Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Vegan Pineapple Julius SmoothieHello, Opera Girl Cooks readers! First off, I’d like to thank you for following me here for so many years — it’s been a blast! Rest assured, I’m still blogging it up a storm. You can follow me on my brand new blog, It Was Just Right. The new design is open and bright, and I hope you like it as much as I do! Come on over for a Pineapple Julius Smoothie.

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Today’s Strawbanero Poblano Jam is a winner. It was the clear favorite among six varieties of jam my Aunt Bel and I put up this summer. “Strawbanero” stands for strawberry and habanero — just one firey habanero and two mellow[er] poblanos give the jam a good wallop of heat without setting your mouth on fire, and the strawberry and pepper flavors make for a sublime combination. I want this jam on toast in the morning, as a glaze for roasted chicken thighs, and as an accompaniment to grilled lamb or pork. It is perfect spread on top of crackers with cream cheese, and spooned onto plain yogurt for an afternoon snack. It is my favorite jam I’ve made to date, and I have made a lot of ’em. I suggest you stir up a batch toute de suite.

In past jamming posts, I’ve talked about how I learned canning from my Aunt Belinda and Great Aunt Mim, told you where to find the cutest jars, and explained how to prep your kitchen for a day of jamming. I’ve extolled the virtues of pectin-free jams, made only with fruit and organic cane sugar. I’ve even featured another blogger’s gorgeously luxe recipe for fig jam, featuring port, rosemary, and lemon.


This year, I did a bit of a 180, deciding to add pectin to my preserves. This method requires far less time stirring over a cauldron of boiling hot, sugary liquid, making for a process that is both faster and safer. Pectin-added jams also yield much more volume — the soluble fiber acts to thicken the jam before it’s boiled down much at all. To give you an idea of just how much more jam you get when you make pectin-added recipes, Aunty Bel and I ended up with two more jars this year than last, and we used twelve pounds of fruit instead of sixteen.

One of the perils of using pectin is that it’s harder to control just how thick your jam turns out. Different fruits contain different amounts of pectin, with less ripe fruits tending to have more thickening power than ripe ones. When you make pectin-free jams, it’s easy to gauge how they’re setting up during the long cooking process, but with a pectin-added jam, it’s more like baking — all of the ingredients are pre-measured at the beginning of the recipe, and the rest is up to the fates. There’s no wiggle room, no opportunity to adjust as you go.


And so, a few of our batches of jam turned out a little thicker than I’d like. Nothing totally tragic or inedible, but just a touch stiffer than my personal preference dictates. The Strawbanero Jam happened to be our last batch, and the slightly scant amount of pectin I had left turned out to be just right for a perfect set. These preserves are just solid enough for spreading, with an appealing, slightly-pourable consistency.

Oh, and a word or two on using habaneros, one of the hottest chili peppers known to man. You need not be afraid of chopping up these bad boys as long as you take a few precautions. For one thing, do yourself a favor and put on some food preparation gloves before you handle a habanero — if you neglect to do this you may or may not have firey, burning fingers for the rest of the day. And if you touch your face or, heaven forbid, your eyes, well jeez. Forget about it.

Once you’ve got those gloves on, it’s time to deseed and mince the habanero. Using a very sharp paring knife, split the pepper lengthwise, then cut off the stem ends, including the pithy seed pod, and cut out the white veins inside each half of the pepper. Discard all of these bits directly to your compost bin — they are the hottest parts of the pepper, but the deseeded flesh is still plenty spicy! Next, cut the pepper halves into thin strips (1/16 of an inch or so), line up the strips, and cut them into little squares. Use the paring knife to transfer the minced pepper directly into the bowl with your other ingredients.

Finally, don’t delay in washing off the paring knife and cutting board, scrubbing with lots of hot, soapy water. Discard the gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly as well. And you’re done! Habanero minced. Crisis averted. Spicy jam ahead.

Strawbanero Poblano Jam (printer-friendly version

makes about 7 half-pint jars

2 1/4 lbs. hulled and quartered strawberries
2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced
1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced

1/3 C. meyer lemon juice
5 Tbsp. (1.2 ounces) Ball Classic Pectin

4 C. organic cane sugar

1. Combine the strawberries, peppers, lemon juice, and pectin in a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl, stirring to distribute the pectin evenly throughout the mixture.

