I bet you already have the ingredients.

One of my favorite dishes to make in the summer is pasta salad. It instantly makes any summer dinner feel like a picnic or cookout, and the possibilities for combinations are essentially endless. You can use whatever you have in your fridge, along with some staple pantry ingredients (and, in my case, fun pantry finds). Pasta salad also matches with any dinner’s theme–with a couple changes in ingredients, you can serve a Mexican pasta salad, Mediterranean, Italian–it all works.

Last night, I adapted a recipe for an asparagus pasta salad with what I had on hand. Luckily, when I found out we didn’t have tomatoes, I found a little jar of sun-dried tomatoes in the pantry. This, along with jarred pesto and roasted red peppers, is a great pantry ingredient to keep on hand. What I ended up with would’ve been lacking without that salty, rich tomato flavor, not to mention the bright spots of red the sun-dried tomatoes made.

Here’s my recipe for the exact pasta salad I made, but use it as a base or a springboard for your own ideas! Substitute lime juice and Mexican seasonings in the dressing and sub in black beans and peppers for a Mexican pasta salad. Add feta and olives for a Mediterranean salad. Use whatever veggies you have on hand, and I promise–it’ll be delicious.

Asparagus Pasta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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Ingredients (which can (and should!) be adjusted to taste)

Dressing

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil from sun-dried tomato jar
red pepper flakes, to taste
salt & pepper

Salad
1 1/2 cup macaroni pasta
1 pound asparagus
4-5 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
1/4 red onion

Directions: Boil pasta according to package directions. When al dente, drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Set aside. Chop asparagus into 1-2 inch pieces and steam until cooked but retaining a bit of snap/bite. Run under cold water to cool. Dice sun-dried tomatoes and red onion. Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl and toss.

To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a mason jar, put the lid on, and shake. (Whisking in a bowl works too, but the shake method is more fun!)

Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss. Taste for seasonings, and add as necessary. Chill in fridge for about an hour before serving.

For Velveeta, sixth grade, and friendship at the table.

About three weeks ago, a friend of mine passed away. We met in sixth grade and were friends instantly. He lived down the street, so I used to walk to his house, open the door to his huge, jumping, slobbery dog, and then we’d settle in to watch a movie or eat a snack or whatever else we could find to do that day. We always listened to our favorite music. At school, I remember most the long hours we spent agonizing over making our sixth grade graduation slideshow perfect. Middle school brought passing notes folded to tiny squares in the hallway. 10th grade saw us competing to have the best poem explication in the class. After that, we grew apart a bit.

(Nothing like trying to write it down to remind you that, in some ways, our moments with our people can seem like a long string of afternoons, the ones you spend buried on the couch and in conversation, not really doing anything, but accomplishing so much. Those afternoons that turn out to have built you.)

When he passed away, I spoke with friends from my neighborhood I hadn’t spoken to in months (and even years). Our lives carried, at once, a horrible commonality. We circled disbelief, staring it down, trying to come alongside it. This is what they mean when they say that kind of news takes time to sink in. We passed the time remembering our friend. The time we spent together came back as quickly as I lost the friend who filled it.

I don’t know a lot of things. I don’t understand how a friend I knew well could become a stranger as we grew older, how memories I mull over when something I see calls them back cannot be communicated with the person animating them. But I’ve been in the kitchen all summer, and I do know this.

What we eat during those growing-up, life-building moments matters. 

I’ve lost all the actual things my friend and I did when we spent time together. I can’t tell you what we talked about, what we argued about, how we filled our time. But when I remember him, I remember what we ate. Where we ate. What the kitchen was like.

He taught me how to make Rotel dip. We’d sit between a big bag of tortilla chips with our bowl of cheese dip and talk. About nothing, everything–I don’t know. But I do remember how his family always had a stock of cans of Rotel in the cabinet. I remember we’d cut off a block of Velveeta and put it in a saucepan on the stove. I remember mixing in the tomatoes and green chiles. I remember, to the left of the stove, was the microwave, which was where his family kept bread, which I always found a little baffling (and now find delightful).

I remember the day his grandfather was out around town and brought us back Wendy’s for lunch. I remember they had gotten the order wrong, and I remember that meal as the only time I have eaten a triple cheeseburger. I remember it had mayonnaise on it–another error. I remember sitting at their kitchen table, the bread microwave in view, eating with his grandfather. He was quiet, so we were, too. I remember telling my friend that memory when his grandfather died this year. The comfort it brought him, and the comfort it brought me to know my memory had two homes.

