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Food to Pack for Road Trips

Food to Pack for Road Trips - Tips for Packing, Food for When You Have a Cooler, and Road Trip Staples. Bonus: Cooking While Camping

Food to Pack for Road Trips

You’ve been driving for hours.  Your only food options are McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or a gas station, and all you can think is that you really, really, want something homemade and flavorful.  You’re in a food desert.  If this sounds awful, horrible, nightmarish, imagine how you’d feel after several days of barren food options.  How can you protect yourself from this tragic situation?  Pack your own food.  We’ve already talked about how packing food saves money, and it can definitely give you healthier and more flavorful food options.  What, though, can you pack?  Today we’ll look at a round-up of travel-friendly foods from around the blogosphere.

Tips

  • If you’re planning on cooking on your trip, do a little menu planning.  Narrow your meals down to a few options that use similar cooking utensils / ingredients.
  • Pack fresh fruits and vegetables that travel well for snacks, such as apples,  baby carrots, and celery.  Remember that bananas tend to make everything else in their container or bag smell and taste like bananas, especially as they ripen.
  • Bring plenty of water, and stock up on dry goods like peanut butter, bread, tea bags, and coffee.
  • If you want to cook with milk, or have access to a refrigerator one night and want to make overnight oats or chia pudding, try packing shelf stable milk substitutes (like almond or soy milk).  If you can’t go through an entire carton in one meal, look for smaller, individual size boxes.
  • If you’re packing canned goods– don’t forget your can opener.  Ditto for wine bottles and a corkscrew, as well as beer bottles and a bottle opener.

Food that needs a cooler

Some food, as we all know, needs refrigeration.  It might be tempting to completely write these foods off, call them ‘driving incompatible,’ and stick to granola bars and muffins.  However, if you, like me, crave fresh food, these foods will be perfectly fine on days you have a cooler.  Some of these foods need a little preparation, but are all portable and work well for day one of your trip.  If you happen to be staying in a hotel along your route with a mini-kitchen or fridge, keep these snacks in mind your whole trip.  If nothing else, they’ll help make the first day of your road trip a little tastier and healthier.

Road trip snack-bag staples

After the ice melts in your cooler, and you’ve (hopefully) finished eating all of your cooler food, you’re probably still going to get hungry.  If you’re tired of gas station snacks, fast food, and want something homemade instead of store-bought, check out these travel-friendly foods.  Make them at home, and bring them along to snack on.

bonus: Cooking while camping

If your road trip involves camping, or if you’re just extra ambitious and plan to bring cookware with you on your vacation, here’s a few more recipes for ‘camping-friendly’ cooking from Megan and Michael over at Fresh Off the Grid.

What are your favorite foods to pack on road trips?  Let me know in the comments!

Want more food advice?  Read these:

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Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms

Gourmet Special: Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms

Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms - This easy to prepare, nutty rice will add a gourmet flair to your dinner

DO YOU NEED A FANCY RECIPE FOR DATE NIGHT?  A ROMANTIC DINNER FOR TWO?  ARE YOUR IN-LAWS OR BOSS COMING FOR DINNER AND YOU NEED TO IMPRESS?  PERIODICALLY CHAMPAGNE TASTES WILL BE FEATURING GOURMET RECIPES.  THESE WILL STILL BE BUDGET FRIENDLY AND RELATIVELY SIMPLE, BUT WILL HELP YOU CONFIDENTLY SERVE A GOURMET MEAL WITHOUT HIRING A CHEF.

Awhile back, I found myself staring at a restaurant menu, asking the husband, “What in the world is Forbidden Rice?  Also, if it’s forbidden, how are they allowed to sell it?”  (If you want to leave now, before the puns get worse, I totally understand).  I didn’t try it that day, but a few days later, while walking through Jungle Jim’s, I saw it again.  And no worries, even though it was marked “forbidden” rice, they didn’t confiscate it at the cash register.  I did, in fact, make it home with this odd little grain.  I even successfully cooked the contraband rice, without any strange rice regulators banging through my front door.  I later learned that this nutty, gluten-free grain is not only delicious, it’s also definitely NOT forbidden. (I’m just kidding guys, I totally knew that right away).  This recipe for Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms is easy to make, delicious, and will impress all your guests (because, you know, they’ll be wondering how you got the off-limits rice).

