Nature’s candy in a pie

Posted: September 28th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
I wanted more crust, right?

I wanted more crust, right?

Yes. That’s another pie. To boot, it’s even another peach pie. What makes this post new and exciting? It’s brought to you by roux. No way, roux in a pie? YES. ROUX IN A PIE. Roux in a pie solving my blueberry pie problem and cementing itself a place in my permanent repertoire.

If you recall, my blueberry pie was both watery and floury. It was the worst of both–thin and liquid and with a strong flour taste. What could be worse? The burnt crust, maybe. But, determined to produce pie perfection, I persevered.  My reward was a peach pie with a thick and flavorful sauce and a golden crust. I don’t want to gush too much, though, so this post will be short and sweet. My preening done, I’ll pass on my recipe:

  • Crust for a two-crust pie (see “Sweet Success“)
  • 5 cups peaches (roughly–I always estimate), sliced and peeled
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • cinnamon & nutmeg to taste–I use more nutmeg than cinnamon but it’s up to you. 1/2 tsp. each is a good jumping-off point.

For the roux, I just melted the butter in a saucepan and added in the flour, cooking for…under a minute, anyway, at medium heat. I added that to the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl, and mixed it with my hands until the roux had melted the sugar and everything was smoothly incorporated and the peaches were covered. I can’t tell you how long I baked it, but it was at 425 until the peaches were tender and the crust was golden. It really depends on how ripe the peaches are.

Once the pie was done, I actually let it set up a bit this time, and served it with vanilla ice cream. Coming back for seconds, I was delighted to have to split the last piece with my aunt, and then have Matt ask if he couldn’t just have one more little bite of mine.

And that, I would say, is a compliment.


Praise me like you should

Posted: September 22nd, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
Can't get enough

Eat your heart out

I can be….slightly jealous. Territorial, maybe. Nothing major–I don’t make public scenes and throw things and embarrass myself. But when I feel threatened, I tend to make it known. How does this relate to cooking, you ask? The answer is, of course, cookies.

I love baking cookies. I consider myself quite capable in the cookie arena, from my classic chocolate chip cookies to my iced orange cookies. I make a killer snickerdoodle and I can’t even be falsely modest about how awesome my chewy sugar cookies are. So when people encourage me to bake for them less, citing reasons like their quickly-expanding waistlines, I get a little bummed. Sure, it can be a compliment–my baked goods are so irresistable the recipients overindulge regardless of diet. But it’s also a let-down. I LOVE baking. Nothing makes me happier than feeding someone and hearing how much they enjoyed being fed. I thrive on praise.

My boyfriend, Matt, is pretty good about the praise. He could certainly be a bit more enthusiastic, but he does tend to say, “That’s good,” every time I make him something. He’s not as effusive as my bosses, who tend to exclaim every time they come home to something new that I am both wonderful and soso terrible for tempting them. He’s certainly a step up from my brother, though, who has even claimed the flan I baked him was “cakey.”

This weekend, however, I almost killed him.

We went to a farmer’s market, and sampled the bounty. Everything from lentil soup to basil gelato, passionfruit chocolate to fresh mozzarella–all the things I enjoy at the market because I either cannot or will not make them myself. When we came to a cookie table neatly displaying organic cookies and cookie mixes (”just add oil and water”), I kept going. What’s the point in paying six dollars for a couple cookies, or, even worse, a bag of flour, sugar, and baking powder? For me, none. However, I was forced to watch, horrified, as Matt not only sampled a cookie, but proceeded to BUY some.

That’s right. He told me to stop baking for him so much, and then he bought someone else’s cookies. I was livid. Not only were the cookies overpriced, but they were simply oatmeal raisin. Had I not made him oatmeal raisin cookies? Had I not proved to be a competent oatmeal raisin baker? It was an insult. A slap in the face. He was, dare I say, cheating on me.

That night, his cookie lust still unsatisfied (take THAT farmer’s market cookies), we made a late-night run to the grocery store and half an hour of zesting, juicing, rolling, and baking later, he was testing out a new oat/flour ratio on my orange oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries and enjoying the leftover fresh-squeezed orange juice from the recipe.

