Easy breezy summer salad: Avoca roasted peppers and chickpeas

Avoca Salad

Like anything worth its while, blogging is one of those adventures that takes time, work and tinkering to really find your groove and get things exactly how you like them. Of course, then another few months go by, and you’ve changed your mind entirely. It’s the mark of any creative endeavor I suppose. Switcheroos and tinkering are just part of the territory.

This recipe is a remake of one that I posted when Splash of Something first began, back in the olden days of 2010, when I was but a wee lass typing away from our happy two-bedroom abode in Columbia, Mo. Oh, how life changes in two and a half years. But that’s another story. This is the story of a salad.

Avoca Salad 3

Avoca Salad 2

A few weeks back, during one of my periodic tinkering-with-the-blog-design sessions, I added the dandy little widget at the right that features photos of the most popular posts of the day. For the most part, the widget is populated by more recent posts, which means the photos tend to blend nicely style-wise. The exception, however, has been the image of the original posting of this recipe, taken way back before we learned the merits of natural lighting, the importance of planning shots beforehand or the there-is-a-such-thing-as-too-close phenomenon of food photography. To be honest, it didn’t bother me when the old photo showed up. I like to think of the older images as just part of the progression. But poor Jared, who took the original photo, was haunted by it every time it showed up on the sidebar. “There it is again,” he’d say quietly, shaking his head in self-defeat. Then he’d walk sullenly into the distance.

Avoca Salad 4

No, no, it was never quite so dire. But I made a promise to make the salad again, and here I am making good on it.

The really wonderful thing about revisiting these old recipes is the chance to eat them again and dabble a bit until they’re even yummier than you left them. This is a summertime favorite that I’d all but forgotten about, and I’m so happy that Jared’s photo aversion could lead us back to something so delicious. If you’re looking for a simple summer salad, I hope you’ll give this one a try. I shall never let it fall out of rotation again!


Roasted Red Pepper and Chickpea Salad
Adapted slightly from Avoca Salads 

• 4 red peppers, cut in thick strips
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• juice of 1 lemon
• ¼ to ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 1 bunch scallions, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss red pepper strips in 2 tablespoons olive oil, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer peppers to a bowl, and cover.

Heat remaining olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and add chickpeas. Toss in the oil, and heat through for 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until spices lose their raw aroma. Season with salt and pepper as you go, and taste along the way.

Transfer chickpeas to a bowl, add pepper strips, and season with lemon juice. Add parsley and scallions, and toss.


How has your cooking/baking/blogging changed over the years? Are you apt to revisit old favorites, or are you all new, all the time? I’d love to hear about it!


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A reason for messes: 10-minute strawberry jam

Strawberry Jam4

I could talk on and on about the value of simplicity — simple ingredients, simple work, simple living — but sometimes, I can honestly say you just have to make a royal mess of things to appreciate a job well done. Last night, while I scrubbed a few dishes and Jared helped tend to a bubbling pot of fruit and sugar, I thought to myself how lovely and simple the evening felt compared to the past few weeks. The thought barely escaped my mind when, quite suddenly, that bubbling pot turned into a red hot spring of craziness, spewing very boiling and very staining liquid from one end of the kitchen to the other.

Strawberry Jam6

Now I don’t know if it’s because I was watching 19 Kids and Counting at the time (the Duggars have a strangely calming effect on me) or because I slept a full eight hours the night before, but rather then send me into the typical stress-filled cleaning frenzy, this volcano of sticky preserves only fueled my satisfaction in the entire jam-making process. What is jam without the mess anyway? A sugary fruit mash at best. The real secret is in the chaos.

Strawberry Jam

Oh, and good croissants. The other secret is good croissants. Few things are more delicious than homemade jam on bakery-made pastry, and we’re fortunate to have an awesome German bakery nearby. Next time you’re cruising around Durham, be sure to check out Guglhupf. And order a few extra cherry Danish to take home because, well, you need no excuse.

Strawberry Jam5

So back to the jam. This super simple recipe, which I happened upon while browsing one of my sister’s Pinterest boards (hey, gurl!), is a mere three ingredients long and takes little more than a bit of active stirring to get the job done. Yes, it might leave an impressive mess in its wake, but as noted earlier, that’s part of the process. It’s all worth it. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I was cooking with some exceptionally fervent strawberries, and perhaps the tamer varieties are less likely to bubble so enthusiastically. But I’m no scientist. Just a girl who’s a few splatters short of a clean kitchen.