Legend has it that forbidden rice, also known as Chinese black rice, was forbidden to everyone except the emperor in Ancient China, because it was so incredibly rare.  Don’t worry, though, because that’s no longer the case.  It’s even getting easier to find–  try shopping for it at health food stores, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or Asian markets.  This rice is hearty, packed with nutrients, and full of flavor.  Also, if you want to try this rice and mushroom dish, but just can’t seem to find this elusive rice, substitute brown rice instead!

To cook your rice, just follow the package directions.  If, however, your rice (like mine) came from a bulk food section, and didn’t come with directions, here’s some tips.  Just like basmati rice, black rice needs to be rinsed, and preferably soaked, before cooking.  Soak your rice for at least 15 – 30 minutes,  and rinse it 2-3 times until the water runs clear. After that, you can treat it like brown rice.  I usually microwave my rice, and these directions for brown rice from Steamy Kitchen work great for me with black rice.  While your rice cooks, sauté the mushrooms, dry roast the shallot, and then blend up your vinaigrette.  When the rice finishes cooking, stir in the mushrooms and vinaigrette, and then top with fresh herbs if you have them on hand.  Serve this rice as an exotic side dish, or stir in some toasted almonds or walnuts to make it a main course.  Feel free to tell your guests tall tales about your adventures to find this off-limits rice… or just dig in and eat.

Note: Keep in mind that there is also a Thai Black Sticky Rice, and that’s not what we’re using here.

Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms

Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms

Not sure what to serve with your rice?  Try these recipes:

Gourmet Special: Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms

Total Time: 40 minutes

Gourmet Special: Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms

Forbidden Rice with Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked Forbidden Rice (or Chinese Black Rice)
  • 1 quart baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 TB olive oil; 1/2 cup olive oil (divided)
  • 1 shallot, peeled and sliced
  • 3 TB sherry vinegar OR red wine vinegar
  • ~2 tsp salt to taste
  • few springs parsley, dill to garnish (optional)

Instructions

  • Cook rice according to package instructions.
  • Place shallot on a small non-stick pan on low heat and allow it to dry roast, tossing occasionally to roast evenly.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1 TB oil in a large sauté pan. When oil begins to ripple, add mushrooms and sauté until browned.
  • In a blender or food processor, grind together roasted shallot, 1/2 cu oil, vinegar, and salt.
  • When rice is finished cooking, stir in mushrooms and shallot dressing. Salt to taste. Add fresh herbs to garnish (optional).
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    Shallot Vinaigrette Recipe Adapted From: Ruhlman’s Twenty

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    Strawberry Raspberry Clafoutis

    Strawberry Raspberry Clafoutis

    Strawberry Raspberry Clafoutis - This easy, delicious French cobbler is the perfect way to use fresh berries.

    One of my favorite desserts is the French fruit dish clafoutis.  Pronounced ‘cla-foo-tee,’ this fluffy deliciousness doesn’t know whether it’s a cobbler, custard, or cake.  It’s full of indecision.  It will confuse guests who haven’t had it before, but they’ll inevitably decide they don’t care what it’s supposed to be, because it is just so tasty.  Traditionally, clafoutis is made with whole sweet cherries.  However, sweet cherries tend to be fairly expensive where I live, and when I buy them I usually devour them all gluttonously before I could even imagine putting them inside a dessert.  When I make clafoutis, I tend to use whatever berries I have on hand, but one of my favorite combinations is Strawberry Raspberry Clafoutis.

    Clafoutis is incredibly simple to make– you just mix ingredients into a batter, pour the batter over fresh, sweet berries, and before you know it, you’ll be digging into an airy, golden French cobbler.  Make sure the berries you use are sweet, because there’s not much sugar in the batter.  Top your dessert with ice cream; top it with whipped cream; top it with nothing at all!  If you’re feeling like making your dessert extra fancy, you can do that too.  Save some berries (i.e.- don’t accidentally dump them all in the pie pan), and make a pretty berry ring around the edge of the clafoutis after it finishes baking.  Serve your clafoutis while it’s warm if you can, but it’s also delicious cool.  I think it tastes best right after baking, but it’ll last for a few days if, for some inexplicable reason, you have leftovers.

