Couscous salad with apples and feta.

Earlier this summer, on our trip to Italy, we enjoyed the delightful custom of having light nibbles with our Negroni and Aperol Spritz cocktails. It’s the best thing: You order a drink in late afternoon at any little bar, and you get a snack. Sometimes, it’s just a bowl of potato chips, but other times it’s an array of beautiful bites: little wedges of herbed polenta, squares of focaccia topped with prosciutto, maybe a little vegetable salad.

In Lucca, a town in Tuscany that has stolen my heart, we made a return trip to the Stella Polare on the Piazza Napoleone. We first loved the Stella Polare on a previous trip—it’s one of those spots ubiquitous in Italy that’s a coffee bar in the morning and marvelously, magically morphs over the course of the day into a cocktail/wine bar in the late afternoon and evening. You can stop into the Stella Polare (North Star) at any moment during your day and have something wonderful to drink or order from the straightforward food menu. (Actually, it’s not called the Stella Polare anymore … it seems to have changed names sometime this year … but it’s always the Stella Polare to me.)

Anyhoo, the Stella Polare rocks the appetizer scene. And it was here that we noshed on little cups of this delightful couscous salad. It was easy to create a recipe for it when we got home. I love couscous as a base for any kind of salad, and these are equally good as side dishes for grilled chicken or fish as they are stand-alones for lunch.

Give this recipe a try and imagine yourself at the Stella Polare (or wherever your cocktail happy place is), drink in hand.

couscous salad with apples, feta and olives recipe

serves 4 (8 as an appetizer)

3/4 cup couscous
1 cup water or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1 crisp-sweet local apple, diced
2 oz. Feta cheese, diced
1/4 cup pitted black cured olives, chopped
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring water or broth to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in couscous; cover, remove from heat and let couscous steam for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in butter or olive oil; re-cover and let sit another 10 minutes. Fluff again and turn out into a serving bowl; let cool. Gently fold in diced apple, Feta and olives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Right before serving, fold in sliced almonds. Serve at room temperature.

quick blender gazpacho recipe | writes4food.com

Quite possibly the best summer gazpacho.

I love LOVE gazpacho. I’ve published recipes for Mom’s Quick Gazpacho (my mom’s favorite, a chunky version made in a food processor), for Cool White Gazpacho (a totally amazing and refreshing Spanish soup with green apple and grapes), for Creamy Gazpacho with cumin and smoked paprika.

But a recipe I recently spotted on the New York Times Cooking app is my go-to gazpacho for Summer 2017 (which I’ve adapted here). It’s ridiculously easy and so, so flavorful. Just whirl everything in a blender, run it through a food mill, and voila.

Like all gazpacho variations, this cool soup is even better the day after you make it, so plan ahead. Garnish your gazpacho with fresh herbs, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, or a drizzle of top-quality olive oil.

Stay cool. Eat gazpacho.

quick blender gazpacho recipe

serves 4

2 pounds (3 very large) tomatoes, the ripest you can find
1 long, sweet yellow pepper (or 1/2 yellow bell pepper)
1 medium cucumber, peeled
1 small sweet onion (about 1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (not cooking sherry!)
1/4 cup olive oil plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic into chunks. Working in 2 batches, if necessary, puree vegetables in a blender until very smooth. Add vinegar, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and a generous grind of pepper and blend again. Transfer mixture to a food mill set over a large bowl and use the mill to strain out seeds and skins and extract as much pulp and flavor as possible (alternately, run the mixture through a mesh colander or sieve and use a spoon to press on the solids). Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Chill before serving.

Quick breaded chicken tenders with corn salad.

We’re less than a month into sweet corn season, and I can’t get enough. We’re eating corn for dinner practically every other night. And while I’ve yet to sink my teeth into a buttery, salty ear of corn on the cob, I’m feasting on fresh corn off the cob in all kinds of ways.

This easy recipe for Breaded Chicken Tenders with Corn Salad is a great way to showcase summer sweet corn. Frankly, breaded chicken cutlets or tenders, quickly sautéed in a bit of olive oil, go well with pretty much any vegetable, from a pile of lightly dressed arugula or butter lettuce, to thick slices of fresh tomato. You can’t go wrong. (And breaded chicken cutlets or tenderloins are crowd-pleasers for all ages.)

Use pounded-thin cutlets in place of the tenderloins, if you prefer. (I typically trim the tenderloin from boneless, skinless chicken breasts—because they sort of get in the way—and save them in a freezer bag for uses such as this.) Bookmark this page, as the quick sautéed chicken tenderloin recipe will serve you well in any number of iterations.

