Harvest Salad with Caramelized Onions

Years ago, I was invited to join a book club. We started with the lovely narrative cookbook Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. Our little group, who hardly knew each other in the beginning, formed an intense bond over all those nights cooking and eating, sharing life at the table.

Fast forward, and one of those dear friends, who I met by joining that book club, had a birthday. My house filled up with new and old friends, kids running everywhere, wine glasses clinking, and the table jam-packed with platters of food. We laughed until our sides hurt and stayed up way too late. I had to run my dishwasher three times to wash all the dishes we used, but it was absolutely worth it, for the time around the table together.

This salad is the epitome of how I love to cook and eat. Fresh, simple and easy but a little surprising too. The caramelized onions give the salad a rich hearty flavor and balances out the tang of the goat cheese and tart crisp apple. Sweet blackberries and crunchy almonds add just the right flavor and texture.

The salad and the vinaigrette are loosely inspired by Bread and Wine and seemed like the perfect thing to make for my friend. We grilled steaks to go alongside our salad and ate peach crisp with scoops of melting caramel ice cream for dessert.

I make a version of this salad year around, swapping out seasonal ingredients based on what’s fresh and available. In the spring I use blueberries and strawberries and in the winter, I pile the greens high with dried cranberries and roasted squash. The only things that don’t change are the caramelized onions and the balsamic dressing. Don’t hesitate to make this salad yours, experimenting with the flavors you prefer. Pears, dried cranberries, toasted pecans and gorgonzola cheese would be a lovely combination for fall. Go wild, you can’t go wrong.

Harvest Salad with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Dressing

  • 1 8 oz. container organic baby spinach
  • 1 honey crisp apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 6 oz. container fresh blackberries
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

Maple Balsamic Dressing

  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Start by caramelizing the onion. In a medium saucepan, drizzle two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over thinly sliced onions. Give the onions a quick stir and sprinkle with kosher salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover with a lid. Stir every couple minutes until the onions are richly brown and condensed down by about half, usually about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, layer the honey crisp apple, blackberries, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds over baby spinach. Top everything with the caramelized onions. Drizzle with maple balsamic dressing and mix to combine all ingredients. Serve immediately.

To make the salad dressing, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, Dijon mustard and a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper in a jar with a lid. Shake well until ingredients are well-combined. Drizzle dressing over salad. Store extras in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Chocolate Almond Butter Swirled Banana Bread

The day finally came. My youngest child started kindergarten. After having three kids in four years, my frazzled ‘mom-brain’ never quite thought the day would come when all my children went to school.

I spent the summer thinking about what this fall would look like. At first, I had grand plans of all the work I would get done and all the recipes I would come up with. I was going to exercise every day and stay caught up on the laundry. I call this my optimistic phase.

Next came the doubting phase. Sometime in August I got a little sad and mopey. I googled homeschooling. I annoyed my children with too many hugs, whipping my phone out to take photos over the smallest things. They rolled their eyes at me and most definitely took advantage of my weakened state of mind, negotiating for popsicles and t.v. time, but they hugged me back, snuggling up on the couch, somehow knowing a change was in the air. (Or maybe it was all the popsicles and t.v.)

And suddenly it was September. And off they went, excited and happy and not a tear anywhere but in my eyes. My daughter announced on the first day of kindergarten, ‘Mom, I just love school.’ I would call that a good sign.

This banana bread recipe is the perfect special treat for kids after school, or let’s be honest, anyone in the mood for a decadent and chocolaty dessert. I’m not quite ready to embrace fall food, but this feels like a baby step in that direction. Almond butter gives the bread a hearty nutty flavor and the chocolate with the banana is an obvious match. If we can keep the loaf around for more than a day or two, we toast thick slices and slather them with a little butter as an after-school snack.

Chocolate Almond Butter Swirled Banana Bread

• 2 eggs

• 1 cup sugar

• 1/2 cup oil

• 3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed

• 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour

• 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 cup dark chocolate chips

• 2 tablespoons almond butter (or peanut butter)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cocoa powder and salt in a large bowl and set aside. Beat sugar and eggs with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Drizzle in oil. Add mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla. Mix until well-combined.

Fold in dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into the lined loaf pan. In a small microwave-safe container warm the almond butter in the microwave for 15 seconds. Once warmed, pour the almond butter over the batter. Use a knife to spread the almond butter evenly throughout the batter.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Allow bread to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out on a rack to finish cooling completely.