    Strawberry Rasperry Clafouti

    Strawberry Raspberry Clafoutis

    Still hungry?  Try these desserts:

    Strawberry Raspberry Clafoutis

    Total Time: 45 minutes

    Strawberry Raspberry Clafoutis

    Strawberry Rasperry Clafoutis

    Ingredients

    • ~ 2 cups raspberries + strawberries, plus more for garnish (optional)
    • 1 TB butter
    • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
    • 1 cup milk (2% or whole, not skim)
    • 2/3 cup flour
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 2 tsp vanilla
    • 1/4 tsp salt

    Instructions

  • Preheat oven 400 F.
  • Add butter to the bottom of a deep dish pie pan (or 8"x8" baking dish). Place in oven while it's preheating.
  • In a large mixing bowl, add all remaining ingredients except the fruit. Mix well.
  • Remove pie pan from the oven, and add fruit to the pan, reserving some fruit for garnish. Optionally, skip garnish and add all fruit to pan. Pour batter over fruit.
  • Bake 35-40 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool 5-10 minutes, and add remaining fruit as a garnish. Serve warm.
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    Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar

    Braised Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar

    Easy Braised Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar- 5 ingredients, less than 10 minutes

    One of my favorite things about spring is that the ground comes back to life.  Gardens start shooting up produce again, sometimes faster than it can be eaten.  I especially love when this happens to my friends, and they start giving away veggies.  Recently I was gifted a jumbo, overflowing bag of delicious curly green kale. (Thanks friend!)  There are, of course, tons of ways to fix kale, including blending it up in smoothies, juicing it, and eating it raw in a salad.  One of my favorite kale recipes, however, is this warm Braised Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar.  This incredibly fresh and nutrient-packed side dish is warmed in a sauté pan, and tossed with apple cider vinegar and lemon juice.

    This braised kale recipe is EASY, takes about 10 minutes, and only uses 5 ingredients (one of which, obviously, is fresh kale).  I use a big bunch of kale– way more than I’d think I could eat– because it cooks down to what seems like an impossibly small amount.  In fact, normally I use a large sauté pan or wok, fill it to the top so that the lid barely fits, and when it cooks down there’s about enough left for four sides of kale (depending on how much each person takes).  If you need more than 4 servings of kale, you could always add more kale to your pan as it begins to shrink.  Braised kale also reheats well in the next day or two, so if you make too much you can always eat it later.

    Start by prepping your kale– rinse it, cut off the big stems (they’re kind of tough), and then tear it into small pieces.  Heat a little oil in your big pan, then add garlic.  Let the garlic cook for about a minute, then add all your kale (unless it won’t all fit- then add as much as you can and add more as the kale in the pan cooks down).  Pour your lemon juice and vinegar over the kale, toss it, and cover everything with a lid.  Watch your kale– you want to take it off the heat after it’s cooked down but before it starts to go from dark green to a darker brownish green (although it’s still okay to eat if some gets darker).   Everything should all cook down pretty quickly and be ready to eat within just a few minutes.  Serve it as is, or add a little more apple cider vinegar.  Enjoy this tasty and healthful veggie as a side dish for whatever else you’re eating, or by itself as a delicious spring-time snack.

    kale2_small-1

    Looking for more vegetables?  Try these:

    Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar

    Total Time: 10 minutes

    Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar

    Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar

    Ingredients

    • 1 large bunch kale, washed and torn into small pieces with large stems removed
    • 1 TB olive oil
    • 1 TB minced garlic
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice (approx 1 lemon)
    • 2 TB apple cider vinegar, plus more to serve

    Instructions

  • Heat oil on medium in a large pan or wok, until oil begins to ripple. Add garlic and saute 1-2 minutes. Add kale and lower heat to medium-low. Drizzle lemon juice and cider over kale and toss the kale. Cover with a lid and allow kale to wilt for about 4-5 minutes. Kale should wilt but not turn brown. Serve warm, with extra vinegar if desired.
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    http://champagne-tastes.com/side-dishes/braised-kale/

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    Rosemary Fig Pizza

    Rosemary Fig Pizza

    Rosemary Fig Pizza- Thin Crust Gourmet Pizza with Gorgonzola Cheese, Fig Jam, and Fresh Rosemary

    It’s time for pizza!  Everybody loves pizza– even if someone says they don’t, there is probably at least one kind of pizza they would, in fact, love.  Pizza means choices, and not just for toppings.  Some love the goopy, deep-dish Chicago-style pizza.  Others prefer huge, thin slices of hand-tossed New York-esque pizza.  There’s also the traditional Italian Margherita pizza, and a newer favorite– the gourmet pizza.  These tasty slices are usually on a thin crust, and have flavorful, non-traditional toppings.  One of my favorite gourmet pies is this Rosemary Fig Pizza.

