Chickpea Salad - Picnic posts

Chickpea Salad

It's officially summer. Summer makes me think of picnic-ing in the park, reading a book by the beach and running after the ice cream truck when I was a kid. That's my idealized summer. In reality, summer for most of us still means going to work even if it's gorgeous out, and squeezing in some outdoor time during the week. I love the concept of picnics but the closest I've come to one this year, was last week when I bought a taco from the Endless Summer truck and ate it sitting down by the parking lot around the corner. That's why I'm going to do a series of posts this summer on perfect picnic food. Hopefully to encourage you, and me, to plan some meals in the great outdoors, or at least near a tree. I made this little salad one night when it was too humid to think about using the stove and I had a lot of leftovers from the mixed greens salad I made for dinner. I threw this together thinking it would benefit from a night in the fridge and I'd have another lunch (or dinner) without cooking. It worked. I decided to make this my first post in the picnic series, because even though it's not novel, it's easy and hearty, no need to cook pasta or another grain. It's the type of salad that you can and should dress the night before. It's an all-in-one package picnic food, no need for separate bottles of salad dressing or a knife. Unless you're the type that has a wicker basket, and a wine glass holder for the grass (I've seen this in person), unfussy food is the only food you should picnic with. And, if you are that person, here's hoping the cops arrest you for so unabashedly drinking in the park.

Chickpea Salad

Make this the night before or at least a couple of hours for the flavors to combine.
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1/2 of a large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 of a red onion, diced fine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Large handful of cilantro or parsley, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon cumin (or to taste)
  • Drizzle of honey
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lime before serving

Rinse the chickpeas well and place in a large bowl. Set aside. Meanwhile boil 1 cup of water. Place chopped onion and garlic in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let sit for 1 minute to mellow out the raw onion, garlic taste. Strain.

Combine chickpeas with the chopped red pepper, onion, garlic, and cilantro. Next make the vinaigrette by combining the vinegar, cumin and honey in a bowl. Whisk as you pour in the olive oil to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the salad and toss well. Taste again to see if it needs more salt. Before serving, squeeze half a lime over it to brighten the flavors a bit.

Pork and oyster sauce noodles with a side of confession

 P9190435.JPGWeeknight dinners. They're the stuff of countless women's magazine articles, on how to make them faster, cheaper, healthier and hopefully exciting without reaching for a frozen box of processed something. I've tended to handle this problem in one of two ways - the ordering in approach (after all I deserve it - I worked all day), or the slow graze on anything and everything in the kitchen. The latter has been the more popular method recently thanks to my household deficit. So, that means, frankly, that behind the scenes of this blog, I eat a lot of cheese on crackers, or eggs in a basket for dinner. This elaborate feast is often followed by a second course of hummus, or cereal, or frozen dumplings, depending on my mood. That's the truth, and I'm ok with it because at least nothing is processed crap. It works for me, until I get bored and re-inspired that I can do better. I recently found a new option, one that I think you'll love as much as I have. It's a dish that with a bit of advance shopping on the weekend, will have you reaching for that take-out Chinese, or Thai menu a little less in the future.

This discovery was the result of my search to find more Asian-inspired quick dinners, which is just the phase I'm in. Last year all I wanted was Italian. I also realized that my collection of rice noodles, udon noodles, soba noodles, bean threads and various other ingredients I buy on my trips home to Queens were taking over my kitchen cabinet and I had no real plans for them. Don't even ask about my failed attempt to make summer rolls. Last week, on my lunch break I found myself browsing the cookbook section of the New York Public Library, where I found Ken Hom's Quick Wok cookbook. It looked like it could be the solution to my problems. After all, I had almost all the ingredients in my pantry for all the noodle and rice dishes. P8040372.JPG

 The first night I brought this book home dinner plans were another grazing night through the fridge, but I was so anxious to try one of Mr. Hom's recipes that I immediately set out to make this dish, despite the fact that I was missing the star ingredient, ground pork. I prepped the rice noodles (see photo above, the Pad Thai kind) and the ginger and the stir-fry sauce, which is mostly oyster sauce and a little stock. It all came together quicker than I could imagine. As, I was tossing the noodles in the pan and flinging oyster sauce all over my shirt, I realized they looked a little sad. Desperately, I looked for something in the freezer to add to this. Potential options included, frozen sausage, a lone chicken thigh(what was my plan for that?), breakfast sausage, frozen peas, when I spotted a bag of Ikea meatballs that D had bought. Could this work? In a move that was one part genius and one part pathetic, I took a bunch and chopped them up. My brain was mildly disgusted, but my stomach was winning the debate. I quickly added them to the noodles, and told myself it was ingenuity at it's best, and I should send the idea to Ikea Hacker. Now, that you all know how grimy things can get in my kitchen, let me redeem myself and say, after I ate it, I knew the noodles were great and I also knew that I'd have to do better, a lot, lot, better, before I shared this.

