Toasted Garlic Edamame Hummus

Aida Mollenkamp Easy Healthy Recipe Edamame Hummus

School keeps starting earlier and earlier each year, but I still think of Labor Day as the official back-to-school kickoff. That’s why I’m dedicating this week to school-worthy (make ahead and transportable) kid-friendly recipes that are healthy and (mostly) vegetarian. I cooked these recipes today for a family-friendly picnic at the Los Angeles-based food fest, The Taste and while they’re fab eaten together, they’re also great on their own.
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Summer, From Concentrate

Aida Mollenkamp Easy Recipe Cocktail Shrub

If only it were possible to bottle summer and store it away. Then, on a whim, you could open it to let sunshine, frozen desserts, and grill smells brighten even the rainiest of days.

When I was a kid, I almost had it figured out. I’d be at my grandmother Noni’s house in late summer — where time was kept in matches of badminton and meals defined by how many grilled scalloped potatoes you ate and I’d run about with a net and jar bottling fireflies. To me, fireflies were the epitome of summer because they’d dance about in the dark and make the room so bright that I could read Nancy Drew by their light. The next day we’d let them go and I’d inevitably be saddened because I’d remember that both the fireflies and summer were fleeting.

Now that I’m older, I take a different approach. Each season, I round up the season’s produce, get crafty in the kitchen, and lock in the flavor at its prime. Over the years I’ve pickled, preservedcandied, and canned all in the name of sealing the season tight in a jar. But this year, I took a different approach and started distilling those sunshine-filled flavors into shrubs.
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Bread Salad Blasphemy

Aida Mollenkamp Easy Healthy Dinner Recipe Grilled Peach Panzanella

Unbeknownst to me, I insulted everyone before the meal even began.

I was cooking for my Florentine friends for the first time since moving there and was eager to use all the amazing Italian produce from the local mercato. What I didn’t know is that as much as Florentines are serious about fashion they’re even more serious about food. And when it comes to Tuscan food, they’re adamant about keeping traditional things traditional. Here I was thinking I had just started to get acquainted to my life in Italy — finally confident in both my Italian language and cooking knowledge — only to find out I had totally goofed. You see I had messed with one of the most sacred Florentine dishes, panzanella.


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The Shirley Temple Sundae

Aida Mollenkamp Easy Recipe Brandied Cherries

I really wanted to be Shirley Temple when I was younger. Maybe because we both had ringlets or because my mother strapped me into taps shoes the minute I could walk, but I always felt we were kindred spirits. My sisters and I would put on shows for our parents and their guests during dinner parties and I was the go-to girl for the Shirley Temple roles. Not that I ever objected. I would channel my best Shirley smile, don my sequined dance skirt, and eagerly attempt my best rendition of On The Good Ship Lollipop. Seeing as I was a fan of all things ST, I was naturally obsessed with her namesake drink and would ask for it every chance I got — with extra cherries, thank you very much.
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Bumper Crop Charred Tomato Pasta

Aida Mollenkamp Easy Healthy Dinner Recipe Charred Tomato Pasta

It started with a text. My friend wrote, “bumper crop of tomatoes! you want?” I quickly responded “yes” and within hours I was biking across town with bags of tomatoes hanging from my handlebars.

I know you’re probably thinking how delightfully summery that is. How it conjures images of Italy. How there I’d be replaced by a deeply tanned, lithe girl dressed in a vibrant flowy skirt so impossibly long that the gears would threaten to eat the hem with each push of the pedal. And, how she’d be attraversando the piazza with a basket of picture-perfect tomatoes.

But that was not me. I was zigzagging across Hollywood after sundown, whizzing along back streets on my single-speed bike, and clad in a reflective ski helmet that logs more time on my bike than it does on the slopes. And rather than crossing a piazza, I was doing my best to avoid potholes that were more or less the size of my small apartment. Needless to say, I arrived home to find the tomatoes were far the worse for the wear. To salvage them before the fruit flies took over, I embraced their squished state by charring them until they blistered and tossing them with pasta.
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Bread Winner: Buttered Soft Pretzels

Aida Mollenkamp Easy Recipe Buttered Soft Pretzel

I have an extra large weak spot for good bread. In my utopia, I could nibble at baguettes, throw back crusty pizzas, and chomp down on chewy pretzels with abandon. But, of all breads, pretzels are my absolute favorite for snacking. I’m not a particularly choosy pretzel snacker as I crave soft buttered, hard sourdough, honey wheat sticks, and small twists equally.

So, when the crew at Eat Real Los Angeles asked which bread I’d like to do for a hands-on cooking session, it was soft pretzels. I first developed my pretzel recipe a few years ago when I dreamed up a pretzel grilled cheese. Since then, I’ve finagled, fussed, and refined that recipe to this one that’s soft in the middle, chewy, malty, and a deep browned exterior. The perfect homemade soft pretzels if I say so myself.
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Trial By Fire: Pizza-Oven Breadsticks

EatReal

Every few feet or so I catch a whiff — it’s a campfire-esque smokiness that lingers about my head like the cloud of dirt surrounding Charlie Brown’s friend, Pig-Pen. Though I’ve washed my hair multiple times, it persists, but I guess that’s the price I pay for baking at a wood-burning pizza oven for hours on end. I spent the weekend teaching hands-on bread classes — on breadsticks and pretzels to be precise — at Eat Real Los Angeles and I logged in my fair share of oven hours.


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