I remember catching up with him during a trip home from college. We hadn’t spoken in years. For some reason, we ended up walking around the new Trader Joe’s in Lexington, talking about cookie butter. We picked up a jar to share, took it back to his house, and had some on the back screened-in patio. We talked about how it would make us both fat because it was too good not to eat.

I have a lot of memories of my friend involving music, too–there’s something to be said for songs that play in our minds when remembering a certain person or time of life–but it’s what we ate that brings my friend to me most. Maybe it’s the sensory aspect of it, the textures, smells, and tastes, but it seems like it’s something more than that.

I don’t know how what we eat as we’re becoming ourselves turns into selfhood, but it does. I only know that if my friend and I hadn’t come to the table, I wouldn’t have those memories. I wouldn’t have some form of my friend and our friendship waiting for me anytime I want to pull the right ingredients together.

Sometimes cooking and baking feels tedious–the dinner we have to get on the table, the dessert we have to bring to an event. But I do it because I believe it matters. What we eat forms us and our memories. What we find at the table gives us something to hang onto when those who would usually sit with us are gone.

So when it shocks me that the person I most want to share the little details of who we were when we were little isn’t there to talk, I will return to the kitchen for the parts of us that will always be there. The us that will survive.

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for Cody

What in the world is aquafaba?

My friend Logan (you might remember him from Friendsgiving during #31DaysintheKitchen!) suggested I try to make something using aquafaba, which is, I kid you not, the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas.

Ew?

Turns out, as the Internet and vegans everywhere claim, that this chickpea liquid acts just like egg whites. Stiff peaks and all.

I was skeptical to say the least, but I decided to try making aquafaba meringues. Here we go!

It definitely does not look appetizing in the mixer. Not that egg whites do, I guess, but at least they are not brown.

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Then lots of mixing and adding sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon…

Onto the baking sheet, because, at this point, I was starting to believe this could actually be an egg white replacement. Same consistency and everything!

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They came out crunchy and chewy just like regular meringues! They were very sugary–I did feel like I had to mask some flavor, mostly the saltiness, from the bean juice–but overall, wow.

I decided to use them in an adaption of the Barefoot Contessa’s Eton Mess. I layered crushed meringues with whipped cream, homemade raspberry sauce, and strawberries. Here it is!

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The verdict? Pretty good, and definitely a legitimate egg white substitute. Almost no calories at all, too. I’m not sure I’ll switch completely to aquafaba, but it was certainly an interesting try, and it led to a delicious dessert!

(Here are some more ways to use aquafaba. What unique substitutions have you found and tried lately?)

Macarons, round two.

Remember when I made macarons a while back? It was snowy and my kitchen was tiny but the macarons were perfect?

I upped the ante a bit and decided to try making coffee and Baileys macarons, which included making my own filling. For the first ones, I’d used regular store-bought icing. Not French, but delicious. And a shortcut because a making such a detailed, precise recipe takes it right out of me.

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These weren’t perfect (except for one!), but they were delicious, and they still reminded me of Chamonix with their crunchy and squishy cookies and rich filling. (Are macarons not the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen?)

I took a few photos, but mostly I told this story through Snapchat. Essentially, I am trying to be the Pioneer Woman. No shame. Follow along here!

 

I know a few things about baking.

I can try and nearly succeed at almost any Pinterest recipe I find, but I hadn’t gone down the path of recipe invention until a few days ago. I decided to see if I knew enough about the science of baking what a cake batter should look like in the mixer to make up a recipe of my own. I’d seen an upside down cake recipe on Farmhouse Rules the other day and went in that direction.

First, I tossed the apples in a brown sugar-cinnamon-nutmeg situation and let them sit for a bit. I decided the batter would be, essentially, a vanilla cake with a bit of cinnamon. In the mixer, I added room temperature butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Then came the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and baking soda. I added a bit of milk and finished it with cinnamon. There were tiny bits of cinnamon dotting the batter–it was lovely.

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I arranged the sugary apples at the bottom of the cake pan and poured the batter on top.

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Then it went in the oven at 350 degrees for between 40-45 minutes, which was enough time to clean the disaster I had wrought on the kitchen counter.

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Sheesh. But then oh my word, look at this:

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After about 10-15 minutes (and deciding I couldn’t wait a minute more even though the pan was still very much hot), I flipped it over onto a serving platter.

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Would you look at that, people. And it. was. delicious!

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Here’s the recipe! Send me pictures if you try it out. :)



Apple Upside-Down Cake
 

by Anne Charlton

For fruit:

1 apple
3 generous tablespoons brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
scant ¼ tsp nutmeg
splash vanilla

For batter:

1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature/softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/3 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ cup milk
½ tsp cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease an 8 inch cake pan (or similar).