This past weekend, off I went to a place where one can find reputable meat, as opposed to cheap bookcases in my neighborhood, The Meat Hook, where I bought enough ground pork (freshly ground when I ordered it) for two weeknight meals of this dish. The flavor of  oyster sauce is pretty pungent so I feel like these noodles would work with ground chicken, or beef or maybe even crumbled tofu, depending on what your eating preferences are. One pound of the meat went in the freezer so that I could avoid being tempted to improvise that much ever again. The other pound got made into the kind of noodle dish I could eat week after week for dinner, and if D hadn't finished all the leftovers, I'd be happy to take it for lunch the next day too.   picnikfile_kLo8dA

 Pork and Oyster Sauce Noodles
Adapted (very little) from Ken Hom's Quick Wok.
8 oz. dried rice noodles
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon light-soy sauce
1 tablespoon oil (canola, peanut, vegetable)
1 pound ground pork
5 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons chicken stock
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
6 tablespoons chopped scallions
Prepare noodles by soaking them in a bowl of very hot/boiling water from about 15-20 minutes or until soft. Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with sesame oil and soy sauce and set aside.
While noodles are soaking, gather all your other ingredients and chop ginger and scallions. It all comes together quick, so be ready. Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and meat and stir-fry 2 minutes. Drain off a little of the grease from the meat. Add the oyster sauce, stock and the sugar and continue cooking another 3 minutes, until meat looks mostly cooked through. Add the noodles, ginger, and scallions and stir-fry until everything looks incorporated and meat is cooked through, about 2-3 minutes more.
Serves 4 normal people, or 2 people with a warped sense of normal serving sizes.


PC140206.JPGI did some Hanukkah food research today, and to my surprise there are two schools of thought. One belief is that holiday foods must be fried, while others merely require the food be cooked with olive oil. The holiday foods I grew up with were always fried, so I assumed that is what they needed to be. But after consulting with the all-knowing, all-seeing internets, I realized that there are sources out there that do not feel the frying aspect is necessary. Despite fried food's deliciousness, I decided that I don't need to celebrate this particular miracle from thousands of years ago with trying to create my own miracle (namely not gaining a pants size or clogged arteries from eating fried food for 8 days). I'm going with the more sensible, "cooked with olive oil" tradition.

With that cleared up, I proceeded with a quick light supper (borrowed from my brunch repertoire) of Huevos a la Mexicana. It is basically eggs scrambled with the colors of the Mexican flag, green (chiles), white (onions), and red (tomatoes). It is another one of these modest dishes where a few very ordinary ingredients combine to make a fine meal. I always serve these egss with small corn tortillas for a more authentic flavor then the supermarket flour type.

Cook the onions in miraculous wonderful olive oil until translucent, then add the chiles (leave the ribs on for a spicier version), and the tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes until some of the juice from the tomatoes renderss out a bit, and the chile is no longer raw. Then pour in some beaten eggs and mix it altogether. Cover and let the eggs set. That's it, nothing fancy. Although this is not holiday fare to serve your relatives, it is technically within keeping with the tradition. It will allow you to bravely plough through one of the eight days without feeling remorse for subsisting on fried food and holiday cookies for the next week (or two). Viva la revolución!


Hanukkah Huevos (a la Mexicana) Adapted from Mexico, The Beautiful Cookbook.2 tablespoons olive oil 1/4-1/2 onion, chopped 2 chiles, finely diced (serrano or jalapeno) 1 tomato chopped (or about 3/4 cup of diced canned tomatoes) salt 3-4 eggs, lightly beaten


Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and saute until transparent. Add the chiles, tomato, and salt and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the beaten eggs to the pan and stir to incorporate. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until eggs are set. Break up with a wooden spoon once done. Serve with warm corn tortillas.


Cold sesame noodles are ubiquitous on Chinese take-out menus but I've never been a huge fan. The cold sticky sloppy mess of noodle just never appealed to me as much as other options. Then one day I was looking around for something to do with soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles, if you're not familiar with them). They are one of my favorite healthy go-to staples in the pantry and what reminded me this would be a good submission for Fight Back Fridays. Soba are often served in noodle soups, or served cold with a dipping sauce. That is what gave me the idea for this dish. A noodle salad that I could whip up for work week lunches, as well as a light dinner that would be more substantial than a green salad. The items that you add in can be altered to suit your preferences or what's in your fridge that night.