The Ultimate BLT

Living out in the country, we have to get a little creative when we’re not in the mood to cook dinner. Nobody delivers takeout where we live and if we’re all home together, usually no one is itching to hop back in the car to drive somewhere for food.

Which is no big deal since I love to cook, but even I burn out on cleaning up a messy kitchen after so many meals in a row. We were thrilled when Cowiche Creek Brewery opened in our ‘neighborhood’ and their tasting room and wonderful outdoor space has become a regular spot for our family. Our kids can throw the frisbee in the grass and run around without being (too much) of a bother while the adults grab a picnic table and enjoy the stunning views as the sun sets over the rolling orchard hills.

We often pack an easy picnic to take with us. Sandwiches, chips, fruit and if we’re feeling really fancy maybe some hummus and carrots.

We get out of the house for a bit, connect with friends and eat an easy meal in the grass while the kids run around. Everyone wins.

I don’t know what it is but when the tomatoes finally start ripening in my garden at the end of the summer, all I want is a good BLT sandwich. This recipe is for the ultimate bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich.

A quick bread is mixed together in five minutes flat with sharp cheddar, bacon and chives. The beer adds a slight tang to the bread and keeps it nice and soft. When the bread is ready, all you have to do is throw your sandwich together and you’re ready to head out for a picnic.

Avocado, vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp bacon and an easy lemon dill mayonnaise elevates this sandwich to a whole new level. A few chips and an ice-cold beer are all you need to complete your meal.

And of course, you don’t need the excuse of a picnic to make these yummy sandwiches. Make a batch of beer bread and suddenly you have a week’s worth of sandwiches for lunch. You won’t regret taking the extra step to throw the recipe together.

Sharp Cheddar, Bacon and Chive Beer Bread

• Nonstick cooking spray

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 3 tablespoons sugar

• 4 ½ teaspoons baking powder

• ½ teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

• 1 ½ cups light or amber beer (Corona works really well)

• ¾ cup shar cheddar, shredded or cubed

• ¾ cup crumbled bacon (use pre-cooked or it’s the equivalent of about 5 pieces of cooked bacon)

• ¼ cup chives, minced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in beer until a dough forms. Gently mix in cheddar, bacon and chives.

Transfer the dough to the loaf pan and place on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the dough comes out clean. The top should be golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut into ½ inch slices.

Ultimate Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

• 12 pieces center-cut bacon

• 3 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced

• Lettuce

• 2 ripe avocados, flesh removed and sliced thinly

• Lemon dill mayonnaise (recipe below)

• Loaf of cheddar, bacon and chive bread, sliced and toasted

• Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and line bacon evenly on the tray. Cook the bacon in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes until the bacon is cooked through and crispy. Remove from oven and place bacon on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up excess grease.

To assemble sandwiches, toast slices of bread. Spread lemon dill mayonnaise on one slice of bread. On the other slice of bread layer slices of avocado and tomato. Salt and pepper the tomatoes. Layer on lettuce and two slices of bacon. Top with the lemon dill mayonnaise bread and lightly press the sandwich together. Repeat as necessary. One loaf of bread should make between 6 and 8 sandwiches depending on how thinly the bread is sliced.

Lemon Dill Mayonnaise

• ½ cup mayonnaise

• 1 teaspoon fresh dill, minced

• 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Pinch of salt

In a small bowl gently combine mayonnaise, dill, parsley, garlic and a pinch of salt. Squeeze the lemon over the mayonnaise and stir until well-combined. Store extras in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 3-5 days.

Tabbouleh Salad

School might be starting and Labor Day weekend is just days away but I’m not ready to give up on summer just yet. School or no school, I want to enjoy every drop of goodness summer has to offer. We drove up Chinook Pass and hiked the Naches Peak Loop trail. It’s been on my to-do list all summer long and even though it’s been smoky and hot, I convinced my family we should go anyway.

We ended up having the best day. We were able to see patches of blue sky through the haze and Mt. Rainier loomed large through the clouds. Huckleberry bushes lined the trail and we couldn’t resist snacking on a few as we walked along. The trail is a little over three miles and absolutely worth the drive up the pass. The wildflowers alone were worth the trip.