Slice apple into ¼-inch thick slices. You may peel the apples or leave the skin on (I left the skin on; it just makes the cake prettier, I think). Place in a small bowl. To the apples, add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Toss with a spoon to coat and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream sugar and butter until fluffy and light yellow. With the mixer on low, add vanilla. Crack two eggs into a glass measuring cup and add them one at a time to the mixture, slowly, with the mixer on low.

In a small bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and baking powder. With the mixer on low, add dry ingredients slowly. When the mixture looks fairly dry, add milk slowly. Turn mixer up slightly to combine all ingredients until the mixture looks soft and folds around the paddle attachment easily. Turn the mixer to low and add cinnamon. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the side of the bowl to ensure that the mixture is fully combined.

Return to the bowl of apples and give them a quick toss. Arrange on the bottom of the cake pan, separating them evenly (I arranged them in a circular pattern, but anything will do). Pour the batter onto the apples carefully; it will be thick. Use spatula to spread the batter gently over the apples. Be cautious not to move the apples too much under the batter.

Place into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until the top of the cake is a deep golden brown. Let cool on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter.

For Dad on Father’s Day.

My dad’s pretty great (understatement, of course). In honor of Father’s Day, I wanted you all to get to know him a bit! How better to do that than a list of…

Things Brent Charlton Loves

  1. God and His church.

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  2. His wife.

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  3. His daughters.

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  4. His family.

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  5. His pals.

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  6. His dog.

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  7. Maintaining his dog’s Facebook. (I mean, uh, monitoring Dolly’s Facebook time so she doesn’t get carried away…)
  8. A good selfie.

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  9. A good photobomb.

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  10. Nascar.
  11. Smoking meat on his Traeger grill.
  12. The Purdue Boilermakers.
  13. The South Carolina Gamecocks.
  14. Hats.

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  15. A day on the lake.
  16. Pie.
  17. His basement bar in the new house.
  18. Tractors.
  19. Mexican food.
  20. Being a dad.

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Happy Father’s Day to the best recipe taste-tester, supporter, blog reader, and encourager I know. Thank you for all your love and wisdom over the years. I couldn’t ask for a better Dad. I love you!

No mean city.

Last weekend, I drove down to Indianapolis to see my friends Adam and Jane. Jane has called Indy home for almost a year, and she showed us the little spaces pocketed inside the city that make up her version of Indianapolis. We had lunch at the Spice Box, sipped coffee at the Thirsty Scholar, walked along the canal. We rested at her apartment and shopped at Indy Reads Books. We saw different neighborhoods and walked lots of sidewalks.

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Jane told us about Indy being called “No Mean City.” It’s a campaign based on telling the stories of Indy’s varied people–more Humans of New York, less I Heart NY. The kind of marketing that makes me want to ask store owners why they love what they do. The kind that feels true.

While we walked and sat and drove, Adam, Jane, and I discovered that our little group of three had been talking for about seven years. Friends for that long. Friends who can chat about everything and nothing, friends who can sit down for lunch and ask, “Okay, what problems do we need to solve?” When we asked that question, we laughed…and then we went around the table, solving problems by realizing we didn’t have answers, but we did have each other.

Walking Indy’s streets and neighborhoods, we talked about how they were all different–felt different, had separated themselves over time–but were part of the same city. Over the years, the three of us have gone separate ways; we have lived in Nashville, New York, Indianapolis, Columbia, and Versailles. We have come back to where we grew up and moved away. We have visited often and gone months without visiting. We have stayed the same and changed.

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Visiting Indianapolis felt like being in a city that worked like our little group of three does. We explored so many places that were different but on the same team, heading toward the same goal. Indy really was no mean city–it welcomed us like we welcome each other. We listened to the stories of its streets like we listened to the stories of our separate lives, almost hearing them knitting together.

When I think about place, I think about people. I think about brick-and-mortar shops I’ve loved, sure, places with good coffee and comfortable chairs or long hallways of books. But when places like that aren’t shared, place becomes people. When asked where I’m from, I could say Versailles or Nashville, Fort Wayne or West Lafayette. But what I really mean is that I’m from these people, those talks, that laughter at inside jokes from years ago. What I mean is the bookstore we browse doesn’t wholly signify I’ve come home; what does is the people I see looking at the shelves across the store, head bent to the side like mine.

We could have been anywhere, but I think Indy made us more thankful to be together because the city itself does what we try to do: bring stories together, unify what is separate, make sense of what’s ahead of us.

Here’s to seven years of that and many more. I’m grateful, friends.

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