Caprese Salad

One of my all time favorite summer flavor combinations is tomato & basil! There is nothing quite like a garden fresh, homegrown tomato and gorgeous, fresh basil leaves – add some fresh mozzarella and you have an amazing salad! We have had the nicest basil I have ever seen through our CSA and we have been thoroughly enjoying it.

I generally make my caprese salad fairly structured on a plate but you can make it however you like! The amount of ingredients are completely up to you – I used 4 small tomatoes and 3-4 ounces of cheese with about 12 large basil leaves on the salad below.

You can serve this with some sliced and toasted Italian bread rubbed with fresh garlic for a nod to bruschetta. Totally delicious!



Fresh Mozzarella (usually available in the deli area)
Salt & Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar

Thinly slice the tomato(es) and fresh mozzarella. Chiffonade the basil (to do this: stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them together from the long side to the other long side and then thinly slice). Arrange the tomato and cheese in an alternating pattern on a plate. Sprinkle with the basil chiffonade. Freshly grind Salt & Pepper to taste. Drizzle with a good quality Balsamic Vinegar (I have some general use vinegar and then I have  some amazing vinegar that I reserve for uses such as this). Let stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to allow flavors to mingle. Enjoy!

Sage Squash

Squash is such a fall speciality. It is featured in recipes and in decorations. It evokes feeling of fall, warmth, and comfort and there are SO many varieties. As Steph and I wandered through the farmer’s market, we admired many squash and finally settled on a buttercup squash. It was a new one for both of us. While I prefer delicata and perhaps butternut squast over the buttercup, I did really enjoy this recipe. You could successfully substitute your favorite squash in this recipe.

If you are looking for a new side dish or a different way of preparing squash, then you will surely enjoy this. It is simple but delicious and certainly fancy enough for your holiday feasting.

Print This Recipe
1 Squash of your choice (about 3 -4 cups cubed)
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. butter, melted
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tb. butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 tsp. fresh sage
1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel and cube the squash. Toss with olive oil, 1 tsp. melted butter, salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper). Roast until tender about 15-20 minutes.

Melt 2 Tb. butter in a sauté pan. Add onion and cook until tender. Add sage and rosemary and a little more butter if needed and sauté until fragrant and onion is lightly browned. Add roasted squash and gently toss to coat with butter onion mixture. Garnish with more sage if desired.


Off The Shelf: The Cook and the Gardener

The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside by Amanda Hesser is part memoir, part cookbook. The book is designed around the seasons, beginning in January and going through to December. Hesser tells the story of her life in a chateau kitchen in Burgundy and how it intertwines with the chateau’s garden and its keeper, the elderly Monsieur Milbert.

Each month of the year receives its own chapter with a description of what is going on in the garden at that time of year and what gets cooked in the kitchen. The rest of the chapter is devoted to seasonal recipes using the garden produce.

If you are an avid gardener, or, are seriously interested in eating seasonally, you will enjoy this book. I did find that many of the recipes seemed very “French” (of course this is a book about living in France!) and thus perhaps too involved, or too “out there” for my taste. But, the book as a whole is very inspiring, and filled with ideas on what to grow, how to grow it, and how to cook with it. The author gives very clear, detailed instructions, so you are sure to be able to make the recipes she gives you.

I tried two recipes from this book: a soup and a salad. Both turned out very well. I loved the presentation of the egg salad and found that I could make the salad with whatever greens and herbs I had around, improvising on the recipe while keeping to the main idea. And the soup was delicious! I was skeptical at first, but upon tasting it felt like it was worthy of a fancy restaurant. I’ll be making it again, and perhaps taking up the author’s idea of freezing it in large batches when zucchini is abundant.

(The Cook and the Gardener)
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4 eggs (not new ones — they won’t peel well)
3 Tbsp. best-quality olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. heavy cream
2 handfuls tender Bibb lettuce, trimmed and washed
2 handfuls lamb’s lettuce, trimmed and washed, or mesclun
coarse or kosher salt
1/2 Tbsp. chopped tarragon leaves (about 1-2 branches)
1/2 Tbsp. chopped chervil leaves (about 4 sprigs — if not available, increase tarragon to 6 branches)
4 blades chive, sliced thin
freshly ground black pepper

Hard boil the eggs: bring a large pot filled with water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook for 11 minutes. Plunge the eggs in cold water and peel them. Sometimes it helps to run them under cold water as you peel them. The water runs between the thin skin that covers the egg and loosens it, making peeling much easier. Use a thin knife to cut them in half lengthwise.

In a small bowl whisk 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil, the mustard, and cream until well emulsified and smooth. Dress the greens: In a large mixing bowl, combine the greens, season with salt, and pour over the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Toss well to coat all the greens.

Pile the greens on a large round plate. Set the egg halves on the greens in the center of the plate. Season them with salt and drizzle on the mustard dressing. Generously sprinkle the herbs over them and then some pepper. Serve immediately. If the eggs are slightly warm, all the better.

Serves 4.