As we drove back down into the Valley, we cooled off in the Naches river, finding the perfect swimming hole to splash around in. We ended our day at Braun Yr Aur Brewery in Naches for pizza and cold beer. The kids threw the frisbee in the grass while we waited for our pies and we happily devoured them when they arrived, absolutely starving from a day well-spent.

And while I wouldn’t even try and compare this couscous salad to the amazingness of the Naches Loop Trail, I will say this: it is every good thing about summer in one bright, zesty, healthful bite. Couscous is mixed together with cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onion, olives and artichokes. Dressed very simply with lemon juice, a big handful of chopped herbs and salt and pepper it is the perfect side dish to bring to a barbecue over the Labor Day weekend or whip it up this weekend and enjoy as lunch all week long.

Tabbouleh Salad

• 1 ½ cups couscous, cooked

• ½ english cucumber, diced into ½ inch pieces

• ½ cup shredded carrots

• ½ red bell pepper, diced

• ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved

• 1 shallot, diced

• ½ cup Kalamata olives, halved

• ½ cup marinated artichoke hearts, diced

• 2 lemons, juice and zest

• 2 tablespoons chives, minced

• 2 tablespoons basil, minced

• 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced

• Salt and Pepper

Cook couscous according to package instructions. Allow to cool completely. Once cooled, use a fork to fluff the couscous. In the meantime, chop vegetables. Combine the vegetables and couscous in a large bowl. Zest one lemon and set aside. Juice both lemons over the mixture and add the lemon zest. Stir gently. Chop herbs and add to salad. Liberally salt and pepper. Cover salad with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

*One little tip: Use a teaspoon or two of the oil from the marinated artichokes and add it to the salad when you stir in the lemon juice. You don’t HAVE to add it, but it adds flavor to the salad.

Zucchini Bread with Dark Chocolate and Walnuts

My garden got off to a slow start this year. The dogs ate all the broccoli and cauliflower before I could harvest any of it and we accidentally overwatered our pumpkin vines to an untimely death.

The potatoes and tomatoes are a go and finally the zucchini plant, which you would think would be impossible to kill, is finally ramping up to full production. I picked the first two vegetables off the plant a few days ago and couldn’t resist making my favorite zucchini bread. This is a recipe my mother made for me when I was growing up. She clipped the recipe from the newspaper back in the eighties and still makes it today. Now I make it for my kids and the tradition continues.

This recipe makes a giant loaf and it can be deceiving because the crust gets very dark and you might worry it’s burning or drying out, but it doesn’t. The crust is a little bit crispy and the inside is moist and delicious. I like to add dark chocolate chips and toasted walnuts for crunch and texture but don’t feel like you have to follow suit. Often, I split the recipe between two smaller loaf pans and make one the way I like it and the other with nothing extra for my kids who love the chocolate but don’t like the nuts. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Zucchini Bread with Dark Chocolate and Walnuts

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bread pan with parchment paper or coat it in cooking spray. Beat eggs and oil for 2-3 minutes until creamy in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add sugar and mix for another minute. Add zucchini and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together all dry ingredients. Slowly combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients until well-combined. Stir in chopped walnuts and dark chocolate. Pour batter into bread pan and bake for one hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into the center of the bread comes out clean.

*If the bread is getting too dark on top but not finished baking, fold a piece of tin foil in half and create a little ‘tent’ to cover the bread. It will continue cooking but the top won’t get overly brown.

Raspberry Nectarine Tart

I stopped in at Johnson Orchards last week to pick up a box of peaches and peek at what else was available. The white nectarines were calling my name and as I loaded up a bag to take home, my mind was racing as I thought of all the things I could make with them.

Of course, almost all of them were eaten over the kitchen sink, juice running down our hands, too lazy even to slice them up.

But the last couple nectarines were begging to be turned into something special. I needed a special dessert for a get together I was hosting and I had just the idea. I decided to make a batch of lemon scented shortbread cookie dough and shape it into a large rectangle. I baked it until it was lightly golden brown and the house smelled of sugar and lemon. I whipped up a frosting with unsalted butter, a little cream cheese, vanilla and more lemon zest. I slathered the giant cookie with the frosting and topped it all with those glorious nectarines, some raspberries, and a tiny bit of mint from my garden. And just to be a little fancy, I added a few nasturtium blossoms, also from my garden, which technically are edible.