    The first time I had  Rosemary Fig Pizza was in a tiny little pizza place an hour away.  I took one bite- and was sold, obsessed, delighted.  As much as I love, and continue to occasionally devour, this adorable little pizzeria’s yumminess, I wanted this deliciousness more often than I could make the pilgrimage to buy it.

    Part of what makes this pizza taste so wonderful is also what makes it incredibly easy to prepare– it relies on just a few mouthwateringly delicious ingredients.  First, you need a pizza crust.  Either make your own, or if you simply don’t have time, use pre-made.  Brush your crust with a little olive oil.  Next, cover it in cheese– shred or slice fresh mozzarella,* crumble gorgonzola (or blue cheese, if gorgonzola is nowhere to be found), and cover your crust, leaving a  small border for the crusty edge.  Warm up a little fig jam, adding a dash of water to thin it out.  Drizzle your fig jam sauce on the pizza, and top it off with fresh rosemary.  Heat it all up in a very hot oven, and dig into the sweet cheesy goodness.

    *Note: Fresh mozzarella balls can be found in vacuüm sealed packages with other cheeses, or you can make your own.  Avoid using pre-shredded mozzarella because it won’t melt as easily.

    Also Note: Fig jam was easier to find than I thought it would be, but if your local grocery store doesn’t have any, I’ve also found it at stores like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Burlington Coat Factory in the specialty food aisle. 

    Rosemary Fig Pizza

    Rosemary Fig Pizza

    Rosemary Fig Pizza

    Total Time: 15 minutes

    1 pizza

    Rosemary Fig Pizza

    Rosemary Fig Pizza

    Ingredients

    • 1 thin pizza crust (make your own or use pre-made)
    • ~1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese crumbles (or sub blue cheese)
    • ~1/2 cup mozzarella (preferably fresh- crumble or shred before using on pizza)
    • 1-2 springs fresh rosemary (or sub about 2 tsp dried rosemary)
    • 2 TB fig jam
    • 1 TB hot water

    Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 500 F (or as hot as your oven will go).
  • Brush crust with olive oil. Spread both cheeses on pizza dough (use more or less depending on the size of your crust, but make sure your crust is covered). Sprinkle rosemary generously over pizza.
  • In a small bowl, mix fig jam and hot water. Begin with 1/2 TB of water, and stir until fig jam dissolves into a syrup. Add more water if it's still too thick to pour. Drizzle fig mixture over pizza.
  • Bake 12-15 minutes until crust has browned and cheese has melted (pre-cooked crusts will take less time).
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    http://champagne-tastes.com/entrees/rosemary-fig-pizza/

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    Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos

    Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos

    Spicy Fish Tacos- Perfect for Serving Buffet Style at Your Next Dinner Party

    You know what I miss in the winter?  Sunshine, specifically, but also that woodsy, delicious smell of food cooking on a charcoal grill.  I love how it wafts into my kitchen from the open door, filling my entire apartment with tantalizing promises of a scrumptious dinner.  At the first signs of spring, we break out our heavy metal grill and start cooking.  One meal that’s really at its best on a grill is Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos.

    Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos are perfect for crowds– I serve them buffet style with all the toppings laid out, so even the pickiest eaters can fill up their plates.  Plus, if you have some non-meateaters in your crowd, you can very easily add in fajita veggies and vegan beans to make sure everyone gets enough to eat.   (Check your tortillas for animal products if you’re serving vegans– some have lard).  As with most tacos, you can pretty much serve whatever toppings you want– but traditionally you’d at least have a yogurt sauce and shredded cabbage.  Also, in my opinion, they should have avocado.  Anytime I’ve eaten a really delicious fish taco– there has been avocado.

    For the tacos, use a mild fish, like tilapia.  Marinate your fish fillets in chili powder, lime juice, a little olive oil, and salt.  If you want an extra kick, use the hotter, smokier chipotle chili powder (but make sure your guests like heat, or only use it on some of the fish).  Plan for about 1 fish fillet per person (more or less).  While your fish is marinating, mix all the yogurt sauce ingredients together, and chop up the toppings.  Grill the fish about 4 minutes per side (depending on how thick your fish is), and then grill your tortilla shells for about 30 seconds each.  Slice up the fish, and build your tacos!

