The summer before my senior year of college, I waitressed in a Mediterranean restaurant in my hometown.  While most people seem to have horrific memories of working in restaurants, I’m the exact opposite.  I’ve loved every single restaurant I’ve worked in-especially this one. During the summer, the Hudson Valley fills with swarms of tourists, all looking for an escape to the country.  Subsequently, the restaurants are packed, with diners staying well beyond normal service hours.  Most of my shifts were a 6 hour whirlwind of activity, with not a minute off my feet.  I’ll take that kind of work any day in comparison to folding clothes at Banana Republic (which I also did one summer).

Often times after dinner shifts, the  wait staff would gather around the bar and enjoy a variety of dishes (usually the leftovers of whatever special was featured that night).  One night we were served a panzanella salad.  A panzanella salad traditionally consists of a variety of diced vegetables and cubed bread, tossed in a vinaigrette.  In theory it sounded good, but I was disappointed to find that the restaurant’s version was rather bland, with the bread being very dry.  Ever since then I pushed the dish out of my mind, never thinking to make it.  Then last weekend, when thumbing through my cookbooks, I came across a panzanella recipe that sounded really good. Instead of just using cubed bread, it involved transforming the bread into croutons.  I adore homemade croutons- I was intrigued.

I made the salad for a dinner party, preparing it ahead, and tossing with the vinaigrette just before we left the apartment.  This allowed the flavors to meld but kept the bread from getting too soggy.  By the time we sat down to eat, everything had come together. It was delicious.  This salad will definitely be a summer staple in our kitchen.  Next time I want to try grilling the bread, then cutting it into pieces and tossing with the salad.  How good does that sound?

Roasted Tomato Panzanella adapted from the Barefoot Contessa’s Greek Panzanella

Serves 6

1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 english cucumber (or three small ones), diced

1/2 c chopped basil

1/2 medium size white onion, thinly sliced

1/2 a baguette, cut in 1 inch cubes

3 T olive olive oil


For the Dressing:

1/2 c olive oil

1/4 c red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

several grinds fresh black pepper

1 tsp mustard

1 large clove garlic, minced

pinch of sugar

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small roasting pan, toss cherry tomatoes with  1 T olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Roast for 10-12 minutes until tomatoes are slightly tender (not falling apart).  Set aside to cool. (Roasting tomatoes really brings out the flavor, making un-ripe tomatoes flavorful and sweet.  This is an excellent technique for using tomatoes in salads during their off season).

Set a large sauce pan with 2 T olive to medium heat.  Allow oil to heat for 5 minutes.  Throw in cubed bread, top with s+p to taste, and toss well to coat with oil.  Lower heat to medium low, and cook for 10-15 minutes (tossing frequently) until bread is nicely browned.  Set aside to cool.

Place the cucumber, onion, and basil in a large bowl. Add in the tomatoes and bread.  Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the salad.  Toss well, but gently, so as not to break up the tomatoes.  Place in fridge for at least 30 minutes before, so flavors can develop.  Taste for seasoning just prior to serving.

While the majority of the world was celebrating Mother’s Day yesterday, I got to celebrate the engagement of one of my dearest friends, Liz.  I’ve known about the proposal for a while now, and it was quite hard to contain my excitement in the weeks leading up to the surprise day.

I must admit, I’m not a huge wedding person.  The more I hear about them, the more I fear they’re just filled with drama and poorly coordinated dresses.  My attitude about them did a complete 180 after yesterday’s festive brunch celebration, held just minutes after her now fiance proposed.   It was so wonderful to be a part of the memorable day, it even managed to bring me to tears at one point.

In honor of the happy couple I transformed these cupcakes into a cake. I had traveled to Buenos Aires with Liz a few years back and we consumed more dulce de leche sauce than I’d like to admit.  And beyond that, her fiance is from Argentina. Thus, this feature ingredient only felt appropriate.  For the cake I followed this recipe, and it truly delivered the most moist cake I’ve ever made (I can’t recommend it enough).  Though I was thoroughly stuffed from my two trips to the brunch buffet, I managed to scarf down a piece (and perhaps the rest of Brandon’s too).  While I’m glad Liz and Ivan with get to enjoy the leftovers this week, I totally wish that to-go box was sitting in my fridge.

Congrats you two!

With a big move coming up in less that two months, the weeks seem to be flying by.  I don’t know how it’s already Friday.  This period feels reminiscent of the end of college.  The weather is getting warmer, the days are packed with social engagements, and yet there’s just not enough time to see everyone you need to see.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in DC for as long as we were in college.  While I’m thrilled about all the change to come, I’m beginning to feel nostalgic about our time here.  It’s making me do things like bake muffins for my co-workers, because only once in the for years that I’ve been working have I done that.  So last night, while I had every intention of doing yoga, I baked these instead.  They came out beautifully, and the Suzy homemaker in me was excited to bring them to the office.  Then, as I was plating them up this morning, I realized that the blueberries had caused the muffins to take on this intense blue-ish hue.  These photos (thankfully) don’t do complete justice to the horrifying appearance of muffins.

In hind sight, we really should have enjoyed these at home (so much for my efforts to make something for my co-workers).  They taste delicious but their appearance is, well, rather off-putting.  My recommendation to you to avoid this outcome- fresh berries over frozen.

