A Fast & Easy Recipe for a Busy Weekend

Things continue to be hectic around here.  We are closing on our first house next week, and we plan to do some renovations right away.  So you can bet this weekend is going to be a whirlwind of getting things ready for the closing, shopping around for things like tile and bathroom vanities, and researching things like wood floor refinishing… all the while trying not to freak out.  This kind of crazy weekend calls for a speedy, simple recipe idea.  Also, when things are busy, I like the idea of making a component that can be used in many ways to jazz up otherwise simple dishes.  Fortunately, I’ve come up with something that fits the bill.

I really like Pinterest, a lot.  I’ve created a bunch of boards for recipes (of course), but also decorating , gardening, entertaining, personal style, and travel ideas/inspiration.  Recently I came across this pin for “taco pickles” – the photo of brightly colored veggies grabbed my attention immediately, and reminded me of all the fresh veggies I’ve been eyeing up at Farmers @ Firehouse.  I had to make these!  They’re a great addition to a taco or taco-salad, and also would be great on burgers or a sandwich, as a garnish for grilled fish, or just for a little snack.

My version is a twist on the original recipe, with the addition of scallions, lime, and garlic – some other veggies that you could experiment with would be bell pepper, crisp fresh peas in their shells, onion, zucchini, or red cabbage.  Any sort of fresh, crunchy veggie would be great – get some inspiration from your garden or local Farmers’ Market!

Here’s the recipe I used, which filled two pint jars.

Quick Taco Pickles

1 bunch of radishes
3 carrots, peeled
1 jalapeño (or more if you’d like more heat), seeds and stem removed
3 scallions
1 clove garlic
1/2 lime
A handful of chopped cilantro
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

1.  Thinly slice all of the vegetables and lime.  I used a mandoline to make sure everything was evenly sliced.  (This is the one I have – it’s inexpensive, but it does a great job.)

Taco Pickle Vegetables

2.  Bring the sugar and vinegars to a slow boil and whisk until all the sugar is dissolve.  Place in the fridge to cool it to room temperature.

3.  Combine the radishes, carrots, jalapeño, scallions, garlic, lime slices, and cilantro.  Pour the cooled pickling liquid over them.  Store in the fridge in jars or any sealeable container.  Let them sit for at least an hour before digging in.  The original recipe said they would keep for a couple weeks, but I found they were best within the first week.

Taco Pickles

Click here for a printable PDF of this recipe.


Ramp Pesto

Ramp Pesto

For months, I have been anticipating the return of the Farmers at the Firehouse, as well as the fresh, seasonal produce at the Pittsburgh Public Market.  I love warm and hearty winter foods, but by now I am more than ready for local asparagus, lettuce, and peaches!  The Farmers at the Firehouse returns tomorrow, but I just couldn’t wait to share a super-springtime recipe with you… I jumped the gun and headed to the Pittsburgh Public Market last weekend in hopes of finding a vendor selling some early-springtime treats.  Thankfully, Mushrooms for Life granted my wish, selling fresh ramps and morel mushrooms.  (The morels will be featured in an upcoming post – stay tuned!)  They will be at the Farmers at the Firehouse this weekend selling more of their tasty treats.

Also sometimes called spring onions, wild leeks, wood leeks, or wild garlic – ramps are foraged in the early springtime and have a particularly spicy, garlicky flavor which I thought would be fantastic in a pesto.  I’ve found pesto to be a very easy and versatile sauce to make: The basic ingredients I include in any pesto are herbs, nuts, hard cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper.  You can use this recipe as a basis for your own unique variations using other herbs, nuts, and cheeses.

In addition to the ramps, I purchased parsley, lemon and almonds from Marty’s Market.  And the pecorino romano came from, of course, the famous cheese counter at Pennsylvania Macaroni.

This recipe will create about one generous cup of pesto.

1 bunch (about 12) ramps
1 handful fresh parsley
1 handful of almonds
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more if needed

Ramp Pesto

1.  Be sure to thoroughly wash the ramps.  Trim of the stringy roots.  Also trim off the white bulbs and save them for another use.  (You can pickle them, chop them up and use them in a stir fry, roast them and toss them with other veggies or pasta.)

2.  Toast the almonds in a small pan, being careful not to burn them.  Let them cool before placing them in the food processor with the other ingredients.

3.  If all of your ingredients don’t fit into your food processor at once, you can puree them in steps, as shown in these photos.

Ramp Pesto

Ramp Pesto

4.  You can use this pesto in pasta, on chicken or fish, add it to soup, or spread it on toasted bread.  If you do decide to use it as a spread, I would quickly blanch the ramp leaves at the beginning before pureeing them, or the onion-y flavor might be a tad overpowering.