2. Pour the strawberry mixture into a medium (5-quart), heavy-bottomed soup pot or dutch oven. Place over medium-high heat, and stir often for about 15 minutes, until the fruit comes to a full boil (one that persists even while you are stirring). Let boil for one minute.

3. Add the sugar to the pot and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come up to a hard boil again, and boil for one final minute, stirring frequently. Turn off heat.

4. While the jam is still boiling hot, ladle into hot, sterilized jam jars. Screw on the lids firmly but not too tightly. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

5. Remove the jars from the hot water bath, place on counter upside-down, and let cool to room temperature. Unscrew the bands and wash and dry the jars, then label and store in a cool, dark pantry.

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One of my favorite summer indulgences is the Mint Mojito Iced Coffee at Philz. The combination is simple but genius. Each frothy cup starts with a handful of muddled mint leaves. Plenty of ice, freshly brewed pour-over coffee, cream and sugar complete the drink. It is creamy and sweet and delicious, perfect for a weekend treat.


While I could make you a copycat recipe, I chose to go a lighter route — this recipe makes two servings, each topping out at a cool 95 calories. My version is sweetened with a moderate dose of clover honey instead of spoonfuls of sugar, and I used 1% milk instead of the Philz standard, ultra-rich manufacturing cream. You could also easily sub in agave nectar or brown rice syrup for the honey, and almond milk or soymilk for a vegan version.


Honey Mint Iced Coffee (printer-friendly version

serves 2

2 C. ice cubes
1 C. 1% milk

10 large mint leaves (plus extra for garnish)

1 C. strongly brewed pour-over coffee (I use one ounce of coffee grounds per 8oz water)
1 Tbsp. clover honey
1. Divide the ice cubes between two large (16-ounce) glasses. Set aside.

2. Cut the mint leaves into 1/8-inch ribbons, and place in a quart-sized measuring cup, or other bowl or pitcher with pouring spout. Use a cocktail muddler to smash the mint leaves liberally, until uniformly bruised.

3. In whatever vessel you used to brew your coffee (I use a Melitta filter over a large mug) stir in the honey until dissolved.

4. Pour the sweetened coffee and milk into the measuring cup with the muddled mint. Stir for about 10 seconds to infuse the mint into the liquid.

5. Hold a small strainer over one of your serving glasses, and pour the coffee mixture through the strainer and into the glass. Repeat with second glass. Garnish with mint and serve.

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Having lived in Santa Cruz during the height of the kombucha craze, it was inevitable that I become a fan of the uniquely tangy beverage. All of my friends were drinking the stuff and singing its praises — GT’s Kombucha bottles were practically a status symbol around the music building at UCSC.

At first, I was resistant to the charms of fermented tea. Plain kombucha tastes like someone spiked your English Breakfast with apple cider vinegar, then added a little carbonation. I couldn’t imagine how people were enjoying it at all, but I thought that maybe if I tried to make it at home I’d gain an appreciation for it. No such luck. My home brewing experiment left me with an overly acidic batch that was far from drinkable (and also lent its unpleasant aroma to the entire downstairs of our condo), and I was put off of the ‘buch for quite some time after that.

My revelatory moment came in Spring 2009, when a new Whole Foods Market opened just a few blocks from where I was living. They had a first-of-its-kind kombucha bar, featuring [now defunct] local company Kombucha Botanica‘s offerings on tap. They were doling out free samples of intriguing varieties like Pineapple Ginger, and after a first tentative sip, I quickly got hooked on the zippy, fruity flavor. It turns out that adding a little fruit to the brew makes for a seriously delicious drink.

Every once in a while, I’d buy a bottle of flavored kombucha as a treat, but I never thought to brew it at home again until Emma posted an incredible looking recipe for Strawberry Kombucha on her blog. A brewing afficionado (her cookbook is hot off the presses and absolutely gorgeous. If you’re interested in making small batches of soda, beer, kombucha, or kefir at home, I suggest you check it out!), she had come up with a summery recipe that I couldn’t resist attempting on my own.

And so, my second homemade kombucha adventure began about two weeks ago, when Emma generously gave me one of her starter cultures, or SCOBYs. The Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast resembles a gelatinous and floppy pancake — it’s actually a zoogleal mat comprised of bacteria and yeast. Feeding off of the sugar in a batch of sweetened tea, the yeast converts it into CO2 and alcohol, while the bacteria in turn use the alcohol to produce acetic acid, gluconic acid, and occasionally lactic acid (depending on which bacteria are present in your culture).

