Spring orzo salad recipe

Orzo salad with spring vegetables and herbs.

Of all the recipes in my Findlay Market Cookbook, this is one of two that I’ve made the most — both for my own enjoyment and for demonstrations when I’m out talking about the book. This pasta salad fixes every problem you’ve ever had with pasta salad, it’s bright and fresh-tasting, not too heavy, full of vegetables, unlike that bowl of corkscrew pasta with bottled Italian salad dressing that’s always the disappointment of a salad bar or backyard cookout.

But what I really love about this pasta salad is … well, a couple of things. First, it’s endlessly adaptable. The version of this recipe that’s in the book is very summery, with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and basil. The version I’m sharing here features spring vegetables and herbs. Starting with the orzo, chickpeas and dressing, you can make this pasta salad recipe your own; I’ve done a fall version with roasted red onion and butternut squash to great effect.

Second, it has just the right ratio of vegetables to pasta. Orzo makes a surprisingly great pasta salad, because it’s a canvas for the other ingredients rather than being a focus. (Tortellini pasta salad is, IMO, the worst offender, all pasta and no veggies. Please, do not make that.) Cooking the pasta in broth adds flavor without fat.

Finally, it makes a ton and keeps well, which means a batch made for Sunday night’s dinner becomes several days’ worth of lunch. This veggie-packed pasta salad recipe is a perfect side dish for grilled chicken or barbecued ribs.

Made with the asparagus, spring onions and arugula I found at the farmers’ market last week, I’ve been feasting on this pasta salad all week!

spring orzo pasta salad recipe

serves 8 as a side dish

For the dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon local honey
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in; blend to emulsify.

For the salad:
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 lb. (dried) orzo
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
2 cups frozen peas, blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces and blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch baby arugula
1/3 cup chopped green onion (white and green parts)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup toasted pine nuts or sliced almonds
4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook until the orzo is al dente, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Drain the orzo and put it into a big serving bowl to cool. While the pasta is still warm, add about half the dressing and toss to coat. Let cool. Add garbanzo beans, peas, asparagus and toss gently to combine. Add arugula, onion and parsley and a bit more dressing; toss to coat. Top salad with Feta and almonds. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve at room temperature.

overnight steel-cut oatmeal with quick caramelized bananas | writes4food.com

Easy overnight steel-cut oatmeal.

So, today is rainyrainyrainy … this kind of morning needs to start with a nice, satisfying bowl of oatmeal. Good thing I’d prepped some up the night before.

In a pinch, if I’m feeling oatmeal-y on a morning, I’ll do a batch of quick-cooking oats. But if you want that real, hearty, flavorful bowl of oatmeal, then steel-cut oats are best. It’s just, who has that kind of time in the morning to kill 20 minutes waiting for your breakfast to cook?

This easy technique for overnight “cooking” steel-cut oats is totally the best. Of course, you can top your oatmeal as you like — I dig these caramelized bananas, but really, a big spoonful of brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon make lovely toppers. Fresh fruit, toasted pecans or slivered almonds, dried raisins or cranberries. Or go savory, and top your bowl with a softly fried egg.

Start this tonight, and you’ll have a welcome day-starter tomorrow.

creamy overnight oatmeal recipe with caramelized banana topping

(makes 4 servings)

for the overnight oatmeal:
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
generous pinch salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1 cup almond or regular milk for serving

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; add the oats and stir to coat them with butter. Toast the oats, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes (they'll smell wonderfully toasty, like baking oatmeal cookies). Add the water, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and leave the oatmeal to sit overnight. The oats will absorb the water and take on a perfectly toothy texture. The next morning, stir in the extracts, if using.

This recipe makes 4 (3/4-cup) servings. The oatmeal keeps well in the refrigerator. To serve, measure your cooked oatmeal into a pan and add 1/4 cup of milk. (I like almond milk for its nutty flavor that complements the oatmeal.) Heat for 5 minutes until warm and creamy.

For the caramelized bananas:
1/2 banana, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. brown sugar

In a small skillet, melt the butter and brown sugar. Add the banana slices. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, flipping the bananas once, until they're soft and golden brown. Spoon the bananas and sugar syrup over a serving of oatmeal.

chicken salad with pecan dressing recipe

Beautiful roast chicken salad in a jar.

This lovely salad-in-a-jar recipe is my idea of the perfect lunch: Light, yet full of protein to keep me going all afternoon. Make ahead-able. Brightly flavored and nicely crunchy. Plus, you know, spiced pecans.