Ramp Pesto

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

Fontina Grilled Cheese with Fava Bean Purée

Fontina Grilled Cheese with Fava Bean Puree

This recipe is inspired by Thin Man Sandwich Shop in the Strip – if you haven’t already been there, I strongly encourage you to check it out.  I’ve been there a few times, and each time it’s been amazing.  They use high-quality ingredients to create inventive and hearty sandwiches.  On my last trip, I tried their new “fava melt” and it was absolutely delicious.   The ingredients were fontina cheese, fava bean purée, pea shoots, and black pepper on multi-grain bread.  Perfect for spring!  I’d recently read that April is “National Grilled Cheese Month” so I decided to create a grilled-cheese spin on this sandwich.  Fava beans – which are sort of like a cross between peas and lima beans – can be tricky to find, but I was able to buy a bag of frozen fava beans at Reyna’s Grocery.  I then headed to PennMac for some perfectly melty fontina cheese as well as pine nuts and olive oil, and down to Mancini’s Bakery for a loaf of their European multi-grain bread.

The amounts below will make about four sandwiches.

1 cup shelled fava beans (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus zest
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lb. fontina cheese
Multigrain bread, sliced
Butter, softened

Fontina Grilled Cheese with Fava Bean Puree Ingredients

1.  Prepare an ice water bath by filling a large bowl halfway with ice and water; set aside.

2.  Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the frozen favas and boil until the bean inside the outer skin is bright green and firm but not hard, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain the favas and immediately place in the ice water bath until cool. Peel the light green skin from each bean to reveal the bright green inner bean, discard the skins, and set the beans aside.

Peeled Fava Beans

3.  Toast the pine nuts in a small pan until just beginning to turn golden brown.  Remove immediately and set aside to cool.

Toasted Pine Nuts

4.  Heat a bit of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and thyme, and cook until the garlic is slightly golden.

5.  Transfer the beans, pine nuts, garlic, and thyme to a food processor or blender.  Add the lemon juice and zest, along with ¼ cup of olive oil.  Puree until smooth.

Fava Bean Puree

Fava Bean Puree

6.  Spread the fava bean puree onto half of the bread slices.  Stack think slices of fontina cheese on the other half of the slices.  Assemble the sandwiches, and spread the outside of the sandwiches with the softened butter.

Fontina Grilled Cheese with Fava Bean Puree

Buttered Grilled Cheese

7.  Heat a bit of butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Once hot and bubbling, grill the sandwiches until the cheese is soft and melted, turning to brown both sides.  Do this in batches if you don’t have enough room in the pan for all of the assembled sandwiches.

Fontina Grilled Cheese with Fava Bean Puree

8.  Carefully remove from the pan and enjoy!  If you have any leftover fava bean puree, you can refrigerate it to make more sandwiches later, or use it as a dip for crunchy veggies or chips.

Fontina Grilled Cheese with Fava Bean Puree

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

These baked eggs – also known as Huevos a la Flamenca – are a traditional Spanish dish, with many versions, depending on the region. This recipe uses chorizo from Parma Sausage, homemade tomato sauce, Spanish smoked paprika, and young Manchego cheese from PennMac.  I used my most-favorite-ever fresh eggs from The Farmer’s Wife – you can find her at the Farmers@Firehouse beginning Saturday May 11th.  Get there early to buy them – they’re so amazing that they sell out fast most mornings!  I brought my Spanish paprika with me from New Jersey, but you could definitely find some at Penzey’s – it’s also sometimes called pimentón.  This dish is traditionally made and served in individual clay pots called cazuelas, but you could also prepare them in little casserole dishes or ramekins.

This dish makes an amazing weekend brunch, but it’s satisfying enough that it could also be enjoyed for lunch or dinner as well.  I like baked eggs served with fresh Mancini’s bread.

The recipe below serves two.

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce Ingredients

1/2 cup Spanish chorizo, diced
1/2 teaspoon Spanish paprika
2 cups homemade tomato sauce
4 eggs
1/4 cup young Manchego cheese, grated

Diced Chorizo

Mancini Bread

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and paprika, cook until brown.

3.  Add the tomato sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs: Tomato Sauce

4.  Coat the cazuelas with a bit of olive oil.  Fill each dish about halfway with the tomato sauce.  Place two eggs into each dish, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and top with the grated cheese.  (Tip: I pre-crack my eggs into small bowls to make sure not to get any small pieces of shell into my final dish.)

Four Eggs

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce (Prep)

5.  Place the cazuelas into the oven and bake until the whites are firm and the yolks are still soft and runny, about 10 minutes.  The cooking time may vary depending on your oven, so check them at around 8 minutes.  If they’re not done at 10 minutes, leave them in a little longer, but check frequently to make sure they don’t overcook!

6.  Carefully remove the cazuelas from the oven.  Sprinkle with some freshly chopped parsley or chives if you like.  Place onto cool plates or placemats to avoid damaging your table.  Serve with fresh bread.

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Of course there are places in the Strip where you can buy wonderful, quality tomato sauces – but I like the ability to customize my own sauce, and it’s less expensive than buying specialty sauces from the store.  Also, I know that by making my own sauce, it won’t have any of the preservatives or other strange ingredients that sometimes make their way into the usual grocery-store brands.