Strawberry Jam3

Simple Strawberry Jam
From Martha Stewart

• 1 ½ pounds hulled strawberries
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Place the strawberries in a food processor, and pulse until they’re coarsely chopped. Transfer the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice to a large skillet, and stir until combined.

Cook the strawberries over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the jam is thickened and bubbles cover the surface, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the jam to a jar (or two small jars), and allow it to cool to room temperature. Jam may be kept sealed in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Strawberry Jam2


In case it helps put the flavor or texture into perspective, my mom says this strawberry goodness sounds a lot like the freezer jam my grandma used to make all the time. It’s sweet but not overly sweet like the store-bought stuff, and there’s plenty of zing from the generous bit of lemon juice. And we’re just jumping into strawberry season, so now’s the time to jam away! Just don’t forget those croissants!


Forget the French fries: Salt and vinegar potatoes

Vinegar Potatoes3

I love recipes that take a bit of work to put together, the kind that use a ridiculous amount of kitchenware, loads of ingredients and a fair amount of time before they even reach the oven. There’s something so satisfying about all that work, both in the finished dishes you’ve created and the chaos they leave behind. In cooking and baking, you take the good with the bad. And fantastic flavor is almost always worth a fantastic mess.

Although it’d be great to have the time and energy to cook in a mess-filled fury on a daily basis, life is a busy thing, and sometimes I’m just too exhausted to battle the flying flour and grease spots a remarkable meal might bring. For those days, I’m thankful for recipes that strive for awesomeness despite their simplicity. And if one of said recipes only takes a bowl and a foil-covered baking sheet to get the job done, then, whew. You had me at foil-covered baking sheet.

Vinegar Potatoes

I promise I’m not exaggerating when I say these potatoes are amazing, and I love that it takes so little work to get them there. We’ve had them three times in the past two weeks, and though the first time I made them I went sans foil and was left with a miserably messy baking sheet afterward (it was a long day, so my mess appreciation was probably lacking its usual gusto), I’ve since gone the foil route with no sacrifice to the wonderfully crisp texture that only screaming hot roasting can achieve. Jared suggested we try them again with spicy Cajun seasoning in lieu of the thyme and rosemary, so that’s going on the docket soon.


Vinegar Potatoes6

Salt and Vinegar Potatoes with Rosemary and Thyme
Adapted slightly from Savoring the Thyme

• 1 pound baby Yukon potatoes, washed, dried and cut in half
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/3 cup rice vinegar
• ¾ to 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
• ¾ to 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Add the potatoes and stir until the potatoes are well coated. Let the potatoes marinade in the olive oil and vinegar for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Add the rosemary, thyme, salt and olive oil to the potatoes and toss to combine. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to the baking sheet, and arrange them in a single layer (more breathing space makes for crispier potatoes, so if you’re doubling the recipe, be careful not to overcrowd your pan). It’s fine if some of the extra marinade makes it onto the baking sheet when you’re transferring the potatoes, but don’t add more than what comes through the spoon.

Roast the potatoes for 20 minutes, then give them a quick toss on the baking sheet. Continue roasting for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Vinegar Potatoes8


What are your favorite no-nonsense, low-mess, whip-them-up-in-a-snap recipes? Have you had any truly amazing messes to contend with recently that brought along even more amazing meals? I’d love to hear about them!


Worth a second chance: The meatball sandwich

Meatball Sandwich

While surfing Pinterest on Saturday afternoon, I came across a DIY tutorial for turning a men’s collared shirt into a super cute women’s top, complete with an adorable bow around the neck. Like many pins, it came with the overly enthusiastic sell, something like: “SO TOTES EASY! Turn your man’s shirt into a cute weekend look for you. This is AMAZING! Pin now, read later.” Apparently, I’m an easy sell. That, or I was simply wooed by the promise of a chambray polka dot blouse. Either way, I showed the pin to Jared, who was sitting on the couch next to me. “Um, OK,” he said, less than enthusiastically. “But where are you supposed to find a guy’s shirt like that?” Alas, albeit for a few spotted ties, the man does not dress in polka dots.