And, based on the yummy noises and sheer quantity consumed, I can officially tally this as:

Adi: 1 Farmer’s market cookies: 0


Sometimes, I want to be like you

Posted: September 15th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »
I wish I could say I shared this

I wish I could say I shared this

I get inspired by a lot of things. Books make me want to write, scenes make me want to take photos, faces make me want to draw, and food makes me want to cook. Usually the inspiration is beyond anything I could create, and I am satisfied to  make my own variation on the theme, flawed as it might be. Being able to, at least in part, have some of the greatness transferred into something of my own is enough for me. This time, it struck here, on Pretty Girls.

It was all the excitement surrounding our own Improviser’s Pumpkin-White Cheddar Mac & Cheese. Gooey cheese? Hearty pasta?  Nutmeg and cumin?? I was inspired. I was also house-bound and had limited supplies, so I took a different page from Josie’s book and improvised. Rather than test Josie’s recipe as our Triple Threat did, or follow the ever-delightful Ina Garten’s mac & cheese recipe like our Test Kitchen, I made something a little more on-the-fly and a little more everyday. My bread crumbs were Wonderbread, my cheese was a mixture of swiss, parmesan, and cheddar, and my macaroni was actually ziti.

Regardless of its shortcomings, it was exactly what I needed. I made a roux and stirred in the shredded cheese to melt it, along with a splash or two of milk, boiled the macaroni, and pan-fried the crumbs in butter. I did manage to include the nutmeg and cumin, however, and some sliced tomato finished it off nicely. I set it to bake at 425 until the cheese bubbled and the bread crumbs browned, and then gorged. I would give you a recipe, but a) I didn’t use one, b) I didn’t measure anything, and c) you really should use one of the above recipes, instead. Gruyere and pumpkin make much more flavorful dishes than mine.

The good news is, my craving was satisfied. The bad news is, now I need to perfect it.


Efficient and divine

Posted: August 20th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »
Char=GOOD

Char=GOOD

I love fire. I think it’s great. I love smoke and char and the smell and taste of things cooked over a flame. Being a vegetarian, you’d think my options would be limited. True, veggie dogs and burgers don’t quire pick up the grill flavor like the meat versions do, but think of this–grilled onions, peppers, pineapple. Grilled pizza. Oh yes. Summer’s best friend. I’ve made grilled pizza over a charcoal grill before, and while the taste was decent, my crust didn’t fully bake through and I ended the evening with watery eyes and a nasty cough. Therefore, I am suggesting that any who try this, try it with a gas grill.

First off, pizza dough. I haven’t found a perfect crust recipe yet, so I’ll invite you to use your favorite rather than offering one up. Every time I make pizza I use a different recipe in my search for THE crust. The crust is going to get crispy no matter what, so I wouldn’t over-think it too much. And by the way, if YOU have the perfect crust recipe, please. I’m begging you–SHARE. I like a New York style crust. Thin and chewy. I make it thicker for the grill for ease of handling, but otherwise, the thinner the better.

Once your dough is ready, make it into SMALL pizzas. Think about it–do you want to be flipping a sixteen-inch crust with nothing but a spatula and tongs? Probably not. I make mine about eight inches across and lay them out on a board so they’re ready to go once the grill is hot. And by hot, I mean HOT. I cranked our grill all the way up and got temperatures exceeding 650. This makes a very nice charred flavor.

When the crusts are ready to go, bring them out with all your toppings. I did plain cheese, a margherita, one with grilled mushrooms, peppers, and onions, one with grilled pineapple… The best thing to do is to grill the toppings first so they’re ready when you are. If they cool down, no stress. They’ll heat back up–trust me! Throw a couple crusts on  the bottom rack and close the top. Depending on how hot your grill gets, these will be done in several seconds to a few minutes. It REALLY varies. Just keep peeking on them and keep track so you know for the next ones. When they’re nice and brown with a good char in spots, flip them over (I like to use tongs for this), move them to the TOP rack, and add your toppings. Don’t go crazy or nothing will cook properly–if you’re using mostly grilled toppings you’re safe, but piling on anything cold is going to give you an unsatisfactory result. Close up the grill and leave it a bit longer this time. The cheese isn’t going to bubble as well as in an oven, so don’t wait for that unless you like your crust closer to charcoal than bread, but it will get some pretty black spots and melt nicely. Use your personal taste here–my sister’s ideal pizza has barely a touch of black on it, whereas my dad will be happy with an entirely charred bottom. I’m somewhere in the middle, enjoying nice dark grill marks and charred edges on an otherwise golden crust.