Quick breaded chicken tenders with fresh corn salad recipe

serves 4

For the chicken tenders:
2 pounds chicken tenderloins (or thin chicken breast cutlets)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2–2 cups panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and ground pepper

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk together the eggs and mustard. Place the breadcrumbs in another shallow bowl or pie plate. Have a parchment-lined baking sheet at the ready. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and pepper; dip each one in beaten egg mixture, then coat thoroughly with breadcrumbs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy, wide skillet until it shimmers. Working in batches, cook the breaded tenderloins until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towel before serving.

For the fresh corn salad:
1 small sweet onion, diced
1/2 jalapeño, minced (or use more to taste)
1 medium yellow squash, diced
2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pint yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh basil leaves, torn
Kosher salt and ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat olive oil until it shimmers; reduce heat and add onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add squash and cook 5–7 minutes more, until squash is crisp tender. Season with salt. Add corn and cook 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer vegetables to a large bowl to cool. Add cherry tomatoes, taste and adjust seasonings. Just before serving, scatter torn basil leaves over salad. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with breaded chicken tenders.

low-fat tomato and roasted red pepper soup recipe | writes4food.com

Quick fresh tomato soup.

Who doesn’t love grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup? Seriously. It’s my favorite lunch ever, and a go-to quick supper, too.

Last summer, among the tomato goods I canned or put up in the freezer—including Sun Gold Tomato Sauce and Spiced Cherry Tomato Jam—I wound up with two containers of fresh tomato puree that weren’t destined for the sauce pot. Fresh tomato puree freezes beautifully, and makes a great addition to soup or sauce; it tastes so much brighter and fresher than canned tomato puree.

Last week, I fancied a grilled-cheese-tomato-soup supper, so I took a container of puree out of the freezer and roasted up some cherry tomatoes, carrots and onions to make a super-quick soup. When you start with great fresh ingredients, you don’t really have to fuss to come up with something tasty.

Roasted veg + stock/broth/puree + blender = deliciousness.

quick tomato soup

makes about 4 cups

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
4 baby onions (or 1 small onion) cut into wedges
3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sprig of fresh tarragon
Sprig of fresh thyme
3 cups tomato puree (see Note)
Kosher salt and finely ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°; line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. On the baking sheet, toss the carrots with about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil; season with salt. Arrange the carrots on one end of the baking sheet. Roast 10 minutes. To the middle of the baking sheet add the onions with a drizzle of olive oil. Place the cherry tomatoes on the other side of the baking sheet. Season onions and tomatoes with salt; nestle herb sprigs into the tomatoes. Roast 20 minutes, until carrots are tender. Transfer the vegetables to a large saucepan (discard the herb sprigs). Add the tomato puree and a Parmesan rind, if you have one. Bring the soup to a strong simmer; partially cover, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook 20 minutes until the vegetables are totally soft. Remove the Parmesan rind. Use a regular or immersion blender to puree the soup to a texture you like.

Note: To make fresh tomato puree, set a food mill over a large bowl. Quarter 4 large tomatoes and run them through the food mill to extract the pulp, leaving the seeds and skins behind. Alternately, blend quartered tomatoes in a food processor until they're juicy and strain through a sieve to remove seeds and skins.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

homemade tabbouleh salad recipe | writes4food.com

Quick, summery tabbouleh salad.

We’re in this weather pattern where it’s alternately warm and sticky and cooler and pleasant. Which means my cooking pattern changes, too. On these hot, sultry days, the mere thought of turning on the stove makes me wilt. So I love having no-cook recipes, like this one for tabbouleh salad, on hand.

You can easily make a meal out of tabbouleh—a simple Middle Eastern salad of grain, herbs and diced vegetables—with homemade pita bread (which you’ve made ahead), some good cheese and the ripest, juiciest peaches you can find for dessert. And a crisp white wine, natch.

Traveling in Italy recently, we saw a whole range of these prepared salads on antipasta bars and at little food shops. Salads made with couscous and roasted vegetables, or white rice and chopped veggies, or farro with cheese and seasonal vegetables (my personal favorite). This tabbouleh recipe fits that mold, for sure.

You can add shredded cooked chicken to this tabbouleh salad for a heartier meal. Or wrap it in a whole-grain tortilla to make a sandwich. Or eat it on tortilla chips. Any way you go, it’s delicious, refreshing and super simple for these hot days.

easy homemade tabbouleh salad recipe

serves 4

1/3 cup bulgur (cracked wheat, medium-grind)
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 really good olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed 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.

Black pepper taralli (or, the best cocktail snack ever).

If you ask Rob, he’ll tell you I was obsessed with taralli when we were in Italy. Obsessed. The little bakery around the corner from our apartment made them fresh every day, and I bought them throughout our trip and brought a pound of them home in a paper sack. Obsessed.