I’m a sucker for second chances, and though I probably wouldn’t have actually broken out the scissors even if Jared did have a polka dot chambray shirt hidden away in the back of the closet, I do love the idea of putting a new spin on an old favorite. My mom spent most of my childhood transforming secondhand furniture into amazing new pieces with little more than paint. And my little sister could probably wear the same outfit five days in row with no one the wiser simply by wielding her accessorizing super power. If paint and necklaces have taught me anything, it’s that sometimes it doesn’t take much to make you feel — and look — brand new.


With neither shirts to deconstruct nor furniture to paint this weekend, I turned my attention toward the kitchen, which, suffice it to say, is always looking rather hollow by the end of week. There were a few handfuls of spinach, provolone cheese and meatballs leftover from Friday night’s spaghetti. “Make it work,” Tim Gunn said. No, wait, that wasn’t Tim Gunn. That was low blood sugar. The characters of my hunger-induced delirium are always rather bossy.

Real or not, I think Mr. Gunn would be proud. Jared ran out and picked up a few rolls from our favorite Durham bakery, Guglhupf. Then from the confines of our humble supplies, the meatball sandwich was born.



The Meatball Sandwich

• meatballs (see recipe here)
• marinara sauce
• provolone cheese
• a handful of fresh baby spinach
• freshly ground black pepper
• good bread

Heat the meatballs until they’re warm enough to serve. Layer a bed of spinach, three or four meatballs, a bit of marinara sauce and a thin slice of provolone on a piece of good bread. Pop both halves of the bread (the layered piece and the empty topper) under the broiler until the edges begin to brown and the cheese melts. Add some freshly ground black pepper, put the sandwich together, and enjoy!



What’s your take on new spins? Do you reinvent recipes? Outfits? Décor? I’d love to hear about it!


On top of spaghetti: Fast and easy meatballs

While making a grocery list yesterday, I took a minute to peruse the recipe index on the blog for a few meal ideas for the upcoming week. During said search, two facts become abundantly clear: No. 1, we eat a lot of cookies. And No. 2, if our lives took place in Land Before Time, we’d be on Team Tree Stars.

Let this post be a break from the norm! (And proof to our respective parents that we do, in fact, consume protein on occasion.) Jared and I first saw this recipe for classic beef meatballs on an episode of The Martha Stewart Show last year. It’s another one from The Meatball Shop Cookbook — actually, it was this recipe that spurred us to buy the cookbook — and it’s an awesome, easy way to make homemade meatballs that taste like they took a lot of time and effort. There’s no browning. No frying. These guys are made entirely in the oven. They’re great on pasta, great on polenta and great in a meatball sandwich (says Jared).

Yep, these meatballs can make magic and move mountains. Now if only they could bring back my Martha show. Humph.


Classic Beef Meatballs
From The Meatball Shop Cookbook (Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, p. 4)

[Note: I usually half this recipe, and it makes plenty of meatballs for the two of us, with lots leftover.]

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 pounds ground beef (80 percent lean is ideal.)
• 1 cup ricotta cheese
• 2 eggs
• ½ cup breadcrumbs (I usually use panko.)
• ¼ cup chopped parsley
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• ½ teaspoon ground fennel* (I’ve actually never added the fennel to ours, but I bet it’s good.)
• 4 cups of your favorite tomato sauce, either jarred or homemade

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Drizzle the olive oil evenly in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes and fennel (if using) until well blended. Add the beef, and mix until it’s fully incorporated.

Roll the mixture into golf ball-sized balls, and place them in the prepared pan. Make sure they’re in there snuggly and in even rows, both vertically and horizontally.

Roast the meatballs for 20 minutes, until they’re firm and cooked through (internal temperature should read 165 degrees F). Remove the pan from the oven, and drain the excess fat. Pour the tomato sauce over the top of the meatballs, and return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.


Does anyone else have a favorite meatball recipe? Maybe something from your family that’s been passed down for generations? Or maybe another savory dish is more your style. What’s your favorite food to round out your weekly menu?