This salad recipe is loosely based on one I clipped out of a Williams-Sonoma catalog about a billion years ago and stashed in my three-ring binder’o’recipes. (Sigh. I kind of miss clipping paper recipes out of magazines and catalogs. Though the New York Times Cooking app does that in a more digital and somehow less engaging sort of way.)

Make up a big batch of the dressing and prep a ton of vegetables early in the week and you’ll have a tasty dinner and several days’ worth of lunch, besides.

roast chicken salad with pepper, fennel and spicy pecan dressing recipe

serves 2

For the dressing: In a small skillet, combine 3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste. Toast the pecans with the spices over medium heat until they're fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove to a lidded glass jar and add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons water. Shake to combine. Add another teaspoon of water to thin the dressing if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more cayenne for heat if you'd like.

For the salad: Chop into 1/2-inch dice: half a red bell pepper, half an apple (choose your favorite), half of a medium fennel bulb. Transfer to a large bowl. Slice half a head of leaf or Romaine lettuce into thin strips and add the lettuce to the bowl. Season the vegetables with a generous pinch of salt and toss gently to combine. Add a drizzle of dressing and pecans and toss gently to coat. Top the salad with about 3 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese and 1 cup sliced roasted chicken.

pecan cream cheese pound cake recipe | writes4food.com

Heavenly pecan pound cake.

Cream cheese, butter, and all those toasty pecans? Yes, please! This recipe for a cream cheese-based pound cake, studded with pecans, is one of my very favorites. I’ve had this  stashed in my binder of recipes clipped from newspapers, magazines and who-knows-where-else for a long time, and made it often. (Note to young readers: this binder thingy is the analog version of Pinterest.)

I’m not a sweet-sweet person, so I reduced the granulated sugar called for in the original recipe by a bit and loved the results. Be sure to gently toast the pecans and cool them before tossing them into the cake batter.

Pound cake has endured for good reason: it’s not at all hard to make, simple yet impressive and delicious without a lick of frosting.

pecan cream cheese pound cake

makes about 24 servings

1 1/2 cups whole raw pecans
1 1/2 (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2 1/2–3 cups sugar (use the larger quantity if you want a very sweet cake)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups cake flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5–7 minutes (watch to be sure they do not burn). Remove to a cutting board and chop fine. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 10-inch bundt or tube pan; dust the greased pan liberally with about 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Cut the butter and cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer). Beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and blend to combine. Whisk together the cake flour and salt in a medium bowl; use a 1/4-cup measure to add flour to the batter one scoop at a time, blending well on low speed. Keep adding flour until you have about 1/2 cup left; toss the chopped pecans with this remaining flour and add it to the batter. Mix just to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; smooth the top and tap the pan briskly on the countertop to settle the batter. Bake for 1 hour 35 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the top of the cake is deeply caramel-brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool about 45 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake; invert it onto a baking sheet and then onto a serving plate (domed side up). Cool completely before slicing. Cake freezes well, wrapped in a double layer of plastic and foil, up to 6 months.

winter panzanella salad recipe

Beautiful winter panzanella salad.

To me, salad is fungible; a variable concept with endless iterations. Salad isn’t just a plate of greens with a splash of vinaigrette. It’s that, sure, and it’s a wedge of crunchy iceberg with blue cheese dressing.

But lettuce is not a requirement for salad. Too, the whole idea changes drastically from season to season: Thick slabs of sunkissed tomato and dollops of homemade ricotta cheese in summer, to a toss of green beans and fingerling potatoes in the fall, to a big bowl of orzo with tons of vegetables and other goodies that works pretty much all year long.

Typically, panzanella—an Italian salad of tomatoes, black olives, cucumbers and stale bread—is a summer dish, designed to use the glut of veggies and leftover bread. But here’s a wintertime version that’s just as delicious, hearty and super seasonal.

This winter panzanella salad would be the perfect side dish to roast chicken or pork tenderloin. Use good bread—a hefty multigrain, unsalted rye or even a good bakery raisin bread are all good options here. You can make the components of this salad ahead of time (roast the vegetables, toast the croutons, mix the vinaigrette), but assemble it just a few minutes before serving.