    Note: You can definitely still make these tacos if you don’t have a charcoal grill!  I just think the charcoal grill gives it an extra delicious smoky kick.  If you don’t have one, use a gas grill or electric grill instead.  Alternatively, you could also pan fry your fish.

    Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos

    Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos

    Love fish? Want more? Try these seafood recipes:

    Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos

    Total Time: 30 minutes

    Serves 4

    Spicy Grilled Fish Tacos

    Spicy Fish Tacos

    Ingredients

      Fish:
    • 4 tilapia filets (or other white flaky fish)
    • 1/4 cup oil
    • 1 lime, juiced
    • 1 TB chili powder (sub chipotle chili pepper for more heat)
    • Sauce:
    • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
    • 1 TB chili powder
    • 1 lime, juiced
    • 1/8 tsp salt
    • 2-3 dashes hot sauce
    • Serve with:
    • 8 flour tortillas
    • shredded cabbage (or bagged dry cole slaw)
    • 1 jalapeno, coarsely chopped
    • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
    • 1-2 avocados, sliced
    • cherry tomatoes, sliced
    • More Optional Toppings:
    • hot sauce
    • sour cream
    • sliced red onion
    • sliced green onion
    • tomatoes, diced
    • cilantro
    • salsa

    Instructions

  • Preheat charcoal grill.
  • Place fish in a glass dish.  Whisk together oil, lime juice, chili powder, and pour over the fish.  Let marinate 15-20 minutes.
  • Combine all sauce ingredients and stir to combine.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Remove fish from marinade and grill about 4 minutes per side (or until fish flakes with a fork). Grill tortillas about 30 seconds.
  • Cut fish into long strips and serve on tortillas with sauce and desired toppings.
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    http://champagne-tastes.com/dairy-free/grilled-fish-tacos/

    Recipe adapted from: Food Network

     

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    Chocolate Mint Julep

    Chocolate Mint Julep

    Chocolate Mint Julep- the Perfect Derby Day Drink!

    Do you know what Saturday is?  Why, it’s Kentucky Derby Day, of course!  It’s time for the fellas to put on their linen suits and pastel shirts, and ladies, get out your sun-dresses and big hats.  If you’re one of the select few lazing away your day at Churchill Downs while you wait for the horses to whiz by, you’ll probably be paying someone else for your mint juleps and Derby pie.  If, however, you’ll be watching the race from home, or at a Derby party, you might need to make that julep yourself!  This recipe for Chocolate Mint Julep will be the perfect addition to your Derby Day.

    Traditionally, a mint julep is made with spearmint, bourbon, simple syrup, and crushed ice, all mixed together into a glass of cool deliciousness.  For this version, I used chocolate mint instead of spearmint.  If you’ve never had chocolate mint, it’s a lot like regular mint, but about a thousand times more awesome.  It looks a lot like regular mint, but basically tastes like you’re eating one of those candy chocolate peppermint patties.  In short, it’s the best.  I haven’t seen this mint at a normal supermarket, but the Kentucky Derby just happens to coincide with the beginning of planting season here in Appalachia, and these little mint plants are all over the place.  I’ve seen these plants everywhere I’ve looked for herbs (specifically at Lowe’s and Home Depot), and I just couldn’t resist planting my own this year.*  You can, of course, follow this recipe to make a traditional mint julep by using spearmint instead of chocolate mint.  Chocolate mint tends to have smaller leaves, so for this cocktail I use 8-10 mint leaves per glass instead of the 5-6 you’d use for a traditional julep.

    To make your julep, start by making a simple syrup (or just buy pre-made syrup).  You’ll only need about 1 tsp of syrup for your drink, but it’s easier to make a batch of the syrup and keep the rest for later.  Using a 1 to 1 ratio (example: 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar), pour sugar and water together, bring to a boil, and set aside to cool.  You can use any leftover syrup to sweeten whatever you like– iced tea, coffee etc.  Next, take mint leaves and muddle them with 1 teaspoon of the syrup in the bottom of a chilled old-fashioned cocktail glass (or a mint julep cup if you’re fancy).  Technically you should use a “muddler,” but you can also muddle your leaves with the end of a wooden spoon or the pestle from a small mortar and pestle.  You just need to mush them around to release the mint oil.  Add crushed ice all the way to the top of the glass (if you don’t have a refrigerator that comes with an ice crusher- just stick some ice cubes in your blender).  Pour 4 ounces of bourbon over the ice, and stir a few times.  Garnish your drink with a few more mint leaves, and enjoy the race!