The dessert was light but so wonderfully decadent at the same time. I cut the pieces into thin rectangles to serve and before I knew it the entire thing was gone. I was admittedly a little obsessed, so I made the recipe again a few days later. This time I just piled the top with fresh blueberries and a little more lemon zest. It was perfection.

Use this recipe as a guide but feel free to play around and make it to your preferences. Don’t like lemon? Skip it. Have blackberries growing in your yard? Use those. My only recommendation is to use fresh fruit so the cookie stays crisp and doesn’t get soggy.

Peaches, strawberries, blueberries, nectarines and raspberries are all readily available right now and any combination will make a delicious and special treat.

Raspberry Nectarine Tart

For the cookie:

• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (2 sticks)

• ½ cup sugar

• ½ teaspoon almond extract

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• Zest of 1 lemon

• 1 ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until the butter mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, almond and lemon zest and mix to combine. Add the flour and pinch of salt all at once and mix on low until a crumbly dough comes together.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Working quickly, gather the dough and shape it into a rectangle about 14 inches long and ¼ inch thick. It helps to flour your hands when working with the dough. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the cookie is lightly golden brown and the center of the cookie is cooked through. Remove cookie from oven and set aside to cool.

For the frosting:

• ½ cup softened butter (1 stick)

• 4 ounces softened cream cheese

• 1 teaspoon vanilla

• Zest of 1 lemon

• 2 cups powdered sugar

Using an electric mixer, combine butter and cream cheese and beat until well-mixed. Add in vanilla and lemon zest and mix for another minute. On low speed, add in powdered sugar until frosting is smooth and creamy.

To assemble the dessert, generously frost the cookie making sure the entire cookie has a thick layer of frosting. Wash and slice two nectarines. Top the cookie with sliced nectarines and raspberries. Garnish the cookie with minced mint and nasturtium blossoms.

To serve, use a sharp knife to cut the cookie in half down the middle. Cut small rectangles from the two pieces.

My Favorite Guacamole

Last week the kids and I followed a very dusty dirt road for what felt like a very long time to get to Umtanum Creek Falls. The description online I found for the hike said it was an easy 3.5-mile hike roundtrip with views of a waterfall. What we didn’t know is that we could have driven to Ellensburg by way of the highway and simply taken the dirt road an easy five(ish) miles to our destination but we went the long way from Selah winding up the river canyon on the far west side, driving past ranches and fields and into a forest I had never seen before.

Unfortunately, the trail was dry, steep, full of snakes and where it wasn’t dry and steep it was stinky with stagnant water and very muddy. We ran from a swarm of bees we kicked up and Scarlet, my five-year-old daughter, slipped on a rock and fell straight into a giant muddy bog. We did see the waterfall though and the kids ran along the trail with friends, scrambling over logs and marveling at butterflies, grasshoppers and tiny little frogs they found along the stream.

We stopped for ice cream in Ellensburg on our way home and decided that while the hike itself was a bit of a bust, we were still happy we went.  It’s always good to go on an adventure, even when it involves bees, snakes and mud.

We also concluded that chips and guacamole, ice cold sprites and a margarita for mom was in order as soon as we got home. We were hot, tired and dirty; but nothing some guacamole couldn’t fix.

And lucky for us, I’ve got a killer guacamole recipe. I’m a little bit of a purist in that personally, I don’t prefer onions or tomatoes in my guacamole. I do however like big bright flavor and I get that from a big handful of cilantro, the heat of a jalapeno, fresh chives and lots of lime and lemon juice. A generous sprinkle of coarse se salt at the end gives the dip a little crunch and texture and balances out the flavors. If you like a little texture to your guacamole with onions or tomatoes, then use this recipe as a starting point and add what you like to make it perfect for you. But don’t skip the lemon juice, that’s the secret ingredient.

Guacamole

• 4 ripe avocados

• 1/3 cup cilantro, minced

• 3 tablespoons chives, minced

• 1-2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Juice of 2 limes, or to taste

• ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

• Pinch of ground black pepper

In a bowl, scoop out the flesh of the avocados. Add the cilantro, chives and jalapenos. Use a fork to mash down the avocados and combine the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and lime juice and a pinch of salt. Stir again until the guacamole is smooth and well-combined. Garnish with coarse sea salt and black pepper. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.