What are taralli? Only the most perfect cocktail snack EVAH. Little rings of crackery goodness, with a light, shortbread-like texture and gentle crunch. For cocktail nibbles, they pack remarkable flavor: good olive oil, wine, bold black pepper, salt.

They’re kind of hard to find in the States, and when I do run across a bag of imported Italian taralli, they’re often a bit stale and unsatisfying. So when I discovered a recipe for taralli on the New York Times Cooking site, I was thrilled. Could I make these delightful cocktail snacks at home?

Absolutely. And they’re amazing. And really easy and fun to make.

As with anything simple, using great ingredients is a must. Use a white wine you’d drink with the taralli to make them. Good olive oil. Freshly cracked pepper. Taralli are often flavored with red pepper flakes or fennel seed, or just made with salt, so feel free to riff as you like.

I’ve adapted the recipe a bit here, most notably clarifying some measurements and instructions. But it’s ultimately super easy to make taralli at home. Shaping the little rings takes time, but I find it to be meditative work.

Although it contains a smidge of yeast, this is not a bread dough, so don’t expect it to be stiff and solid. The dough is soft, stretchy and very oily, but it should not stick to your hands. (I imagine that Italian women who regularly make taralli have very soft hands from all that olive oil.)

I’ve found that these homemade taralli keep well for a good week at room temperature, and they freeze well so you’ll always have a tasty snack whenever you stir up your happy hour Aperol Spritz.

Buon appetito!

black pepper taralli (Italian cocktail crackers) recipe

makes about 7 dozen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups '00' flour (or use cake flour)
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper or more to taste
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 375° or 350° with convection (which, on my oven, means punching in 375; the system automatically deducts 25° in convection mode). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flours, pepper, salt and yeast. Add olive oil and half the wine; begin mixing on medium-low speed. When the dough begins to come together, taste it; it should taste like what you want the finished taralli to taste like: olive oil-y and salty and peppery. (Add a bit more ground pepper if you want to increase the heat.) Set a kitchen timer for 12 minutes and keep mixing the dough on medium-low speed, adding the remaining wine a bit at a time. When you add the wine, you'll think you've created a sloppy mess, but it will quickly incorporate into the dough as mixing continues. At the end of 12 minutes, the dough will be soft, moist and very oily but not sticky. (If it is, mix in just a bit of flour.)

Pinch off a bit of dough—you want each portion to weigh 8g (or 1 measuring teaspoon full of dough). A kitchen scale is very helpful here. Roll the dough into a rope about 5 inches long, evenly shaped through its length and then slightly tapered at the ends. Form the rope into a circle, overlapping the tapered ends and gently pinching together. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. I find it's most efficient to portion out about half the dough and then form the rings (instead of portioning and forming them one at a time). You'll bake two batches of two baking sheets.

Bake the taralli until they're dry and nicely golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. They'll crisp up as they cool. Serve with a crisp wine and assorted cheeses.

Grandmother’s blueberry buckle.

OK, so technically this isn’t exactly a ‘buckle’ (which, according to this article, should have a layer of berries on top instead of mixed into the batter). But Grandmother called it Blueberry Buckle, and Grandmother’s copy of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, Sixth Edition, 1950, calls it a buckle. So Blueberry Buckle it is.

Anyway, it’s good. And it’s summer. And it reminds me of Grandmother Ruth.

And it’s a great use of fresh blueberries, which are in (a devastatingly short) season right now. I hacked the original recipe a little, reducing the sugar to let the blueberries’ natural sweetness shine and adding a pop of orange zest to the crumble topping. For the win!

You can call it a streusel cake, or a coffee cake, or a buckle. You can eat it with ice cream for dessert, with coffee for breakfast — or over the kitchen sink right before bed. I won’t judge.

blueberry buckle coffee cake recipe

Serves 8–10

For the cake:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh blueberries

For the streusel topping:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray; line the bottom and two sides with parchment paper (leaving an overhang you can use to lift the finished cake out of the pan) and spray the parchment with cooking spray. Dust the pan with flour, shaking out excess. In a bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl using a hand mixer), cream together the sugar and butter. Mix in egg, then milk. Add flour mixture and stir on low speed to combine (batter will be very thick). Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in blueberries. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

To make the streusel: In a small bowl, use your fingers to combine the granulated sugar and orange zest until the sugar is damp and fragrant. Mix in flour and cinnamon. Use your fingers to work in the butter, making sure to completely incorporate it (you don't want any solid bits of butter or loose flour). Squeeze the mixture into a big clump, then break into roughly half-inch pieces. Distribute the topping evenly over the batter. Bake the cake for 45–50 minutes, until topping is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes or so, then run a knife around the pan to loosen the cake, using parchment to lift it onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before serving with ice cream or whipped cream.