As for toppings, anything goes. I think anything grilled works best because it keeps the flavors smoky, and I’m a fan of smoky, but really, anything you like on your pizza works. Just remember to keep it simple, and keep an eye on it. Your dog may thank you for the overcooked pizza, but your guests are just going to be ticked.


Rising up to the challenge of our rivals

Posted: August 13th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
There's more where that came from..

There's more where that came from..

What do you do when it’s 10:30pm, you’re in your pyjamas, and you’ve just spent over an hour making éclairs, only to realize you’re out of chocolate and the only store open is a 24-hour gas station?

The answer to that goes a long way towards proving what kind of baker you are. If your answer is like mine, get dressed and buy chocolate bars!, chances are you’re a) Obsessed and b) Insane. The good news is, you’re not alone.

Inspiration comes in all forms, but the simplest when it comes to cooking is seeing someone else’s success and wanting to replicate it. The sincerest form of flattery and all that. When someone on my Facebook posted his photos of éclairs, my first thought was “Waaaaaaaant!” Then I realized, I’d never made them. Nor had I made ANY kind of choux pastry, and when I considered it, it seemed….kind of scary. I mean, French pastry. It’s a bit HUGE, isn’t it? But, being who I am, I immediately decided it was time to face my fear head-on, in the form of deliciousness.

First up, custard for the filling. I heat two cups milk in a double boiler over water which was at a slow boil, then sifted  in 1/4 cup white sugar and 1 tablespoon corn starch. While it heated I beat two eggs until pale and then added about a half a cup of the milk to the eggs, whisking the entire time and adding the hot milk very slowly. Once the eggs were tempered, I added the egg & milk mixture into the double boiler with the rest of the milk, again…very slowly, and stirring the entire time.  (Otherwise, you WILL scramble your yolks. ICK.) This has to come to a slow boil so it will thicken. Once it has, take it off the heat, cover it in plastic wrap (directly on the surface so it won’t form a skin) and refrigerate it.

While that cooled, I made the dough. On the stove I put a cup of water and half a cup butter, brought it to a boil, then turned it to low and sifted in a cup of flour. Mix this vigorously until it forms a ball, and then take it off the stove and beat in four eggs separately. Try not to do like I did and beat it so vigorously that a glop flies out onto the floor, though.

Once it’s all incorporated, spoon it into a pastry bag (or directly onto a greased cookie sheet). I made mine about an inch wide and four inches long using the pastry bag. The dough slips a bit on the cookie sheet, so I used my finger to stop the dough from sliding right off or making a super-skinny éclair. These should be baked at 450 for fifteen minutes, and then at 325 for about twenty minutes more. My recipe said they should be done when the bottoms, when tapped with a knife, sound hollow, but they still looked underbaked inside when I took them out then–just use your best judgement. You obviously don’t want them too dry because then, well. They’re too dry.

Remove them from the pan to a wire cooling rack, and slice open the tops to vent the steam. While those cool, make the icing from three ounces chocolate, two tablespoons butter, a cup of confectioner’s sugar, two tablespoons of milk, and a teaspoon vanilla. I just microwaved the chocolate and butter and then stirred in everything else in, but you can do stovetop if you’re worried about burning your chocolate. Make sure to pay attention to your consistency here–if you like a thicker, fudgier, icing, you may want to omit the milk.

Once that was done I basically sat around drooling and waiting for everything to cool. Thankfully it did before I ate my own arm off in anticipation, and I spooned the custard into the pastry (through the vents) and then covered the tops (and the vents!) with chocolate. Some recipes I saw said to vent the sides, but this makes no sense to me. Not only would the custard be more likely to leak out the side, but on top the slit is easily disguised by chocolate. Who wants a great big slit in their gorgeous éclair??

I left them on the racks so the chocolate could harden and admired my handiwork. Looking at them, so perfectly imperfect and golden-brown, I felt a distinct surge of pride. I’d been intimidated, and I’d powered through. I attacked a completely unknown recipe and I succeeded. And the best part? Succeeding means that now I have fresh éclairs to eat.


Sweet Success

Posted: August 3rd, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 7 Comments »
Pictures wait, eating comes first

Pictures can wait, eating comes first!