(The Cook and the Gardener)
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2-3 medium or 2 large zucchini (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for sprinkling
grated zest of one lemon
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1 shallot lobe, sliced thin lengthwise (or use white onion or green onion)
2 Tbsp. white wine
coarse or kosher salt
1 cup milk, plus more if needed
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 Tbsp. chopped wild thyme or regular French thyme (about 4 sprigs)

Peel and seed the zucchini: zucchini rarely needs much prepping, but for this dish you want a light-colored, smooth soup, so some work is required. Begin by cutting off the stem and flower ends close to the zucchini flesh. Then use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin from the zucchini. (If it bothers you to waste this, you may include it; or reserve it and saute the strips of skin in olive oil for another meal.) Cut the zucchini lengthwise in half, then in quarters. If the zucchini are older and the seeds are large, you will want to remove them by laying each quarter on its side and cutting along where the seeds and flesh meet. Discard the seeds. If the zucchini are very young, the seeds are usually insignificant and can remain a part of the soup. Now cut the quarters crosswise into even-sized cubes (about 1 inch).

In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil with half of the grated lemon zest, all of the zucchini, and the garlic, shallot, and white wine. Season lightly with salt, and lay a piece of parchment paper or a lid over the mixture to cover. Sweat over medium-low heat, stirring from time to time, for 20-30 minutes, until the zucchini is soft all the way through and there are just a few tablespoons of liquid remaining in the pan. You may have to do this in two batches if you do not have a very large pan. If so, omit the garlic and shallots from the second batch.

Puree in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with an immersion blender directly in the pan (if it is deep enough), then pass through a sieve. Now you’re probably asking, “Why did I have to bother removing the seeds if it’s going through a sieve?” Because the seeds are just small enough to clog your sieve and make this step a slow, painful one. In a large saucepan, combine the puree with the milk, cream, and thyme. The soup should be light and creamy, so you may need to add more milk or water to attain the right consistency. (Water may be better, because you do not want the soup to taste milky.)

Heat through, adjust the seasoning, and ladle into four individual bowls. Serve warm or cool, drizzling with olive oil (or cream) and sprinkling some of the remaining grated lemon zest on top of each serving just before going to the table.

Serves 4.

Note: the author suggests doubling or tripling this recipe, omitting the cream and milk and freezing it in batches to thaw later, finishing it with milk and cream then. (What a good idea!!)

Off The Shelf: June Magazines

Cooking Light (Heather) — the June issue begins with six superfast ways to cook beef and then launches into a sorbet taste-test. Features this month include: healthy grilling, making the perfect cake, and eating in Sante Fe. A large section devoted to variations on potato salad caught my eye. The summer cookbook section is full of interesting recipes using summer fruits and vegetables. As always there are also interesting articles and plenty of other recipes. All in all, this issue has its season right (summer)!

I chose to try the Herbed Ricotta Tart since I had many of the ingredients from my CSA. This recipe was simple to follow and turned out fantastic! I can’t wait to make it again, and even improvise a bit on the ingredients. It is an excellent idea for a brunch — something other than the usual quiche!

(Cooking Light, June 2010)
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 1 (11-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough (or homemade!)
cooking spray
2 cups thinly sliced green onions
1 1/3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
2 Tbsp. minced fresh dill
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large egg white, lightly beaten (I just used a whole egg)
2 Tbsp. finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.

Unroll dough, and press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch round removeable-bottom tart pan coated with cooking spray.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add thinly sliced green onions to pan; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine cooked green onions, ricotta cheese, sliced fresh chives, minced fresh dill, salt, pepper, eggs and egg white. Pour onion mixture into prepared crust; sprinkle mixture with Parmigianno-Reggiano. Bake at 375F for 35 minutes or until center is set. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut into wedges.

Serves 6.

Bon Appetit (Heather) — this issue is, of course, focused on summer. Instead of sorbets, Bon Appetit is reviewing ice-cream and giving recipes for smoothies. If you want to learn about tamarind and how to cook with it, this is the issue for you! As with Cooking Light, there are many grilled recipes and some lovely side dishes. I do feel as if the recipes in this magazine tend to be a bit more gourmet and involved — definitely what I call weekend cooking.

That said, the recipe I tried (Frittata Bites with Chard, Sausage and Feta) exceeded my expectations. The texture and taste were delicious, and even one of my kids who “hates greens” decided they liked swiss chard after eating this. I plan to use it as a breakfast casserole when entertaining and hope to make it again for dinner some evening. The frittata bites in the magazine were much taller, but that’s because they used a smaller baking pan and I used a larger one — mostly because I accidentally doubled the sausage, but also to help shorten the cooking time.

(Bon Appetit, June 2010)
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nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 12-ounce bunch Swiss chard, stems and center ribs removed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
8 ounces mild Italian sausages, casings removed, sausage broken into 1-inch pieces
8 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 1/2 ounces)
fresh Italian parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 325F. Spray an 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add Swiss chard and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Finely chop chard, then place in kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Set chard aside.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to skillet and saute until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add sausage and saute until brown and cooked through, breaking up with a fork, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Whisk eggs, cream, salt and pepper in large bowl to blend. Add chard and cooled sausage mixture, then feta; stir to blend. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.