    Note: Any kind of mint will grow well.. pretty much anywhere you put it.  Keep in mind that mint doesn’t share well with others- it’ll strangle out your other herbs, so it needs a pot of its own.  If you plant it in your yard, be prepared for it to take over the grass, so plant with care.

    Chocolate Mint Julep

    Chocolate Mint Julep

    Chocolate Mint Julep

    1 cocktail

    Chocolate Mint Julep

    Chocolate Mint Julep

    Ingredients

    • 8-10 chocolate mint leaves, plus more for garnish
    • 1 tsp simple syrup*
    • 3 ounces bourbon
    • crushed ice
    • *Simple Syrup Recipe:
    • In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool. Use 1 tsp per mint julep cocktail.

    Instructions

  • Chill an old-fashioned cocktail glass (or mint julep cup). Muddle mint leaves and simple syrup until mint leaves look softened and smell very fragrant. Fill glass with crushed ice, then pour bourbon over ice. Stir once or twice, top with more mint, and serve immediately.
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    Lemon Roasted Asparagus

    Lemon Roasted Asparagus

    Lemon Roasted Asparagus - Simple, Fast, + Vegan

    If you’ve been smiling at the warmer weather forecasts, grinning at the flowering trees, and popping allergy pills like crazy, you too may be enjoying spring.  You know what else is fantastic in the spring?  Asparagus.  When you aren’t dodging water puddles, realizing you forgot your umbrella in the car, and debating on how to dress when it’s frigid in the morning and downright hot in the afternoon, you should be eating asparagus.  It’s in season right now, and its crisp green goodness is the perfect addition to any springtime meal.  If you’re looking for a simple and quick way to prepare your asparagus– this Lemon Roasted Asparagus is just about as easy and delicious as you can get.

    When you’re buying asparagus, you’ll see bunches with thin stalks and thick stalks.  I usually get thin stalks, but if you’re planning on cooking your asparagus on a grill or a broiler at some point– the thicker stalks hold up better to heat.  For this recipe, buy whichever you like best.  Depending on your market or grocery store, you may find yourself staring at a wall of gorgeous, multi-colored stalks.  Asparagus comes in green, all shades of purple, and white.*  Again, for this recipe, chose whichever you like best (if you use white asparagus– peel it first).  Check out this Serious Eats article to learn more about choosing, storing, and cooking different types of asparagus.

    To prepare this tasty side dish, rinse the asparagus and trim off the woody bottoms.  Set them in an oven-safe pan or cast iron skillet, and drizzle a little olive oil, golden balsamic*, salt, and pepper.  Top with lemon slices, and roast 10-12 minutes (less time for thin stalks, more time for thick).  Serve these roasted asparagus stalks while they’re still hot, and try to avoid devouring them all before the rest of your meal is ready.  Or– go right ahead and eat them all, and serve the rest of the food with no regrets.

    Note: Golden (or white) balsamic is exactly what it sounds like– a light, honey colored balsamic vinegar.  It’s not quite as richly flavored or thick as regular balsamic, but is a great way to give balsamic flavor without adding a dark hue to your food.  If you can’t find golden balsamic, you can substitute white wine vinegar (or substitute regular balsamic, but know that your asparagus won’t be quite as pretty).

    Lemon Roasted Asparagus

    Lemon Roasted Asparagus

    Want more spring-time veggie recipes? Try these:

    Lemon Roasted Asparagus

    Serves 4

    Lemon Roasted Asparagus

    Lemon Roasted Asparagus

    Ingredients

    • 1 bunch of asparagus
    • 1 TB olive oil
    • 2-3 TB golden balsamic vinegar (or sub white wine vinegar)
    • ~1 tsp salt, black pepper
    • 1 lemon

    Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450 F.
  • Rinse asparagus and cut off the woody ends. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Drizzle with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Slice lemons and layer on top of asparagus.
  • Roast 10-12 minutes depending on the thickness of your asparagus.
  • Serve hot.
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    How To Make Your Food Taste Better