After the blueberry pie disappointment, I was determined to try again. After prodding Matt to pick a type of pie, he decided on peach, and though I’ve never baked a peach pie before, I went with it. I am SO glad I did. This pie was perfect. The only thing I can conceivably say was wrong with it is that it could have used more crust. The fresh peaches, twelve large ones, all peeled, sliced, drained, and sweetened with a cup of sugar, were still slightly firm and had just a hint of tartness. I added about a quarter cup of flour, some fresh-ground nutmeg and cinnamon, and called it done. The crust was that gloriously easy-to-remember halving crust–four parts flour, two parts butter, one part ice water. The END. I went with two cups flour, one cup butter, and a bit less than half a cup of ice water. Crust takes practice, but really, the main rule is just not to overdo it. It will crumble at the edges. It will fall apart if you aren’t careful. It will look like a mess and you will worry it’s awful, but when it bakes your faith will be handsomely rewarded. In the picture it looks a little watery, I know. That’s because I ate this STRAIGHT from the oven, and gave it no time to set. This is a no-no, but I don’t care. I wanted my pie and I wanted it NOW. It melted the whipped cream but ohhh it was divine.

And because I got a lot of “ACK PIE CRUST IS SCARY” notes last time, here’s exactly how I make crust:

1. Measure two cups of flour into a mixing bowl, and refrigerate. I never time this, I just toss it in and then work on something else for a while. In this case it was slicing peaches. Drop a couple ice cubes into a glass of water and stick that in the fridge, too. Don’t worry about measuring it yet. The butter should stay in the fridge, also.

2. Cut the butter into chunks, handling as little as possible. I don’t have a good pastry cutter so this speeds up the two-knives method considerably. (If you have a pastry cutter, don’t worry about it.) Using the backs of two butter knives, scissor the chunks of butter into bits. Coarse meal or baby peas are good images to keep in mind. If the bowl starts to feel room temperature, throw it back in the fridge. You can do this as often as you like–there’s no chemical reaction here to slow down or mess up or anything, and the colder your butter is, the flakier your crust will be.

3. Once the butter is cut, drizzle on some of the ice water. Using a fork, toss the dough until the water is absorbed. It shouldn’t stick together in a ball, but it should create bigger chunks than you had with just the butter. You can always add more, but you can never add less. For good measure, stick this back in the fridge and finish the filling.

4. Roll out, one crust at a time. The amounts given will be plenty for a two-crust pie, with bits left over so you can make cinnamon and sugar snacks. Roll the crust GENTLY, and don’t overwork it. I repeat: DON’T OVERWORK IT. Like I said, it WILL crumble at the edges. It’s better too crumbly than overworked. It should end up about a quarter-inch thick.

5. Roll your dough onto your rolling pin, and transfer to the pie pan. If you’re worried about a soggy crust, brush it with a little bit of beaten egg and bake it on its own for a few minutes. If not, fill it up and dot your filling with butter, then top it and brush the top crust with more beaten egg. I never use a whole egg, but I have a dog, so that works out ;) You can also sprinkle your crust with a little sugar, which is pretty but unnecessary.

6. Bake for ten minutes at 450, then decrease to 350 and finish baking (another half hour or so, depending). I don’t know why. I just know it works. If the edges start to get too brown, just wrap them in tinfoil. If you’re afraid of burning yourself, have someone else do it. I’ve been burned so many times I hardly feel it any more.

If you do this, I PROMISE you will have a crust you love. Matt was one of those people who left his crust on his plate and ate the filling of the pie. After a slice of this peach pie, he was a convert. If you are someone who’s just not that impressed by pastry, DO THIS. You will amaze yourself. I know it seems daunting. I know you’re afraid. But it is soooooo worth it. And if the lattice is too scary? Don’t do it! I saw a gorgeous crust that was pseudo-lattice–thicker strips in the middle, thinner on the outside, and no weaving. Another great way is with a cookie cutter–pick a shape, cut out pieces, and just lay them on top of the filling. Some overlapping is fine, but too much will cause the crust not to bake. I’ve seen this with a leaf shape that looked especially gorgeous for a Thanksgiving pie.

And for extra oomph, make your own whipped cream. It’s not hard, at ALL (unless you’re using square tupperware), and it tastes a million times better than from the store. All you do is whisk heavy cream and add vanilla (or almond, which I prefer) extract and sugar to taste. I like to use confectioner’s sugar because it’s not grainy, but be careful because it’s easy to add too much.