Winter Panzanella Salad Recipe

serves 4

4 cups day-old multigrain or rye bread croutons (see Note)
4 cups cubed butternut squash
1 small red onion, slivered
1 red apple, cored and sliced
1 large handful baby arugula
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup toasted whole walnuts
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste with a bit of salt
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Shaved Parmesan for serving

Note: Instead of cutting bread into even cubes, tear it into bite-sized chunks. Let croutons dry, uncovered, for a day before proceeding.

Preheat oven to 375°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss bread croutons with a drizzle of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake croutons for 10–15 minutes until mostly dried and lightly toasted; transfer to large serving bowl. Increase oven temperature to 400°. On the same rimmed baking sheet, toss the butternut squash cubes and red onion with a drizzle of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast 20 minutes or until tender. Transfer to the bowl with the croutons. Add arugula, sliced apple, parsley leaves and walnuts. In a small jar, combine the olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper. Cover and shake to combine. Toss salad with just enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Transfer to serving plates and top with shaved Parmesan.

Shagbark corn chips

In praise of: Shagbark Seed & Mill corn chips.

Ohio friends: Have you had these? We’ve been crunching on Shagbark Seed & Mill‘s excellent corn chips and can’t get enough of them. You know what’s awesome about them? They. Taste. Like. Corn. Not corn-ish. Not supersaltycorn. Not processed corn. Corn. Kind of a cross between fresh corn and popcorn.

And wow! The crunch! Hefty, hearty, totally satisfying. Bet you won’t just mow through a pile of these like you would name-brand corn chips.

I won’t buy any other corn chips. Ever.

FYI: Shagbark, based in Athens, OH, is a pretty remarkable local food business, built to help sustain employment and supply nutritious food in Appalachia. Their flours, cornmeal and other milled grains are awesome (I love their spelt cereal, kind of like a more healthful and delicious Cream of Wheat). In Cincinnati, you’ll find Shagbark products at Madison’s at Findlay Market, Whole Foods and Green BEAN Delivery.

Garbage pail cookie recipe

Garbage pail cookies.

Typically, I share healthy recipes here, featuring whole ingredients that are in season, locally sourced and relatively good for you (in addition to being tasty, of course). This is not one of those healthy recipes. This cookie recipe has everything but the kitchen sink: chocolate chips, Reese’s pieces, butterscotch chips and pretzel bits. This awesome cookie recipe is like a build-your-own sundae bar with unlimited toppings: “Yes, please, some of that, and those, and this, and …”

This started out as my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. But it didn’t stop there. I thought, why not add pretzels for salt and crunch? Oh, and I had some leftover butterscotch chips from another recipe, and a small bag of Reese’s pieces. Into the mixing bowl you go!

You could add pretty much whatever mix-ins you’d like: chopped pecans, toffee bits, dark chocolate chunks, potato chips in place of the pretzels, M & Ms … well, you get the drill. You’ll want about 3 cups of mix-ins. These cookies are chock-full of goodies and barely held together with dough. Oh, and while you’re at it, make these cookies nice and big.

Grab a glass of milk.

Garbage Pail Cookies

makes 2 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup broken pretzel sticks
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup Reese’s pieces (see Note)

Preheat oven to 375°; line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder to combine. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a large bowl and hand mixer), cream together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and powdered sugar until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and continue mixing on medium speed until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 3 more minutes. Turn the mixer off; add the dry ingredients and then mix on low speed until well combined. Add the chocolate chips, pretzels, butterscotch chips and Reese’s pieces and mix on low speed just until combined.

Use two soup spoons to scoop out cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, 1 inch apart. If you’re feeling tidy, use slightly damp hands (to prevent sticking) to shape the clumps into rounds. Bake cookies for 6 minutes, rotate the cookie sheets in the oven, then bake another 5–6 minutes, until cookies are golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Note: You can add pretty much whatever mix-ins you want to this cookie recipe. You'll want a total of 3 cups of mix-ins. Think about: milk, dark or semisweet chocolate chips or chunks; butterscotch, coffee or cinnamon-flavored chips; potato chips or pretzels; pecans, walnuts or peanuts; M&Ms, Reese's pieces or toffee bits; dried cherries or cranberries.

Best build-your-own party snack mix | writes4food.com

Make your own party snack mix.

It’s Super Bowl Week, which means HAVE to share with you this fantastic recipe for homemade party snack mix. It’s the perfect pregame nibble.

