is an oldie but goodie—it originates in the recipe booklet that came with my mom’s Cuisinart food processor many years ago. She photocopied the recipe for me, and I make it repeatedly throughout the summer. It’s my go-to gazpacho recipe because it’s so quick to whip up in the food processor—minimal prep required. A cool soup for hot weather!

easy food processor gazpacho

(makes about 4 cups)

1 small clove of garlic, peeled
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed (or more to taste)
4 green onions, white and pale green parts cut into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into quarters
2 tomatoes, seeds removed, cut into quarters
2 cups low-sodium tomato juice (I used tomato broth)
1 medium cucumber
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons really good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fit the metal blade into your food processor; add garlic and jalapeño and process until finely chopped. Add the green onion, celery and bell pepper; process to chop. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl. Place the tomatoes in the processor and puree until smooth. Transfer the tomato puree to the bowl, then add tomato juice, lemon juice and olive oil. Peel the cucumber and slice it in quarters lengthwise; remove seeds and slice thinly. Add the cucumber slices to the gazpacho. Season well with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the soup before serving; it's actually better the second day.

homemade spiced cherry tomato jam recipe | writes4food.com

Spiced cherry tomato jam.

Thanks to the onslaught of cherry tomatoes in my backyard garden this summer, which is just now coming into full production, I’ve made this homemade spiced cherry tomato jam twice now. You’re thinking, “tomato jam?” Yes, tomato jam!

It’s fantastic with sharp cheddar on crackers, with goat cheese on crostini or on an over-the-top grilled cheese sandwich.

This tomato jam recipe was inspired by one of my favorite summer pasta sauces, made with golden cherry tomatoes, star anise, clove and fresh herbs. The tomato-anise flavor combination turns out to be a real winner, the warmth of the spice pairing beautifully with the tart-sweet tomato taste. (I also love it in this Roasted Tomato-Fennel Soup recipe.) I scouted tomato jam recipes online and added the herb-spice flavoring to a pretty basic technique to come up with this recipe.

This is a small-batch homemade jam that’s easy to make in about 45 minutes; it doesn’t call for pectin, but rather sugar and heat create the lovely texture. Spoon the jam into small jars and freeze them, or use a water-bath canning process to preserve them for shelf storage. Spiced Tomato Jam makes a lovely hostess or summer birthday gift!

Spiced Cherry Tomato Jam recipe

makes 1 1/2 cups

2 pounds yellow or orange cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups sugar
4 sprigs basil
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs tarragon
2 star anise
4 whole cloves
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Combine tomatoes and sugar in a large glass bowl; let sit about 4 hours (or refrigerate overnight). Transfer to a large, wide saucepan add herbs, spices and vinegar. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, then boil rapidly, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, until it becomes thick, dark and syrupy, about 35 minutes. (Keep up your stirring at the very end of the process; the jam tends to scorch just as it comes to the proper temperature.) Use a candy or digital thermometer to check temperature; it should reach 220° for soft/jelly set. Alternately, spoon a bit of jam onto a small plate and put it in the freezer for a minute or two; it should resemble a soft-set jam. Use tongs to carefully remove spices and herbs.

Jam keeps, refrigerated, for up to 6 months; can be processed in jars in a water-bath canner per manufacturer’s directions (see FreshPreserving.com for the how-tos on canning). Or transfer to small jars and freeze up to 1 year; thaw completely before using.

homemade tabbouleh salad recipe | writes4food.com

Easy tabbouleh salad.

I love eating at this time of year: There are so many tasty vegetables and herbs that you can quickly transform into a satisfying side dish or salad. Like tabbouleh: quite possibly the easiest but most overlooked dish you can make at home.

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad based on bulgur, a type of cracked wheat, and parsley. Add a few more fresh herbs, some chopped vegetables and a splash of olive oil, and you have this lovely salad that can play many roles on your table.