    How to Make Your Food Taste Better- 5 Easy Steps for Better Flavors

    Have you ever eaten a delicious, mouth-watering meal prepared by a friend, asked them for the recipe, and then discovered, to your dismay, that your version simply doesn’t taste the same?  What happened?!  What mysterious recipe secrets did your friend leave out?!  We’ll assume, for a moment, that your friend actually did follow the recipe.  We’ll also assume, because they love you, that they aren’t trying to sabotage your meal by giving you a faux-recipe, and did not leave out their top-secret ingredient.  What could have happened?  Today we’ll look at a few easy ways to make your food taste better.

    cropped-scallops-pasta-small-1.jpg1. Salt Your Pasta Water

    That’s right– pasta needs salt.  Pasta won’t absorb salt once it’s finished cooking, so the only chance to season it is while it’s in the boiling water.  How much salt?  Serious Eats recommends about 1 1/2 tsp of table salt per liter (If you’re math challenged like me– 1 liter is about 4 cups).  If your eyes are widening in concern, and you persistently monitor your sodium intake, keep in mind that most of the salt will get tossed out with the water.

    IMG_26982.  Spices and herbs really do expire

    I know, I know.. you bought cinnamon sticks back in 2010, stuck them in the back of your pantry, intending to use them the next time you made hot chocolate.  You forgot about them, and every time you clean out your pantry, you think, “I really need to use those!”  I have bad news– they’ve probably lost most of their flavor.  Unless they’ve molded, or you notice an odd smell, those cinnamon sticks are probably safe to use, but they won’t be very effective in flavoring your food.  On average, whole spices last the longest (about 4 years), then ground spices (2-3 years), and finally dried herbs have the shortest shelf life (1-3 years).  Check out Still Tasty for spice and herb storage advice and their “Keep It or Toss It” chart.

    IMG_25003. Not all spices and herbs are created equal

    If you’ve never tried grinding your own spices– the very idea might seem a little crazy.  Yes, you can buy your spices pre-ground, and save yourself some work.  If you’re buying your spices pre-ground, check the ingredients on the bottle and avoid anything that has fillers added.  However, freshly ground spices have more flavor.  This is more important for some dishes than others (Indian food just screams for freshly ground spices).  If you want to take the plunge and buy whole spices, you can grind them with either a spice grinder or a cheap coffee grinder (just don’t try to use it for coffee again).  Personally, I like to have a mix of pre-ground and whole spices.  Try to get your spices and dried herbs at spice markets (if there are any near you), or at Asian or Middle Eastern grocery stores.  Chances are, the spices will be fresher, and they’ll definitely be cheaper.  Serious Eats has more tips on getting the most out of your spices.  For the freshest of the fresh herbs, try growing your own.  I grow my herbs in glass jars in my kitchen windowsill, and pick as needed.

    Lemon Spinach Pasta4. Stop Buying pre-shredded Cheese

    I know, pre-shredded cheese saves prep-time.  You know what it doesn’t save?  Money, flavor,  shelf life, or cook-time.  Pre-shredded cheese typically costs more per ounce than a block, wedge, or ball of the same cheese (I don’t need to prove this for you with sources– look for yourself next time you’re at the store).  My biggest complaint, however, is not cost.  My biggest complaint is taste.  If you normally buy pre-shredded cheese– do a taste test experiment.  Buy the same cheese you normally would in both a block and a pre-shredded bag, shred some of the block yourself, and taste compare.  Not only will the flavor be better (indescribably better), but the texture will also be better.  Additionally, pre-shredding the cheese decreases the shelf life (check your expiration dates), because there’s more surface area exposed to oxygen (and then mold).  Finally, and most disturbingly, to keep the cheese from going bad, make it seem creamier than it is, and stop it from clumping together, pre-shredded cheese is covered in cellulose and other food additives. These additives can also make it harder for your cheese to melt, increasing your cook-time.

    Indian Spiced Tomato Soup5. Don’t throw away parmesan rinds

    You’ve now stopped buying pre-shredded cheese (right?!), and will notice that some cheese has a rind.  I’m not talking about the waxy cover on gouda, or a paper wrapper, but instead the hard end of the cheese.  Some of these are edible on their own, such as on soft cheeses like brie, but have a distinct flavor that you may or may not like.  Some rinds, on hard cheeses like parmesan, are a little too tough to eat on their own.  Don’t throw those away!  These little rinds are perfect for adding flavor to anything that cooks for a long time, like broth, soup, or even lentils.  This is an especially great trick for tomato soup– the cheese flavor goes extremely well with tomato.  Simply keep these rinds sealed up in your freezer, then drop one in when you start boiling or simmering the soup or other liquid.  It should dissolve and disappear (if it doesn’t completely dissolve, you can remove it at the end of your cook-time).

