Summer is finally here. It was touch and go there for a while with a cool May and a wet early June. I was starting to think the warm weather would never get here.

But now the humidity and heat are upon us and I couldn’t be more glad. Bring on the iced coffee, the gin and tonics, the grilled fish, and obligatory s’mores, the sunscreen, tan lines, flip flops and sunglasses.


I don’t cook much in the summer. Well, at least not inside. Too hot, and generally I’m too social in the summer to hang around the kitchen. I want to be outside as much as possible: at the beach, in my kayak, on vacation. When I do prepare a meal at home it’s usually something pulled together quickly, a salad or a small smorgasbord of cheese, crackers and other tidbits found in the fridge. Generally, that line-up also includes a pickle or two.

Pickles are one of my favorite things to much on when the weather gets hot. And I don’t just mean kosher baby dills. No ma’m. I’ll demolish jars of pickled okra, watermelon rind, and banana peppers. Dilly beans are  fair game, and quick pickled red onions make guest appearances. Until recently, giardiniera was a rare treat, saved for the occasional visit to Eastern Standard, which serves small bowls of the stuff as an amuse bouche of sorts. I always end up eating the whole thing and then unabashedly asking for seconds like some kind of bourgeois Oliver Twist. Hence I was thrilled when a friend gave me a copy of the America’s Test Kitchen DIY book, which contains a recipe for (among several other good-looking recipes) giardiniera.


If you’ve never had giardiniera, think of it as a pickle crudite, a mixture of cauliflower, carrots, onions, and celery with a hint of garlic and herbs.  Better for you than potato chips, the vegetables pack that same crunch and salt blast that makes snacking so satisfying. While canning and processing pickles can be a chore, these were surprisingly easy to make and have kept excellently in the back of my fridge for months (though the ATK book includes directions on how to process jars for long-term storage). I followed the directions below until it came time to put the veggies into the jars- then I got creative and added sprigs of thyme to one jar, juniper berries to another, and red pepper flakes to yet another. You should feel free to do the same.

When it comes to eating, these are great on their own, but I also use them to dress up salads, tacos, and sandwiches. And if you don’t think you can eat all these pickles yourself, the jars make great hostess gifts for summer gatherings. Much better than a six-pack of Bud Lite anyway.


(adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

1/2 head cauliflower (1 pound), cored and cut into 1/2-inch florets
3 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 celery ribs, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 onion, sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 3/4 c. white wine vinegar
2 1/4 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or canning salt)
optional: dill, thyme, juniper berries, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes
Combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile cut vegetables, and mix together if desired, or layer into mason jars, packing as tightly as possible. Add herbs or spices if desired, and then when vinegar mixture is boiled ladle into jars leaving 1/4-inch head space. Process, if desired, or store in the refrigerator.

foodie gifts

Just back from Vermont! I have tons to write about, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ve been fortunate to receive a few neat food-type trinkets recently, one of the perks to having everyone know you’re crazy about food. The first is a pin that my colleague Max brought back from the SXSW conference for me. I’m guessing it came from a site like Food Gawker or something, but it doesn’t say. Since I now have more pictures of food on my computer than I do of my family, it seemed appropriate.

And this is one of the gifts that by bestie, Erin, brought back from her “vacation” in Japan. They’re hard candies shaped like sushi, and they’re so cute I don’t know if I can eat them.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that Erin and her husband were in Japan when the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster hit. As they’re both reporters, continuing their vacation didn’t seem to be an option, so they headed north and spent several grueling days covering the story. You can read her wonderful, heartbreaking account here (warning, you might cry).

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to put a smile on my face. Much thanks to Max and Erin!

The Christmas spirit

Oh it’s December! There’s no snow yet, but our little tree is on display and I’m more excited about Christmas this year than I have been in a long, long time.

There’s so many things going on this year… many of which I’ll be sharing with you here. This week in particular is packed. Tonight, I saw David Chang of Momofuku speak at Harvard. Tomorrow, I’m off to the Science of Cooking finals. Wednesday I’m planning to go to an event at Whole Foods on affordable entertaining and Thursday is a Geoff & Drew’s cookie tasting at Clover Food Lab. Add to that holiday parties with friends, alumni groups and colleagues… Busy, busy! But so fun. This is actually one of the things I love most about the season- celebrating friends and making new ones.

One of the things I like least about the season is buying gifts- I never know what to get people. Or what to tell people to get me.The internet is full of lists for what to get chefs, home cooks etc, but most of them are kind of niche gadgets. And if you’re like me, your kitchen is already full of gadgets that get pulled out just a few times a year…I don’t need a garlic peeler, a panini grill or even a cookbook. I already have a Kitchen Aid, a rice cooker and a Cuisinart. Instead, here are a few gifts that I don’t think you can go wrong with, suitable for a veteran cook or a neophyte.

1. Cooking class. I love stepping out of my comfort zone and learning new tricks and techniques, and I’m constantly updating and adding to my list of restaurants/hotels/institutions that offer cooking classes. What’s great about this is that a cooking class can fit almost any budget, diet or timeframe. Opt an affordable after work cooking class at the BCAE, or a week-long culinary bootcamp at The Essex in Vermont. In Boston, Stir, Formaggio Kitchen and Boston University all offer classes/events that I would love to attend.  Further afield, there’s  Salt Water Farm, and Claddagh Farms (home of duckfest AND porkshop, both of which I dream about).  This weekend I’m headed to King Arthur’s Baking Education Center, a gift from a wonderful aunt who will be attending with me.

2. Kitchen/tea towels. Sure, it sounds cheesy, but towels are like the underwear of the kitchen. Necessary, but not something you want to go out and spend money on. My towels take the brunt of the abuse in my kitchen, mopping up spills, acting as makeshift pot holders and hand wipes. A towel doesn’t last last 24 hours near my stove without getting stained- or worse (I have set a few on fire). So it’s always a delight to get pretty, clean, new ones. Etsy is a great place to start if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, though these from Target would be just fine as well.

3. A gym membership. No, you’re not calling me fat. With all the cooking and eating I do, working out is essential if I want to fit into my pants. And it’s not just about looking good… I want to be healthy. Much of my time is spent indulging, so I try to balance it off with some sweat at the gym. Besides, nothing tastes better than a cold beer after a long run.

4. A meat, fish or vegetable share. Remember last year when I joined a CSF and cooked fish every week? It was a great way to explore cooking and get out of my comfort zone (though I did get tired of cod after a while). The foodie in your life likely scours town for the best stuff available. Make it easy by having it delivered to their door (or close to it).  You can get a round up on areas CSAs here, while there’s info on meat and fish shares here. Not what you’re looking for? Put in a call to a local farm. If they don’t have a CSA, they may know a farmer who does. Bonus for you: you’ll likely score a dinner invite.

5. Something to drink. One of my favorite dinner guests always shows up with a nice bottle of wine or interesting spirit to try (sometimes both!). And I’m always tickled by the gesture- I think its thoughtful when people go to the trouble to pick out something that goes with the meal or that they think I’ll enjoy. Not sure where to start? Seek out a local liquor store that cares about wine and spirits (like the Wine & Cheese Cask in Somerville) and ask for some help. Most places are happy to give you some pointers and work with your budget.

Of course, there are tons of other gifts that I’m sure my culinary-minded friends would love to receive. Feel free to leave a comment below with your recommendations.