If you can’t already tell, I’ve been having a grand old time nerding out, reading up on kombucha’s history, biological makeup, and various brewing methodologies. Multiple sources confirmed a couple of concrete details that aid in a more scientific approach to brewing: Kombucha cultures thrive at temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and a finished brew should measure anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 on the pH scale. Being able to take these measurements along the way takes a lot of mystery out of the brewing process, and so I armed myself with an instant-read thermometer and a pH meter, courtesy of my friend Sheri.

If you don’t want to be a wonk about it, you can brew based on feel and taste — your tea should be at about room temperature or slightly warmer when you add the SCOBY, and when it’s done, the kombucha should taste, well, like kombucha. Not too sweet and flat, and not so tangy that you’ve made yourself an unpalatable batch of vinegary tea, best used as a hair rinse.

Problem is, I’ve got a serious aversion to drinking room temperature, unflavored ‘buch. Being able to just measure the pH has considerable appeal. Plus, hey, it’s fun to play with gadgets. If and when she wants it back, Sheri’s going to have to pry this pH meter from my stubborn, iron-fisted grip.


Below is my variation on Emma’s recipe, with a few small changes, along with some additional nerdery and detail (seeing a theme here?) thrown in. Instead of strawberries, I used blueberries and white raspberries, and I added an extra pinch of sugar after the second fermentation to ensure lots of fizz in the finished beverage. You can use just about any berry you please, and experiment with other fruits as you become a more brazen brewer. I can’t wait to try out seasonal varieties as the produce selection changes from summer berries to autumn apples and pears, and maybe throw in a few chia seeds with my next batch for an agua fresca variation.


Blue Raspberry Kombucha (printer-friendly version)


for brewing:

electric or stovetop kettle
1 one-gallon, wide-mouth glass jar (I use this one)
instant-read thermometer
large wooden spoon
paper towels or cheesecloth
rubber band
pH tester or strips
a dark corner, out of direct sunlight

for bottling:

medium mixing bowl
potato masher or fork
fine mesh strainer or chinois
one-gallon pitcher
6-8 swing-top bottles (sold by the case of 12)
medium (4-inch) funnel


3 1/2 quarts water, divided
8 black tea bags (I used Tazo English Breakfast)
1 C. organic cane sugar

2 C. starter tea (1 bottle Original Synergy Kombucha or two cups from your latest batch)

1/2 pint (6 ounces) white raspberries
1/2 pint (6 ounces) blueberries
3 1/2 tsp. organic cane sugar

To Brew the Kombucha:

1. Boil one quart of the water in an electric or stovetop kettle. Pour into one-gallon glass jar and add tea bags. Let steep for 10 minutes, then remove tea bags and discard.

2. Stir in the sugar until fully dissolved, then add the remaining 2 1/2 quarts of tap water to the jar. Let the sweetened tea cool to 80F (according to most sources, the ideal brewing temperature for kombucha is 72-85F).

3. Pour the starter tea into the jar with the sweetened tea — the liquid should reach about two inches from the top of the jar.

4. Carefully place your scoby in the jar. Don’t worry if it floats, sinks, or stands on end in the jar — its position will not affect the brewing process.

5. Cover the jar with paper towel or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Place the jar in a cool, dark spot, out of direct sunlight, taking care not to jostle the liquid and dampen your lid.

6. After four days, begin testing your kombucha with the pH tester or strips — the pH of the kombucha will drop as it brews, becoming more and more acidic. To test, use a turkey baster to take a sample of kombucha, taking care to draw liquid steadily as you bring the baster up the side of the jar. Transfer your sample to a small glass, and dip your pH tester or strip into the liquid. When the pH tester reads between 2.5 and 3.5 (I prefer mine around 3.2), you’re ready for the secondary fermentation.

For the secondary fermentation:

1. Uncover the glass jar, remove the SCOBY, and place in a 1-quart container. Cover the scoby with two cups of the brewed kombucha — this is your “starter tea” that you’ll use for your next batch. Set aside in a cool, dark spot — you can start a new batch right away, or leave it for a few days with no ill effects. Just make sure that the SCOBY stays suspended in liquid, and add a small amount of sweetened tea if the liquid evaporates to the point where your SCOBY might dry out.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, use a potato masher or fork to mash up the blueberries and raspberries until all of the blueberries have been popped, then add the mashed berry mixture to the one-gallon jar with the remaining kombucha.

