Black Bean Salsa

Black Bean Salsa

Black Bean Salsa

My mother decided to throw a dinner party last weekend to celebrate the arrival of summer/Fourth of July with a few of her skiing friends. Naturally, I stepped in and had a few things to say about what was going to be on the menu. My mother listened politely, but respectfully disagreed. You see, my mother and I have very different ideas about what a dinner party should entail.

I love to throw dinner parties. I'll use any excuse I can find to bring a few friends into my home (and into my kitchen). Many days in advance, I like to plan out the menu. The food must be seasonal, fresh, and homemade. I'll run through a list of ideas for dishes in my head. Over the next few days, I may add a few here and remove a few there. I try to make the menu cohesive. Will the appetizer complement the dessert? Is there a theme? Did I plan to make too much food again?

I have been known to go a little, well, overboard every once in awhile.

(For those of you who also love to throw a good dinner party, you should check out The Table Set podcast. Fun and informative!)

Black Bean Salsa

My mother, on the other hand, likes to keep things as simple and easy as possible. The least amount of work she has to put into the planning and execution of her party, the better. While I can completely respect her minimalist style, it just isn't mine. I love elaborate meals. I love cooking or baking every component from scratch. And, perhaps most unlike my mother, I love to have a reason to spend hours in the kitchen.

When it came to planning the menu for this particular dinner party, my mother and I were able to find middle ground. A Mexican theme was decided upon, with chips and salsa as the appetizer and tacos as the main course; dessert was all mine (it was so good, you can bet I'll be sharing it with you soon). Knowing myself, I wanted to make the tortilla chips from scratch. My mother put that idea to rest in the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, I insisted the salsa should at least be fresh and homemade. The rest is history.

Following the "simple and easy" approach of my mother, this Black Bean Salsa has flavors complex enough for meβ€”the perfect compromise.

Black Bean Salsa

This Black Bean Salsa is bright, colorful, and delicious. The flavors are complex, with hints of bell pepper, tomato, lime, and red onion to round out the heartiness of the black beans. This definitely isn't a salsa from a jar. Make this the night before eating to allow the flavors to meld and bring out the best flavor. While this salsa rests somewhere between mild and medium, you could add more heat by including the seeds from the diced jalapeno or by sprinkling in a few red pepper flakes. Serve with tortilla chips or as a topping to your next taco or burrito.

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Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

I once made the driest pancake in the world.

I can see you sitting at home, staring at your computer screen, and scoffing at my bold statement. Driest pancake in the world? Yeah, right. How would you even know? But this is the truth, my friends. I really did make the driest pancake in the world.

Let me share my story with you.

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

A few years back, I made chocolate chip pancakes. The process to create them was normal and they tasted all right. They weren't bad and they weren't good; I ate them in peace. There were a few leftovers so I stashed them in the refrigerator for breakfast the next day.

Quickly flash to the next morning. It's 6 am. I was tired. I had to get to class early and barely had enough brain power to microwave the leftover pancakes from the day before. I don't know about you, but my brain doesn't begin to work properly until at least 8 am. After a minute on high, I took them out and proceeded to take a bite. The texture seemed off and they were ice cold, as if the microwave hadn't heated them at all. I put them back in for another minute. I was too sleepy to question this strange occurrence; it was 6 am, no high school student can be expected to reason at this obscene hour of the day. After the minute was up, I pulled them back out.

Still cold.

Confusion.

Was the microwave broken? I warmed up a piece of bread to test my theory. In 20 seconds, the bread was piping hot. Why wasn't my pancake?

I got angry, as one will when they want food and want it now. I stuck them back in the microwave for 5 minutes. I remember feeling very cleverβ€”I was going to beat the pancake at its own game.

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

When I took it out, the pancake was slightly less cool. Not warm, not hot, and definitely not enough heat to burn my mouth. In fact, it was probably only warmer because it had been out of the fridge for 10 minutes. What was wrong with this pancake? Did it develop magical superpowers overnight? I trashed the pancake and ate the warm slice of plain bread while running out the door.

It took me a few hours to realize what had happened. Microwaves work by hitting food with, well, microwaves; the energy from the waves are then absorbed by water or fats in the food. This process heats up the food quickly, making microwaves a quick way to cook or warm up food.

It only stands to reason that my pancake was so utterly dry that there wasn't enough water in it to be absorbed by the microwaves. I've seen plastics with a higher water content!

Thus, the world's driest pancake was born.

And to think I took a bite...

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

Luckily, this Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread is definitely not dry. The loaf is made of small pieces of dough rolled in a garlic herb butter and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese before heading to the oven to bake. When it emerges, the bread is so soft, tender, and packed with flavor. The bread pulls apart effortlessly, turning a solid loaf of bread into bite-sized pieces. This bread is best served with a side of marinara or tomato sauce.

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Italian Breadstick Popcorn

Italian Breadstick Popcorn

Italian Breadstick Popcorn

Did you know that popcorn has more protein than any other cereal grain, more iron than spinach, more phosphorous than pretzels, and almost as much fiber as bran flakes? Yeah, me neither. I already knew that popcorn was a healthy snack choice to make because it so low in calories, but wow! With impressive credentials like that, I am beginning to think I should eat popcorn more often.

Like, every single day.

Italian Breadstick Popcorn

I recently starting making my own popcorn on the stove top and it has made quite the difference. The popcorn tastes so much fresher (and I never have old maids left over). I can adjust the salt and oil content myself, which gives me the power to control my popcorn's destiny.

If you haven't tried cooking stove top popcorn, I suggest you give it a shot. I use the Whirley Pop which hasn't made me a bad batch yet. I recommend it if you are in the market for a popcorn popper (and no, I'm not be bribed to say this). It works well for me; I have no reason to believe it won't work well for you.

Italian Breadstick Popcorn

This popcorn is incredibly addictive. Popcorn on its own can be addictive but these seasonings take it to a new level. The basil brings out the Italian flavor and the garlic salt makes the popcorn reminiscent of a good breadstick. Each kernel manages to pack a punch of flavor without adding extra calories from butter, caramel, or other toppings. If you are looking for a way to spice up your popcorn, you should give this a shot. You won't be disappointed.

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