Make it part of a Middle Eastern appetizer platter alongside homemade hummus, a hunk of salty Feta cheese, and fresh vegetables and crisp pita chips for dipping. Or make it the centerpiece of a healthy, packable lunch with a little cherry tomato-mozzarella salad and some fresh fruit. Homemade tabbouleh and a dish of baked pita chips makes pretty much the simplest, freshest-tasting appetizer or afternoon snack out there.

easy homemade tabbouleh salad

1/3 cup bulgur
1 cup parsley leaves, packed, very finely minced (you’ll have about 1/3 cup, minced)
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint (optional)
2 small tomatoes, seeded and very finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Place the bulgur in a bowl and cover with warm water; let sit 15 to 20 minutes, until it is al dente, like pasta. (You want to maintain a slightly firm, toothy texture; the bulgur will continue to soften after you’ve made the tabbouleh.) Drain the bulgur in a fine sieve and squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands. Place 1/2 cup prepared bulgur in a bowl and fluff it with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and use a spatula to fold the ingredients gently together. Like most such dishes, this gets better over a couple of hours as the flavors meld.

quick refrigerator dill pickle recipe | writes4food.com

Quick dill pickles.

Nature has a way of mocking the gardener’s folly: Just a few days after I lamented that our cucumber crop seemed doomed, we’ve had a growth spurt. The harvest should be robust after all. Perhaps I’ll open a roadside farm stand?

So what to do with these slender cukes right off the vine? As they say on Portlandia: “We can pickle that!”

This super easy recipe for homemade pickles yields a pickle that’s bright, crisp, more cucumber-y than dill-y, if that makes any sense. If you like your pickle slices more deeply flavored and softer, then by all means leave these in the brine for several days, even a week, and they’ll develop those characteristics. Want a bit more spice? Add a clove or two of garlic (peeled) and some red pepper flakes. Save the brine and continue adding cucumber slices and dill, and you’ll have an ongoing pickle factory in your fridge all summer long.

quick refrigerator dill pickle recipe

In a quart jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Cover and shake very well until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add several sprigs of fresh dill fronds to the jar. Add 4 small or 3 medium cucumbers, sliced. Add more dill. Shake gently to combine and refrigerate at least several hours before serving. Pickles keep, refrigerated, up to a week, softening and gaining deeper flavor over time.

Best summer tomato recipes.

In today’s edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer you’ll find my story about local tomatoes, which are just now coming fully into season. The article included a couple of our favorite tomato recipes … and I thought I’d share a gallery of additional recipes for your biggest, fattest, ripest, most luscious summer tomatoes. Dig in!

seed toppings

Fun ingredient: seed toppings.

On menus and in cooking magazines recently, I’ve noticed a fun new ingredient turning up with increasing regularity: seedy toppings. On salads of all stripes, on grilled meats and vegetables, on creamy soups. My favorite new Radish and Avocado Salad with Toasted Seeds recipe (inspired by a dish we had on vacation last month) has a scattering of seeds over the top. So does this Bon Appetit recipe for Grilled Chicken Kebabs with Sesame Sprinkle, which we’ve made twice in the past two weeks.

Dine out, and you’ll probably find a variation of the toasted seed topping or its cousin, the savory granola (find my savory granola recipe here), adding nutty flavor and vibrant crunch to just about anything. In the case of the grilled chicken kebabs, the sprinkle combined toasted seeds with freshly grated lemon zest and fresh herbs, which added a totally awesome dimension.

These savory toppings are super easy to make: just assemble a pile of seeds (see below), toast them in a dry skillet, and off you go. This is a non-recipe recipe: Just use what you have, or what you like, in whatever proportion you choose. Add just a tiny pinch of salt to bring out the flavor — you don’t want this to taste salty. Make a small batch just for dinner tonight, or enough to play with over the course of a week. You can’t mess this up. If you think of an instance when you’d want croutons, you can swap in a toasted seed topping instead.

Seeds to try: white or black sesame, flax, poppy, sunflower, pepita, pine nut, chia

Herbs to add: minced chive, parsley, savory, tarragon

Other add-ins: lemon or orange zest, black pepper, Aleppo pepper, freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Uses for toasted seed or seed-herb toppings: sprinkled on fresh ricotta on crostini; sprinkled on a chilled soup; scattered over grilled chicken, fish and vegetables; adding life to the traditional caprese salad, instead of croutons in a simple mixed green salad or a vegetable salad

seed topping recipe

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

In a small dry skillet, toast the seeds over medium heat until fragrant but not really browning, about 5 minutes. Cool. Add a pinch of salt.

seed and herb topping recipe

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Pinch of lemon zest
Pinch of Aleppo pepper
Pinch of salt

In a small dry skillet, toast the seeds over medium heat until fragrant but not really browning, about 5 minutes. Cool. Toss with herbs, zest, pepper and salt.