Loving Italian food and culture.

Rob and I are just back from 10 days in Italy. Ten glorious days. We started in Lucca, a charming town in Tuscany, then spent a full week in Bologna, the spiritual center of Italian food and the capital of its breadbasket, Emilia-Romagna. I simply can’t rave enough about Bologna, with its lovely architecture, its narrow cobbled streets and its food shops.

Oh, its food shops! The Quadrilatero, a maze of tiny streets lined with produce vendors, butchers and salumerias, fresh pasta shops, cheese emporia … you can’t even imagine. It was bliss. Even the neighborhood just outside the Centro Storico (the city center), where we stayed for the week, had lovely food shops that met our every daily need: the latteria with its dairy goods and other essentials, the pasticceria with homemade breads and pastries, the salumeria with meats and charcuterie, the produce stall with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. All right around the corner from our apartment.

We rented an apartment specifically so we could cook. Going into all those lovely shops and not purchasing yummy things to make would have broken my heart. I would say that we cooked a ton while we were in Bologna (we ate dinner at “home” every night), but we didn’t do more than boil water for pasta and slice tomatoes and mozzarella for caprese salads. We cooked—and ate—simply and well.

Four days after we returned, Italy is still in my heart. I have no claim to it, but I miss it dearly. While they are fresh, I wanted to journal a few impressions of Italian food and culture, impressions that I intend to incorporate into my daily life here in the U.S.

Traveling outside the States is so richly informative, because it opens your eyes to how other people and cultures exist in the world. No country is perfect, certainly not ours. I observed so many practices and norms and ways of doing things in Italy that inspired me to live differently here.

Take food. Food in Italy is ridiculously inexpensive. Like half of what it costs here. A great bottle of wine was 10 euros. A 2-pack of yogurt was 1 euro. A liter of water was about 19 cents. I don’t know why that is. But it was noteworthy.

At the same time, food is very high quality. Fresh. Local. Yes, we were living for the week in Italy’s breadbasket; the peaches and apricots the apartment owner left for us on the kitchen table were from their own fruit farm outside the city. While we didn’t venture into a large grocery, everything we saw, even in the tiniest shops, was of the highest quality.

Perhaps because food is so high quality, Italians don’t overconsume it. There’s a respect for food—and the people who grow, prepare and sell it. Portion and package sizes are sensible; waste is minimal. For Italians, the hunger and deprivation of war are not-too-distant memories. Food is valued. Maribel, who taught the cooking class I loved in Bologna, spoke with great seriousness about not wasting the scraps of our homemade pasta, because the previous generation knew what starvation felt like. We owed it to them to not waste food.

Home life is designed for a small footprint. Refrigerators are half the size of what they are here. You shop for just a few days at a time. (Which isn’t at all an inconvenience, because the shops are literally down the block.) There’s practically no mass-produced, prepared, boxed-and-frozen food. Because ingredients are so fresh and dishes are so simple, it’s not a hassle to cook every day. And if you’re exhausted and can’t turn on the stove, there are fresh house-made salads, meats and cheeses in the market right beyond your doorstep. Or the neighborhood trattoria.

Everything gets recycled. In our apartment’s kitchen, there were separate, sturdy totes for paper, glass/metal and plastic. And a bin by the sink for food scraps. Each household is responsible for sorting and managing their trash and carrying it out to big bins on the street. With homes, streets and cars packed in so tightly, there’s no room for every home to leave a bulky trashcan on the sidewalk, and no room for trash trucks to trundle along once a week picking up bins one by one. Trash, like so much of life in Italy, is a communal effort, and it fosters a small footprint.

It was all so different … so small, so self-contained, so minimal … compared to life in the States. Americans think it’s our birthright to have endless choices in the grocery, to expect huge portion sizes when we dine out, to drive a XXXXL-sized vehicle, to live in a house that’s twice what we need, to buy as much cheaply made clothing as we want. And where does all this multiplicity of choice leave us? With food-induced health and environmental crises, sprawl, long commutes, disconnect from community, and a closet full of regrettable purchases. Heck, you can pay money to hire a company to haul away all that stuff you bought that you never needed (or wanted) in the first place. Bigger, bigger, bigger, more, more.

Immersing myself in Italian life, for just a brief week, made me feel sad about many aspects of American life. I’m not sure there’s a solution … or that most folks even see this as a problem. As for me, I’ll keep working toward the motto that Rob and I have set for ourselves:

Live analog. Live slow. Live small. Live local.

Ciao, amici!

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.