A quick dressing of creamy peanut butter (all-natural of course), soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and honey are blended together to make the dish. I think the peanut-sesame combo is the key here. Peanut-sauce is often too much peanut-butter flavor with nothing else. Here, when mixed with the soy sauce and enough heat (from red pepper flakes or sriracha) it is more balanced and, frankly more interesting than the one-note flavor it has on its own.

The only add-ins to this salad I strongly suggest be included are chopped scallions and cilantro, to keep with a South-Asian flair. These flavors just work together and brighten up the peanut-flavored sauce. The rest is up to you. Make a batch of this to have on hand during a hectic week of pre-Thanksgiving cooking madness. As long as the dressing is made, you only have to take the 3 minutes to boil the soba noodles to pull it all together. Save yourself from greasy take-out in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Or, take this for lunch the week after, because there are only so many leftover turkey sandwiches that any person should have to endure.

Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad Adapted from Recipezaar. Do not dress the noodles too far in advance or they may get a bit soggy. For the dressing: 1/2 cup smooth all-natural peanut butter 1/4 cup soy sauce 1/3 cup warm water 2 tablespoons peeled fresh ginger, chopped 1-2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil 3 teaspoons honey 1/2 teaspoon crushed chili pepper flakes or sriracha

For the salad: 1/2 package soba noodles, cooked and rinsed under cold water 3 scallions, chopped (green and white parts) 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thick strips 1/2 cucumber, seeded and chopped 1 large handful of cilantro

Using a blender puree all the dressing ingredients until smooth (about 2 minutes). Alternatively, whisk all ingredients until they appear well combined.

Cook the soba in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender about 2-3 minutes; drain and rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer to a large bowl, then add in the remaining salad ingredients.

Just before serving pour the dressing over the cooked pasta and veggies. Toss well to combine.

Easy-as-a-Summer-Day Cape Cod Cookies

It's a gorgeous summer weekend, the kind that really makes me wish I had a summer house (or more friends with summer houses). It's the type of weather that makes you wish you had planned a bit better in the winter to have some time set aside for a roadtrip to places that seem made for summer. Cape Cod is one of those special places, and it seems appropo that the cookies I made this week were inspired by its simple pleasures. These are the easiest, tastiest oatmeal cookies I know of. I baked these for my bi-monthly Dessert Corp contribution. (For more on Dessert Corp, see my earlier post on this great organization). They are the epitome of an easy dessert - no creaming the butter and sugar, and no special equipment is needed. Just you, your wooden spoon, and a big bowl.

This recipe comes from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. This book has been sort of a cooking bible in my family. I have learned so much from this book, and still refer to it at times for information (although the Internet has been winning out lately - shhh!). These days I mostly use it for the baking recipes, as my culinary tastes have gotten a bit more exotic, but it is still an amazing reference book. Marion Cunningham included not 1, but 3 separate oatmeal cookie recipes in this book. I chose her Cape Cod version, only because the other recipe called for shortening, which is something I don't keep around and don't prefer to bake with.

I can tell you these cookies won't disappoint. They deliver a deeper, richer flavor than most oatmeal cookies I've tried, thanks to the addition of molasses. They are sweet and spicy, and warm and soft, the way the fresh-baked cookies of my dreams are. They are exactly the kind of cookie I imagine some storybook mom would serve up with a glass of milk to her kids after-school. Although, the feeling is just as nice for us grown-up kids when you bake a batch for yourself.

Easy-as-a-Summer-Day Cape Cod Cookies Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. (These cookies work great frozen, so if you don't want to eat the whole batch, just spoon them out onto a cookie sheet, but instead of baking, place in the freezer until frozen, about an hour, and then store in a freezer-safe plastic bag. When ready to use, you can place them directly into the oven from the freezer, just increase the cooking time by 5 minutes.)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cinammon 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 egg, lightly beaten 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup melted butter 1 tablespoon molasses (I use Blackstrap Molasses, which has a sweeter flavor than regular, if you can find it) 1/4 cup milk (reduced fat works in a pinch) 1 3/4 cup oatmeal 1/2 raisins (optional, dried cranberries would be nice too) 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinammon, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients all at once (it'll work, don't worry) and stir together until everything is evenly incorporated.

Drop teaspoon sized cookies on a baking sheet. You may want to press them down a bit with the back of your spoon, as this batter doesn't spread much. Bake until edges look brown and cookies don't appear too gooey, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.