When I saw the display of enormous canned goods in Sunseri’s, I could not help but buy a big can of tomatoes to make a very large batch of tomato sauce.  This tomato sauce is extremely easy to make and uses basic ingredients you could find anywhere – you can get the fresh produce and herbs for this recipe at Marty’sStan’s, or Wholey’s, – I was shopping early in the day so I purchased all of my fresh ingredients and PennMac.  When shopping for canned tomatoes, I like to look at the ingredients on the label to find one that contains only tomatoes, or maybe just tomatoes and salt.

It’s impossible for me and my husband to eat all of this sauce before it goes bad, so I like to divide it up into jars or small containers that I can keep in the freezer and pull out to defrost whenever I need them.  If you have the equipment, you could also can it.  I use this sauce in pasta dishes, soups, on pizza – it’s so versatile!

Tomato Sauce Ingredients

1 very large (6 lb 9 oz) canned crushed tomatoes
2 large onions, chopped
2 carrots, finely shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped
8 cloves of garlic
1 bunch fresh thyme, stems removed
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Canned Tomato


Shredded Carrot

Sliced Garlic


Chopped Parsley

1.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery and garlic, and season with a little salt and pepper.  (Be sparing in your use of salt if your canned tomatoes already contain salt.) Cook until they’re soft and just starting to brown.  Add the carrot and herbs, cook until the carrot is soft and starting to brown.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

2.  Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer for one hour.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

3.  Taste the sauce, and add a bit more salt or pepper if you like.  If you prefer a chunkier sauce, go ahead and divide the sauce into small containers to freeze.  I prefer a slightly smoother sauce, so I like to allow the sauce to cool in the refrigerator before pureeing in a blender.  Do this in batches so as not to overfill the blender.  Then place the pureed sauce into small containers for freezing.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Feel free to use this recipe as a basis for your own personalized sauce – for example you could use different herbs, add a little bell pepper, or maybe add some red pepper flakes for a little extra kick.  🙂

Wine Spritzers – Two Ways

White Wine Spritzer with Lemon Lime and Mint 1

I mentioned in Friday’s post that I was going to create some “Strip District” wine spritzers this weekend. I wanted to test out a few variations, and Saturday was such a lovely day to stroll the Strip, so I took my time browsing around for fun ingredients to try. I made my purchases from many Strip District vendors: wine from the Strip’s family-owned R Wine Cellar, Italian sodas from Penn Mac, strawberries from Stan’s Produce (at an amazing price), lemongrass and mint from Lotus Food, citrus and sparkling water from Marty’s Market. After testing out about five or six different combinations, I decided to share my two favorites with you here.

R Wine Cellar

Wine Spritzer Basics

Wine Spritzer Variations

I’m no mixologist, so I can tell you that wine spritzers are incredibly easy to make: a basic version is a mix of wine and sparkling water served with ice. You can adjust the proportions to whatever you think tastes best and gives the right amount of fizz. Because the wine is diluted, they’re perfect for an afternoon spent out in the sun, or over the course of a long summer barbecue. The first recipe you’ll see below is a sangria-inspired red-wine spritzer, mixing in a bit of fresh-squeezed blood orange and grapefruit juice. The second is a very bright and refreshing white-wine spritzer made with lemon soda instead of sparkling water, and garnished with lemon and lime slices with sprigs of mint.

The proportions below make one rather-large or two more-modest spritzers. These could easily be scaled up and made in a pitcher for a large crowd… which I think I might do for my upcoming book club get-together in May! 🙂

Red Wine Spritzer with Blood Orange & Grapefruit
1/3 cup Zinfandel (or other red wine), chilled
2/3 cup sparkling water, chilled
2 tablespoons red grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons blood orange* juice
Garnish of grapefruit and blood orange slices

*Blood oranges can be tricky to find – and therefore can be a little pricey. It was a pleasant surprise to find them at Marty’s, so I couldn’t resist including them in this spritzer. If you can’t find blood oranges or aren’t up for splurging on them, go ahead and substitute regular orange juice.

Blood Orange and Grapefruit 1

Blood Orange and Grapefruit 2

Red Wine Spritzer with Blood Orange and Grapefruit

White Wine Spritzer with Lemon, Lime & Mint
1/2 cup Pinot Grigio (or other white wine), chilled
1/2 cup lemon soda, chilled
Garnish of lemon and lime slices with mint

Lemon and Lime

White Wine Spritzer with Lemon Lime and Mint 2

For either spritzer, combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and give it a good shake. Alternatively, if you do not have a cocktail shaker, just put all the ingredients in a large enough glass or cup that you have enough room to give everything a good stir without splashing out of the glass. Once everything is stirred, transfer to a wine glass, or tall drinking glass. Serve immediately so it doesn’t lose its fizz.

Please feel free to use these recipes as inspiration to come up with your own signature-spritzer. Other great ingredients to try might be raspberries, peaches, basil, or cucumber. What is your favorite thing to drink when spending the day outdoors?