    Note: When cooking for vegans, keep in mind that adding a parmesan rind to an otherwise vegan dish makes it vegetarian instead of vegan, and it does so invisibly.  Warn them, or provide an alternative food option.

    Do you have any flavor-enhancing cooking tips that I missed?  Let me know in the comments!

    Want more food advice? Check out these:

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    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta- Perfectly Sear Scallops at Home!

    Do you love pasta?  Do you love seafood?  If you haven’t been combining them to make quick, delicious dinners– this recipe for Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta could revolutionize your dinner routine.  (Okay maybe not, but it’s seriously quite tasty.  And fast.  And did I mention tasty?).  The Italians, of course, are onto something with all the seafood and pasta dishes filling their kitchens and dinner plates.  Let’s join them!

    Scallops are flavorful, easy to prepare, and don’t require shelling like shrimp.*  In this recipe, you can use either Bay Scallops (the tiny, usually cheaper ones) or Sea Scallops (these are larger, and typically cost more, but you only need about 5 – 6 scallops per person).  If you buy your scallops at a seafood counter (or anywhere with a person you can speak to), ask for dry scallops.  If you’re buying them frozen, you’re probably buying wet scallops.  Wet scallops have been stored in water, and sometimes have a preservative added.  They also are a little less flavorful, and they won’t sear as easily.  To make them taste and cook more like dry scallops, soak them in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes with juice from one lemon and about a teaspoon of salt.  If you’re using frozen scallops, you can use the water bath to thaw out your scallops.  After the water bath, make sure you dry the scallops as well as you can with paper towels– otherwise they won’t brown properly.  (Read more about dry vs. wet scallops at The Splendid Table).  The water bath works like a charm- I use it when I buy frozen scallops.

    To make seared scallops, you’ll get a little butter very hot in a sauté pan.  Get it very, very, hot.  Then you’ll take the scallops, which you’ll have patted dry and tossed with salt and seasoning, and add them to the pan.  Your now smoking butter will sizzle like crazy, and you may find that your poorly placed fire alarm will start screaming at you.  This is okay.  It’s normal.  Cook the scallops for about 2 minutes and flip, and then another 2 minutes.  Tell your upstairs neighbor that you did not, in fact, catch the house you share on fire, and apologize.  Next, serve the scallops with some fast and easy Red Wine Pasta Sauce, or use a pre-made red sauce.  If your sauce is pre-made, avoid sweet red sauces that will clash with the spicy scallops, and stick to basic vegetable or spicy sauces.  Use the pasta of your choice, and dig in!  If you start the pasta and pasta sauce, and then begin working on the scallops, your whole meal should be ready in about 15 minutes.

    *Note: Scallops typically come pre-shelled, but are, most definitely, still a shellfish.  Don’t eat them if you’re allergic to other shellfish.

    Also Note: Traditionally, Italians do not use cheese on seafood pastas.  Now, rules are meant to be broken, but even the most Parmesan addicted eaters may want to give this dish a taste BEFORE piling on the cheese.  It’s delicious without it. 

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    Love seafood?  Want more?  Try these:

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    Total Time: 15 minutes

    Serving Size: Serves 4

    Spicy Seared Scallops with Pasta

    scallops and pasta

    Ingredients

    • 1 1/4 lb scallops (dry scallops preferred)
    • 2 TB butter
    • 1-2 tsp crushed red pepper
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder (optional)
    • ~1-2 tsp salt
    • red wine pasta sauce (or sub pre-made sauce)
    • Pasta of choice

    Instructions

  • Begin cooking pasta according to package directions. If using red wine pasta sauce, begin preparing it.
  • Heat butter in sauté pan on high heat and allow to melt.
  • Pat scallops dry (they won't sear properly if they're still damp). Toss with a little salt, the red pepper flakes, and cayenne.
  • When butter is melted and begins to smoke, add scallops and let them sit on one side for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes per side, until each side is golden brown. Wet scallops may take longer to cook- leave on pan until they're golden.
  • Serve scallops hot with pasta and pasta sauce.
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    http://champagne-tastes.com/dairy-free/spicy-seared-scallops-with-pasta/

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