The easiest snack you’ll ever make: Salted honey butter popcorn

Sometimes I daydream about the grand parties I’ll throw someday when I’m a real grownup. You know, the kind of grownup with a real house, a giant kitchen and a dining room that fits more than two adults, a small baby and a 5-pound pup. I’ll wear a fancy cocktail dress and pearls — because ’60s TV binging has taught me that’s what sensible, big-kitchen owning house-dwellers cook in — and a crowd of my equally snazilly dressed nearest and dearest will convene in the dining room for a meal that promises to be the talk of the family Christmas card for years to come. This scenario repeats often in my head and always ends with me walking into the dining room with some amazing dessert, a flambé perhaps, that I proceed to light on fire amidst “oos” and “ahs” from the crowd. (Although, after my recent torching escapades, I suppose that daydream should be edited to include my dad lighting the flambé. Ooph.) Oh, and at the end of the night, my hair is still perfect, and my dress is spotless. Ah, yes, a girl can dream.

Time will tell when the great dinner party of my dreams will finally come to fruition, but in the meantime, I’ll happily continue our smaller-scale, some-folks-might-have-to-sit-on-the-ground-but-by-golly-their-tummies-will-leave-happy form of entertaining. Small can be cozy, and simple can be great. And believe it or not, food can be awesome even when no pyrotechnics are involved.

Enter the easiest snack food you’ll ever make: salted honey butter popcorn. The concept is simple. So simple, in fact, that all of the ingredients are listed in the title. It’s easy, fast, delicious and, despite its simplistic nature, tastes amazing and looks beautiful in a brightly colored bowl. So maybe you’re not lighting things on fire yet. Your food can still elicit “oos” and “ahs.” Sometimes it’s all in the flavor.


Salted Honey Butter Popcorn
Adapted slightly from The Faux Martha

• ½ cup plain, unpopped popcorn
• 2 tablespoons salted butter
• 2 tablespoons honey
• salt to taste

Pop the popcorn using whatever method you prefer (I use an air popper, but the stovetop works great, too). Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in honey until well mixed. Remove from the heat.

Pour the honey butter mixture over the popcorn, and mix until the popcorn is evenly coated. Give it a taste to gauge your salt preference, then add salt to taste (I added about another ½ teaspoon).


Does anyone else daydream of amazing future shindigs? Or maybe you’re already throwing les grandes fêtes on a regular basis. What’s your favorite dish to serve guests? And does anyone else have a favorite party snack recipe to share? Let’s hear it!


Food for a fairy tale: Wheatberry salad

Don’t you just love when an ingredient sounds like it was invented in a fairy tale?

Beneath the leaves of an unassuming bramble bush, in a wooded field not far from your backyard, the wild wheatberries lie. They’re the tiniest of berries, no larger than a flea, and none too impressive in appearance, but please don’t be fooled: Sometimes, within the smallest packages, there lives the greatest power.

Yes, yes, my mind is wandering. But even if you’re one who’s skeptical of our tiny protagonist’s humble beginnings, I think it’s safe to say that wheatberries do add an undeniably magical contribution to the culinary stage. They’re nutty little grains that are packed with nutrients, and they never seem to mush up, no matter how long you cook them. That’s a good thing! Although they definitely soften through the boiling process, they retain a nice bite to the bitter end, which makes them perfect for a salad tossed with all sorts of other goodies.

This wheatberry salad from Ina Garten is perfect for a noontime meal or an evening side. Pretty, fresh, crisp and good for you. Hooray for the wheatberry! Hooray!


Wheatberry Salad
Adapted slightly from Barefoot Contessa Family Style (Ina Garten, p. 67)

 • 1 cup hard winter wheatberries
• kosher salt
• 1 red onion, finely diced
• 5 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 4 scallions, minced
• ½ red bell pepper, diced
• 1 carrot, diced
• ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium or large saucepan, bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil. Stir in the wheatberries and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour, until the wheatberries are soft. Drain.

While the wheatberries are finishing up cooking, sauté the red onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, until the onions are translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove pan from the heat, and add balsamic vinegar and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

In a large bowl, mix together the warm wheatberries, sautéed onions and all of your fresh ingredients: scallions, bell pepper and carrot. Add the black pepper and a touch more salt if needed. Let the salad sit for about 30 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature.


Do you have any delicious salad recipes up your sleeve? How about a great recipe for wheatberries? My cupboards now floweth over with wheatberry goodness. They must be put to good use!


Wheatberries can be a little tricky to track down. We found ours at Whole Foods in the bulk food section. I hear that health food stores are also a great place to look. Or maybe in the bushes behind your house. :) Happy hunting!


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