Skip the bagged stuff in the snack aisle, people! It’s so easy to make your own homemade party mix, without all the preservatives and whatnot. Plus, with this recipe, you can choose the salty snacks you include. (I’m partial to salt-and-pepper pretzel nubs, bar chips, dry roasted peanuts and cheddar bunnies.) All you have to do is melt some butter, stir together an easy garlicky, salty seasoning, and bake!

ultimate build-your-own party snack mix recipe

Seasoning
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (I use Jane's Crazy Mixed-up Salt)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Cayenne pepper to taste

Snacks (see notes below)
6 cups base snacks
1 1/2 cups nuts
4 cups flavored snacks

Base snacks
Unsalted: Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Cheerios, oyster crackers, plain popcorn
Salted: Bugles, Fritos, sesame sticks, salted pretzels, plain bagel chips, potato sticks

Nuts
Dry-roasted peanuts, salted roasted peanuts, salted roasted mixed nuts, sunflower seeds, honey nuts, pumpkin seeds, salted roasted cashews, salted roasted almonds

Flavored snacks
Wasabi peas, mini cheese crackers, cheddar goldfish, Terra Sticks, Corn Nuts, sweet potato chips, flavored bagel chips, Bar Chips, Cheetos, Combos, cheese puffs, flavored pretzels, puffed veggie stix

Preheat oven to 225°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In a large bowl, stir all the seasoning ingredients to blend; add 6 cups of base snacks and 1 1/2 cups of nuts and toss everything gently to combine thoroughly. Spread mixture on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove pan from oven and spread 4 cups of flavored snacks on top of the base snacks. Let everything cool, then transfer back to the large bowl and toss gently to combine.

For the version you see above, I used 5 cups Cheerios, 1 cup Fritos (broken into bite-size pieces), 1 1/2 cups dry-roasted peanuts and, for the flavored snacks, 2 cups Snyder's Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper Pretzel Pieces and 2 cups Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Goldfish.

easy chocolate cake recipe | writes4food.com

One-bowl chocolate snack cake.

So, today is National Chocolate Cake Day. Which I didn’t actually have on my calendar (thank you for the news, Facebook). But I will celebrate the day, because chocolate cake.

THIS is the chocolate cake recipe you need today. Easy: Stir it up in a single bowl, bake, slice, eat. Done.

This is an old favorite recipe from The Clara Project, so I’m sharing again in honor of the day.

old-fashioned one-bowl chocolate cake recipe

(makes one 8-inch square cake, about 9 servings)

1/2 cup very hot, very strong coffee (or 1/2 cup boiling water mixed with 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup sifted flour (sift first, then measure)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg, lightly beaten
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray, then lay in a piece of parchment paper (two edges should overhang). Spray the parchment, then flour the pan, tapping out the excess.

Place the unsweetened chocolate in a large mixing bowl and pour the hot coffee over it; stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. In a sifter or sieve, place the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda; sift the dry ingredients into the bowl with the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Cut the shortening into chunks and add to the bowl; stir to combine. Add the buttermilk and egg; stir gently until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake for 35–45 minutes (a glass or ceramic baking pan will take more time than a metal one), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pan to a cooling rack and let cool. Invert cake onto a cutting board, invert again onto a serving plate, and dust with powdered sugar.

barley vegetable pilaf

Hearty barley and vegetable salad.

I love multipurpose recipes like this one: It doubles as both a terrific side dish for roasted chicken or grilled fish AND as a satisfying and nutritious lunch-able salad.

I rediscovered this recipe in a very old issue of Bon Appétit (I have about a decade’s worth stashed on my bookshelves) and was surprised how au courant it is. Back in the mid-1990s when the recipe was published, barley was fairly exotic, a grain that people of a certain age might cook to mush and eat for breakfast, or add to a beef-based soup.

These days, of course, whole grains are the thing. You could swap in any other kind of grain, like farro or emmer or wheat berry (use pearled grains for faster cooking). This hearty barley and vegetable salad recipe makes a ton, so you’ll have plenty leftover to pack for lunch. With its confetti of bright vegetables, it’ll make you feel happy even on the grayest of days.

Hearty barley salad with bell pepper and corn recipe

(makes 6 generous servings)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 1/2 cups pearled barley
3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups frozen corn
1/2 bunch green onions, sliced (include white and light green parts)
1/2 cup sliced fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers; reduce heat to medium and add bell pepper and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the barley and stir to coat with oil; cook, stirring frequently, until it's toasted, about 2 minutes. Add the broth; bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the barley is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 40 minutes. Uncover and stir in the corn; cook for 5 minutes. Add the green onions, basil and parsley and stir gently. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.