Incredibly Moist Blueberry Muffins adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 T baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 T cinnamon

3/4 c milk

1 egg

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Sift together all dry ingredients, set aside in medium size bowl.  Whisk together egg and milk, then mix in melted butter.  Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the wet ingredient mixture, and stir gently to combine.  Do not over mix, there should be lumps in the batter.  Fold in blueberries and sugar.

Divide batter into muffin tins.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool and serve, or store in an air tight container for up to 5 days.  Muffins can also be frozen too for up to one month.

I’ve said it before, but I am by no means skilled in the area of Asian cooking, nor do I have much motivation to hone those culinary skills.  That sounds lazy.  What I really mean is that given the option, I’d much rather learn to make a killer souffle than master dumplings at home. Maybe dumpling is a bad example, I really love dumplings.  Ok- let’s just say that of all cuisines, I feel the least confident in this area in the kitchen.  When following even the simplest Thai or Chinese recipes, I measure every ingredient exactly, I don’t dare trust my own judgement.  I’m also very reluctant to attempt recipes which require a laundry list of unusual ingredients.  So when I happen upon a Asian inspired dish that is not only straight forward, but for which I already have all the ingredients in my cupboard- I’m sold.

Such was the case with this asparagus recipe.  It’s asparagus season, and I highly encourage you to welcome the bounty with this dish.  I’ve used this recipe to prepare all 3 pounds of asparagus in our fridge; it is that good.  It’s all in the sauce, which gains its highly addictive flavor from the combination of salty soy sauce, sweet brown sugar, and tangy rice wine vinegar.  When roasted, the sauce caramelizes slightly, giving the asparagus such depth of flavor.  The sauce is highly versatile, too.  Aside from spooning it straight into your mouth (yes, that happened), it’d be perfect as a sauce or marinade for shrimp, chicken, beef, or any other vegetables like green beans, cabbage, or mushrooms.

Sweet Soy Roasted Asparagus adapted from Dana Treat

1 lb asparagus spears

2 tsp water

1 tsp garlic chile sauce or curry paste

5 tsp rice wine vinegar

4 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp grated ginger

1/2 tsp sesame oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Whisk together all ingredients, from the water through the sesame oil.  Place asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with 3/4 of the sauce.  Bake for 12-14 minutes.  I like mine quite crisp, so I only cook them for 12 minutes.  Cook longer if you prefer your asparagus softer.  Once cooked, serve immediately with remaining sauce on the side.

When making certain dishes, you have to accept the outcome won’t be perfect the first time around. Try as you might, the final product will not look like the picture in the cookbook. One really needs to come to terms with this fact when making tarts and pies, or anything that involves pastry. Making pastry dough makes one realize how much cooking is truly a science. For someone who loathed high school chemistry, pastry intimidates me.

For a while I could avoid the act, as I didn’t care for pies that much growing up. Correction, I liked pie crust, I was just squeamish about the cooked fruit. Thankfully I’ve outgrown those tastes. And then, after having this quiche for Easter brunch last weekend, it became very clear I needed to take the plunge and attempt homemade pastry.

So for the past week I scoured the web for tips, tricks, and secrets to creating perfectly flakey pastry crust. Of all the article, blog posts, and recipes I read, they all shared the two main tenets: make sure every single ingredient is very cold, and work quickly. In the end, I settled on Deb of Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “Pate Brisee,” the french version of classic pie or tart pastry. I figured with a combination of Martha and Julia, one really couldn’t go wrong. With an abundance of vegetables in our fridge, I chose a mixture of asparagus, scallions, and shiitake mushrooms. You could easily do all mushrooms or asparagus, or a variety of other vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, squash, etc. Whichever you choose, you’ll need 2 cups of chopped vegetables.

The outcome? In terms of flavor and texture, I’d say pretty darn good for my first attempt. I had a few snafus; my crust shrunk a bit (a common pastry problem), and I forgot to pierce holes in a my crust prior to baking which made it puff up slightly, but overall, we were more than satisfied with this quiche for our at home Sunday brunch. With berry season just around the corner, I predict many pies in our future.

Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Quiche

Serves 6

Pate Brisee adapted from Smitten Kitchen

I followed Deb’s recipe very closely, except I needed a few more tablespoons of water for my dough to come together. I was concerned it would affect the texture, but I still found it to be flakey and light. I also stored my dough in the fridge over night, and then rolled it out the next day. Once rolled out, I placed the pie dish back in the fridge until my oven was fully heated. While the tart shell is par baking, prep the egg mixture.

Remaining Ingredients:

6 stalks thin asparagus, 1/2 inch dice

8 shiitake mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth, stems removed, diced

3 green onions, finely chopped

3/4 c shredded gouda cheese

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk


s+p to taste

Set a medium size sauce pan to medium low heat. Add a pat of butter to the pan. Once melted, add in the vegetables, tossing to coat with the butter. Let cook for 10-12 minutes until vegetables are slightly softened. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, several grinds black pepper, and a 1/2 tsp salt. Once the vegetables have cooked and cooled slightly, gently fold into the egg mixture. The fold in half the grated cheese.

After the crust has been par baked, pour in the egg mixture. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Deb instructs you to lower your oven to 375. I kept mine at 400 and and found the results to be fine. Mine took just 25 minutes, with a lower temp it would likely need the full 30 minutes to cook. Let the quiche cool for 5 minutes, then serve immediately along side lightly dressed greens.