And please. SHARE! I would absolutely love to hear your stories and see photos.

Good luck Pretty Girls and Boys!


Forget your perfect offering

Posted: July 20th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 6 Comments »
Imperfection can still be delicious

Imperfection can still be delicious

Nothing is perfect. I want it to be, sometimes I feel it HAS to be, but nothing I’ve made, ever, is truly perfect.

I owed my mom and sister a pie. They called me last week asking if I would make a blueberry pie but I was over my friend’s house and even baking can’t lure me away from hot tubbin’ with the bestie. I promised a rain check and today, I made good.

I started off with the same crust recipe we’ve been using for years. Lacking a decent pastry cutter I used the two knives method* and cut 3/4 cup butter into 2 cups of flour in a chilled mixing bowl, and added enough ice-cold water (using a fork to fluff, not stir) to create a dough, then wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for an hour. At the end of the hour I threw together five cups of blueberries, 3/4 cup sugar, two tablespoons of cornstarch and two of flour, and then rolled out the dough. I filled the bottom crust, dotted with chunks of butter, and rolled out the top crust and sliced to make a lattice.

Knives Akimbo!

Knives Akimbo!

Napping

Napping

Such potential

Such potential

An egg wash later I baked the pie at 400 for about forty minutes, until the bottom looked golden and the top, well….

Here’s where the “nothing is perfect” comes in. I had neglected two things–to drain some of the liquid off the berries because they were frozen, not fresh, and to see if we had aluminum foil. The liquid is self-explanatory–my pie is a *bit* wet, and as for the aluminum foil, well. Usually I wrap the edges of a pie in foil because they cook more quickly than the rest of the pie, but ALAS we’re out. The recipe, also, was flawed. The filling has too strong a flour taste. Next time I will be trying tapioca instead of flour.

But overall, it’s tasty. The familial consensus is tasty. The nibbles I made from the leftover crust–brushed with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar–are delicious, flaky, and golden. I’m just sad that all the potential this pie had–wild blueberries, the never-fail crust–turned into something less than perfect. And yes, everything is less than perfect.

But the next pie, well. Tomorrow I’m stocking up on aluminum foil.

*Mostly I stab the butter a lot to amuse myself and then get to work scissoring the butter knives until the butter is similar to coarse meal.


Making Do

Posted: July 13th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »
Fried to perfection

Fried to perfection

At the boy’s house, cooking is an adventure. It’s like camping–you have a finite supply of tools and raw materials and you just make do or STARVE. Or, you know, order in, but where’s the fun in THAT? The good part of cooking here, however, is that a) he’s a vegetarian, too and b) his landlords have a rather extensive garden. Today the housekeeper caught me coming in from reading under a tree and offered me zucchini. YES PLEASE. If it’s fresh, I’ll pretty much take it. I’ve never been a huge fan of zucchini, but after tonight I may have to change my mind. A wander through his cookbooks led me to a recipe for eggplant patties and I figured, they’re related, right? Thus, dinner was born.

The recipe is basically two eggs, about two cups of bread crumbs (a cup and a half in the mixture and half a cup to coat), one small diced onion, a teaspoon of baking powder, and some seasoning. You boil the zucchini, mash it up in the other ingredients, form patties, roll them in crumbs, and fry it in some oil. They suggest a quarter cup but I cut that down after the first batch. I also used basil-infused olive oil to fry them where they suggested canola or somesuch nonsense. I mostly did this because I am easily swayed by anything which contains basil. Mmmmm….

To pair up with my hot and crispy noms, I boiled some pasta and Matt made a salad.

After dinner I fried up the rest of the batter to make sammiches with tomorrow (seriously, I love leftovers) and then I got the hankering to bake. Yeah, at an apartment without and oven. I don’t know how he does it. I have a gift card to Kohl’s so I even checked to see how much toaster ovens were. In the end inspiration struck in the form of a bunch of bananas–BANANAS FOSTER REQUIRES NO OVEN! So after much cajoling and badgering, he took me to the store and I picked up some vanilla ice cream, brown sugar, vanilla, cream, and a whisk. YEAH. I had to buy a WHISK. It’s like living in the dark ages, I swear. Except I bet -they- had whisks.

Back at his I set to work on the bananas–some butter and brown sugar in a pan, a banana sliced lengthwise, let it cook, VOILA–and then sought a bowl for my fresh whipped cream. Instead, I ended up with this:

making do

The horror!

