Tag Archives: Penne

Summer Picnic Pasta Salad

What a beautiful weekend.  Seriously.  I don’t even care that I didn’t study nearly enough for my final and most likely didn’t do that well, judging from the despair I felt while gaping at the first page.  But, that’s all over with (I’m sure I didn’t fail) and now we can just move on to the next test, and meanwhile I’ll just start enjoying summer (or spring…you know.  I get excited).

Four fun things that happened recently:

1) We went to my BFF Jen’s house for a mother’s day/birthday BBQ, and I brought my go-to “summer is here!” pasta salad.

I’m pretty excited for warm weather.

BBQ weather.

That’s why I married a South African.  Strictly for the BBQ.

2)  Jen’s mom gave us the rights to a pile o’ firewood that they had for their old fire pit, which has been replaced by one that burns sterno.

3) Fritz bought a fire pit on sale at Home Depot.

Let the marshmallow toasting begin!

4)  Jen’s mom also gave us a backup battery for our new camera, because she accidentally bought the wrong size for her new camera.  Score!

Love that woman.  And not just for the presents.

But let’s get back to the pasta salad.  It’s based on a recipe my old roommate in college used to make, and now it’s a staple for any grillin’ adventure that may take place.  I love it.  I’m obsessed with it.  It’s easy, it’s versatile, it uses whatever ingredients you have in the house, it’s healthy, and everyone likes it.

What else do you want from me?  I’m giving you a gift here!  Free of charge!

Summer Picnic Pasta Salad

  • 1 box whole-wheat penne (or you can use any other pasta shape, but I always stick with penne, ’cause the peas fit so perfectly inside)
  • 1 C frozen peas
  • 1/2 C grated carrot
  • 1/2 C sliced artichoke hearts
  • 1/4 C chopped sun-dried tomatoes (sometimes I use halved grape tomatoes, around 1 C)
  • 1 small can sliced black olives
  • 3-5 T olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar (1/4 C? 1/3 C? I never measure–just pour over and taste, taste, taste until you like it!)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 T light italian dressing–I only use this occasionally, when I’m trying to finish off a bottle or the pasta tastes a bit dry.  You definitely don’t need it!

Cook the pasta according to directions, and drain it. 

Speaking of pasta, I feel like I’ve been totally cheated!  The Barilla pasta I used to use is only 51% whole-wheat, and I just noticed it.  So not cool, Barilla.  I grabbed a few America’s Choice store brand whole-wheat pasta, which is made with all durum semolina flour, and I felt better.  Plus it was on sale, and I love a sale.

Dump the pasta in a bowl and add the frozen peas, which cools it to room temperature quite nicely.  Add the rest of your toppings of choice, then start dressing it. 

Not exactly the most helpful recipe, I know, but seriously, all you need is the idea.  I usually drizzle the olive oil over the top, mix that in, and then go to town with the balsamic.  Once I get the right taste, I salt and pepper it just a touch.  The artichoke hearts and olives add a nice touch of brine and the sun-dried tomatoes!  Just yum.

This is good.  Guh–ood.  Not to mention that eating this pasta salad fills me with the joy that is a summer BBQ.

So come over and hang out at my new fire pit!  Who needs to study, anyway?

Here’s the birthday girl herself:

And blowing out her birthday candles:

Happy birthday, Jenny!  Next time this year, we’ll be graduating!

It was a good day.  Nothin’ like a BBQ to take my mind off of life.

What’s your go-to dish for a summer picnic?


Filed under Salads

Garam Masala (Spice Mix)

Often when I make Indian food (and apparently Moroccan), it requires a spice mix that I don’t have–garam masala.  Garam masala means “hot mixture”, but that refers more to the intensity of the spices included then the actual heat–it’s not really a hot spice, more of just a spicy spice.  If that makes any sense. 

As I was making the Moroccan stew a few days ago, the recipe once again called for garam masala, which I (once again) didn’t have.  As I thought about it, I realized that I probably had all the spices used in the mix, and combined with a coffee grinder, I could probably just make my own!

I was right.

Garam Masala (adapted from this recipe)

  • 4 T coriander seeds
  • 1 T cumin seeds
  • 1 T black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 t ground ginger (I didn’t have this, but I will absolutely add it as soon as I get my hands on some)
  • 3/4 t black cardamom
  • 3/4 t cloves
  • 3/4 t cinnamon (two 1″ pieces)
  • 3/4 t crushed bay leaves

If the spices you are using are already ground, simply combine them in a bowl and mix.  For a more authentic (and powerful!) mix, use whole spices, toast them first, and then grind them.

To toast them, heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and add spices.  Move the spices often by shifting and shaking the skillet so they don’t burn–and don’t be tempted to turn up the heat!  Toasted spices taste good, burnt ones do not.  Once they have all deepened a few shades in color, remove from the heat and let them cool.

I used a few pre-ground spices and some whole, depending on what I had.  I toasted the bay leaves, cardamom, cumin, black peppercorn, and cinnamon.

Let me warn you–toasting spices smell amazing!

The pre-ground spices I added to a bowl to await the others (cloves, coriander, and would have been ginger, if I had it).

Once the spices cool, grind them in a spice/coffee grinder (or a food processor may work). I ground the cinnamon first, then added the rest.

Combine with the other spices, mix, and store in an airtight container.  I had just run out of tandoori masala, so I had a nice almost-correctly labeled container to use.

that's my coffee grinder in the background (thanks, Mom--as always!)

I really don’t know how I lived without a coffee grinder before my mom stepped in.  I use it for everything–grinding oats, grains, spices–everything.

I also wanted to remind you of a recipe from a few months ago:  Not Your Grandmother’s Tuna Salad.  I was scavenging through the cupboards trying to find something (anything!) to make for a quick lunch, and I remembered this recipe.  It’s quick, healthy, and uses up those ingredients that you can usually find in the cabinets when you have nothing else.  It’s not the kind of tuna salad you put in a sandwich, but the actual salad kind.  Lovely!

Wondering what Henry is up to?

Fritz calls this “playing Crock Pot”.  Henry climbs up into those shelves and quietly waits for me to notice him.  He also likes being able to survey the activities of the mere mortals who live beneath him.

I woke up super early this morning because the sun was shining so brightly that there was no way I could go back to bed–too  beautiful!  I’m definitely looking forward to Daylight Saving Time this weekend because I love, love, LOVE when it’s light out past five–plus, it’s much easier to fit in dinner after class without having to set up the lightbox for pictures or rushing to chase daylight.

Enjoy the sunshine today!


Filed under Spice Mixes