3. Re-cover the jar with paper towel or cheese cloth, then set it back down in your cool, dark spot. Let sit for two days. Check the pH — when you get a reading of 3.0 or whereabouts, it’s time to bottle. I bottled mine at 3.2.

To bottle:

1. Using a fine mesh strainer or chinois, strain your kombucha into a one-gallon pitcher. Make sure you pick up all of the yeast that has settled in the bottom of the brewing vessel — you want that to end up in the bottles.

2. Secure your swing-tops to the bottles if they are not already attached, then add 1/2 tsp. of sugar to each bottle before adding your kombucha. This will ensure that it ends up nice and fizzy — the yeast will consume the sugar and convert it into a negligible amount of alcohol, while releasing lots of CO2 in the process, carbonating your kombucha.

3. Carefully funnel the kombucha into the bottles, leaving about an inch of headspace (i.e. space between the liquid and the top of the bottle).

6. Seal the bottles with their swing-tops, return to their cool, dark spot, and leave for two days. Transfer it to refrigerator to slow the fermenting and carbonation process. I like to let it sit in the fridge for at least a day before serving.

7. Open your kombucha over the sink — it may bubble over. Pour into glasses and serve chilled.

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While I usually pride myself on coming up with wholesome, good-for-you recipes, today’s Apricot Raspberry Galette is not even trying to be healthy. The rich pastry crust is full of butter, and it’s sprinkled with sugar to boot.


I can tell you that the fruit filling requires no thickeners or extra sweetener; it’s a simple mix of raspberries and apricots at their peak of ripeness. Use whatever is in season where you are — my friend Cheryl made a killer galette last week with cherries, and her recipe for one with apricots and blueberries looks equally amazing. I’ve seen versions with peaches, plums, blackberries . . . pretty much any summer fruit is a winner here. Oh, and don’t fret if there’s still fruit juice bubbling away as you remove the galette from the oven — an hour or so at room temperature and it’ll set right up.


Galettes are easier to make than traditional pies, and much simpler to plate — this flat dessert requires no awkward wedging out of a pie dish. If you’re like me, you’ll appreciate the klutz-proof design. Just slice it like a pizza and slide it onto plates, and you’ll have served a breezy summer dessert like a pro.


Apricot Raspberry Galette (printer-friendly version)

Pie Crust

(makes 2 galettes or 9″ pie crusts)

1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 C. (60 grams) virgin coconut oil

1 1/2 C. (180 g.) white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 C. (180 g.) all purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt

1 extra-large egg
1 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar
1/4 C. cold water

Galette Filling (for one galette)

1/2 pint (6 ounces) raspberries
5 medium Blenheim apricots

Egg Wash

1 extra-large egg
1 Tbsp. half and half

2 Tbsp. Turbinado sugar


1. Cut the butter into 1/2″ cubes and place in large mixing bowl. Add the coconut oil.

2. Add the flours and salt to the mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter, incorporate the butter and coconut oil into the flour until mixture resembles coarse sand, until lumps of butter are pea-sized or smaller.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, vinegar, and water. Drizzle into the large bowl, then use a dough whisk to incorporate into the butter and flour mixture, stirring until just mixed in.

4. Divide the dough into two pieces, shape them into 6-inch disks, and cover with saran wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

5. To roll out dough for galette: remove disk from plastic wrap, and sprinkle both sides with flour. Place on top of parchment paper, and roll out into a circle, 12 inches in diameter.

6. Arrange your fruit on top of the galette, leaving about 3 inches of dough as a boarder. Fold the boarder of dough back over the fruit, arranging in pleats evenly around the galette.

7. For the egg wash: whisk together egg and half and half until thoroughly combined. Use a pastry brush to brush an even layer of egg wash over the exposed pastry border of the galette.

9. Sprinkle the pastry with Turbinado sugar, then slide your galette (still on the parchment paper) onto a cookie sheet. Place in freezer for 15 minutes.

10. While the galette is briefly chilling, preheat oven to 375F.

11. Bake galette for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool to room temperature, slice and serve.

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During the summer, I am all about light lunches. My midday meals often rely on vegetables and quick-cooking grains which give me energy without weighing me down or requiring too much heat in the kitchen.