Yeah. TUPPERWARE. Not even just Tupperware–RECTANGULAR tupperware.

I also forgot to take a photo of the Matt’s dish, which I made pretty, until after he’d eaten half of it, so use your imaginations, here:

Bananas Adi

Bananas Adi

Of course, now I’m STUFFED, but also raring to make dinner tomorrow, too. Hopefully I’m up to the challenge.


Of thee I sing

Posted: July 3rd, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 7 Comments »
Leftovers, oh YES.

Leftovers, oh YES.

The Fourth of July is a holiday. You know this already. Not that it matters to today’s noms, but it’s also my sister and brother-in-law’s anniversary. (Happy Anniversary M & E!) Before this, but somewhat after its other significance was established, yours truly made the best decision of her life and became who she is today–a vegetarian. This year, the Fourth is my twelfth ani-vege-versary, and though there have been slips and stumbles along the way, I have not consciously eaten meat in that time. Next year will be my halfway point, after which I will be a vegetarian longer than I wasn’t one. I may not look forward to much about turning twenty-six (man does that seem old) but for someone who can’t seem to stick to anything, it’s a victory.

In honor of this hallowed and momentous occasion, I am sharing a new recipe which I have adapted to be vegetarian. A friend of mine recently gave me a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala and, being the generous soul that I am, I’m passing it on. Because DAMN. Easy and oh-so-delish. The original can be found here, and mine is a simple enough adaptation–I substitute Quorn “Naked Cutlets” (how awesome is that name) for the chicken, chop them up, skipping the yogurt-and-broil step and inserting them early to warm them up. I call it “Chickem Tikka Masala”. Yep. Anyway I’m sure you COULD yogurt-and-broil them, but I made this at the oven-free domicile (sadly, yes, such a thing exists) of my boy, so my naan was also cooked stove-top and there was no cookie, cake, flan, dutch baby, tart, torte, pie, or otherwise oven-baked deliciousness to follow. Dammit.

My garam masala at my house, and his house lacking, we re-created the mixture on the original recipe. After eating, however, I made said boy his own toned-down version of the garam masala with less cayenne, as he was suffering slightly eating the dish. If you like things hot, it’s a keeper, but for those in the audience with a more sensitive palette, I suggest being careful with the cayenne.

Overall the dish was a hit, and the leftovers, too hot for boy, fed my mother and I for lunch. It makes a good-sized pot, plenty for four people, especially if there’s rice and naan involved, or for two people who love cold Indian the next day. Definitely worthy of a celebration, or just a quiet night in with some bad TV.


Dip a de doo dah

Posted: June 25th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 5 Comments »
Not quite the star of the party, but almost.

Not quite the star of the party, but almost.

I love parties. In college, I hated them. I avoided every drunken second of the parties at my school. But home, I would gleefully attend every family get-together we had. My family isn’t an obligation–they’re awesome. They’re hilarious, spontaneous, sarcastic, and, perhaps best of all, they COOK. Christmas is my favorite. We all get together at someone’s house–usually my aunt–and we all bring something. One aunt is famous for fresh bread and truffles. Another her Swedish meatballs and salads. My grandmother never fails to bring something fresh, healthy, and slightly bizarre, and if I were to show up without peanut butter balls there might be a riot. There is so much food, so lovingly prepared, that one could (and usually does) eat for weeks on the leftovers. I have never brought anyone to a family party without that person leaving amazed and jealous.

Over the summer, we have lower-scale parties. Extravagant desserts are replaced with cookies and brownies and the festive living rooms give way to picnic tables by the ocean. My grandmother still brings her fresh and healthy concoctions, my sister gets together something easy but delicious, and I either spend days agonizing over recipes, or whipping something up at the very last second which usually turns out better than the planned dish would.

This time was a last-second dish, made DURING a party. No, not just before, but actually during, after guests had arrived. The party was at my sister’s house and we had brought a loaf of bread fresh from our favorite bakery. There being nothing to serve it with, I was elected to rectify the situation. Some brainstorming later, after my sister demanded I use the last of her baby spinach, a dip was born. Sour cream mixed with a bit of mayo, the spinach and some chives diced finely, and a few dried herbs thrown in for good measure. Bread sliced and garnish prepared, a dish complete in less than five minutes.

Not just quick and easy, but also a huge hit.