Last week, I threw together a quick grain salad using my new favorite Trader Joe’s product, 10 Minute Farro. With the chew of barley and a lighter flavor than wheat berries, it’s adaptable to just about any vinaigrette or pesto you can whip up. As it’s par-cooked, it only takes, you guessed it, ten minutes to prepare — regular farro cooks up in about half an hour.

I combined my cooked farro with ribbons of romaine lettuce, which wilted slightly when mixed with the warm grains. After adding some sliced apples (stone fruits would be great here too), I topped the salad with an over-easy egg and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, making for a perfect light lunch. You can leave off the egg and cheese and serve the salad as a side dish, too — it would be great alongside a grilled dinner or as part of a picnic spread.


Warm Farro and Romaine Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

serves 2

3/4 C. 10 Minute Farro
1 1/2 C. water

1/4 C. pine nuts

6 medium leaves romaine lettuce, sliced into 1/4″ ribbons
1 medium fuji apple, cut into eighths and sliced into 1/8″-thick pieces
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

2 large eggs

1/4 C. finely microplaned parmesan cheese
ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine farro and water in a small (1-quart) saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, turn down to low, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

2. While the farro is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a medium (8-inch) skillet for a few minutes, shaking often, until lightly toasted. Remove from skillet immediately to avoid burning, and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the romaine, apple, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper.

4. When the farro has simmered for 10 minutes, drain off any additional liquid and let sit for another five minutes.

5. Add the farro and pine nuts to the bowl with the other ingredients, and toss to combine. The romaine will wilt slightly from the heat of the cooked grains. Spoon the salad onto two plates for serving.

6. In the medium skillet you used to toast the pine nuts, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Cook the eggs over-easy, taking care not to break the yolks when flipping.

7. Place one egg on top of each plate of salad, then garnish with parmesan cheese and ground pepper. Serve warm.

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Hello, everyone! I’m back in California, having just returned from the Contemporary Performance Studies program at the Vancouver International Song Institute. The week-long program consisted of back-to-back coachings, masterclasses, lectures, and a final concert, all focused on art songs from the 20th and 21st century. Highlights included lots of focused but giggly practice sessions with my pianist partner, being twirled around the UBC recital hall stage by none other than Jake Heggie, and being exposed to tons of great new repertoire. I’ve returned to the Bay Area refreshed, inspired, and excited to perform more contemporary classical music . . .

It's Jake Heggie!

It’s Jake Heggie!

. . . and also in need of a big ol’ salad or two. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are lots of great salads in Canada, but I didn’t manage to eat a single one while I was there, nor did I cook a single meal during my nine day stay in the Great North. My wonderful host served me yogurt and berries in the mornings, and then I’d run off the UBC for 12-hour days of intense programming, arriving back home after dark. My diet consisted almost entirely of meals purchased from the Student Union Building’s downstairs cafeteria. After a week of grab-and-go sandwiches, sushi, and bananas, I could not wait to get back into the kitchen.

My pianist partner Amy Lee, practicing before one of our coachings.

My pianist partner Amy Lee, practicing before one of our coachings.

Inspired by a hearty chopped salad at my friend Emma’s last dinner party (look for her recipe on TheKitchn next week!), I decided to make one of my own. I threw in some leftover cooked chicken breast and quinoa to add lots of protein — it’s filling enough to be a one-dish meal, but still bright and summery with the addition of a chopped nectarine, one of my favorite summer stone fruits. Ribbons of tender red lettuce, cubes of crunchy celery, and a handful of fresh cilantro round things out, and all of the ingredients are gently tossed in kicky and sweet Honey Lemon Vinaigrette. Serve this salad at a luncheon or potluck, or pack it along for an easy picnic dish.


Chopped Salad with Honey Lemon Vinaigrette (printer-friendly version)

serves 4

1/2 C. quinoa
3/4 C. water

1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. clover honey
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 head red leaf lettuce, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
3 ribs celery, diced small
1 nectarine, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 C. cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cooked chicken breast halves (1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Combine quinoa and water in a small (1-quart) saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn down to low, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off and let sit for another 5 minutes.

2. While the quinoa is simmering, make the vinaigrette: In an 8-ounce jar or small tupperware, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, pepper, and salt. Shake to mix until the honey is thoroughly blended into the other ingredients.

2. Spoon the cooked quinoa into a large bowl, and let cool for a few minutes. Add the lettuce, celery, nectarine, cilantro, and cooked chicken. Pour in the vinaigrette, then toss gently to thoroughly coat all of the ingredients evenly.

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