Bake frittata until set in center, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer baking dish to rack and cool frittata 15 to 20 minutes. Place platter atop dish with frittata. Using oven mitts, hold baking dish and platter firmly together and invert frittata onto platter; place another platter atop fritata and invert again so that frittata is right side up. Cut frittata into 20 pieces.

Can be made one day ahead. Place frittata pieces on rimmed baking sheet. Cover and chill. Rewarm in 325F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.

Transfer frittata pieces to platter. Garnish each piece with parsley; serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 20 bite-sized portions.

Organic Gardening (Heather) — Organic Gardening is not a cooking magazine, but I wanted to mention it here because it encourages so much of what we like here at The Cooks Next Door: local, fresh, seasonal, organic.

This magazine has been around since World War II, and year after year brings helpful articles on how to grow your own food. The June/July issue includes articles on cooking with tomatoes, keeping hens in the backyard, varieties of peppers, a rural garden in England, and caring for your grass in a greener way. Scattered throughout the magazine are many more short, helpful articles for your garden or yard.

Having seen watermelon and tomato salads mentioned everywhere this summer, I decided to try the recipe in Organic Gardening. The result was beautiful, as well as delicious. Seasoned with salt, lime juice and basil shreds, the combination of watermelon and tomatoes worked well together. It’s the perfect salad to bring to your next summer gathering.

(Organic Gardening, June/July 2010)
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 4 cups melon balls, scooped from a ripe, sweet watermelon at room temperature
3 cups ripe ‘Sungold’ cherry tomato halves, at room temperature (I used a gourmet selection from the supermarket)
4 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh spearmint
3/4 tsp. kosher salt

Toss all ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

Serves 8.

(Alaina) I haven’t written about Better Homes & Gardens but I really like this magazine. It’s especially great for summer with the combination of gardening, home decorating, and recipes. They offer interesting articles and many do-it yourself project ideas. The recipes include several grilling recipes. The Corn & Blueberry Salad, the Chocolate Marchmallow Ice Cream Sandwiches, and the twists on BBQ sauce are all recipes I would like to try!

I decided to make the Junebug “Mocktail” (a non-alcoholic mixed drink). It was quite sweet but my family really liked it! You could serve this as a dessert with a scoop of sherbet on top. It’s quite refreshing for a hot day!

(Better Homes & Gardens, June 2010)
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3 c. ginger ale
4 Tb. grenadine
4 Tb. orange juice
3 scoops orange sherbet

Blend together ginger ale, grenadine, orange juice, and sherbet. Pour into ice-filled cocktail glasses.

Serves 4.

(Alaina) Food Network Magazine has a great issue including many summer recipes and many grilling recipes. This magazine draws from a variety of different chefs which makes for a really good publication. They continue to provide a 50 recipe pull-out section – this month features burger recipes which is perfect for summer. The different sauces and pestos looked delicious as well as the Foil-Packet Fish w/Corn Relish, Watermelon-Cucumber Salad, Strawberries and Cream Tart, and Blackberry Lemonade!

I was in need of a quick dessert, so I made Guy Fieri’s Blondies w/Dark Roots. These were better the next day and definitely better served completely cooled. While I liked these, I probably won’t make them again because they were a little cakier and a little drier then I prefer. The combination of the coconut, pecans, and dark chocolate was really nice, though!

 (Food Network Magazine, June 2010)
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1 c.  flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
5 1/3 TB. ( 1/3 c.) butter, at room temperature
3 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 Tb. vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped hazelnuts (I subbed pecans b/c I didn’t have any hazelnuts)
1/4 c. sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 c. dark chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray  an 8-inch-square glass baking dish with cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.

Beat the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with a mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Add the brown sugar and beat 3 to 4 more minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Fold in the hazelnuts, coconut and chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes in the pan before slicing.

Serves 9.

Counter Culture

This past week marked the opening of my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I was so excited to go and pick up the first produce of the season. Here’s what we received: one bag of mixed greens, one bunch of asparagus, kale, two heads of lettuce, radishes, eggs, chives, tarragon, spearmint and peppermint.

And here is what we’ve done with this delicious food:

asparagus — steamed with butter, salt and pepper
radishes — although I wanted to make this salad again, I’ve just been putting these into regular green salads
mixed greens and lettuce — salad; the first salad I made needed to be quick and consisted of the greens plus snipped chives, including the chive blossoms. Salad dressing also needed to be quick and so I used cream, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. A perfect combination!
chives — the chives have appeared in salads and our egg supper, and I’m thinking of trying to dry some to use in the winter. I’ll have to let you know how that goes.
tarragon — I’m envisioning turning this into a lemon-tarragon sauce for chicken

kale — I browned a bit of garlic in some olive oil and then threw in the washed and chopped kale to cook until it was tender. Balsamic vinegar finished it off as a delicious side dish to our pasta dinner.
eggs — we often have eggs on Saturday night since I plan for a large meal on Sunday. Most frequently I mix five eggs with 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup grated cheese, salt and pepper and bake it in a greased pie plate. This week I added snipped chives.
spearmint and peppermint — my favorite way to enjoy these herbs is in my tea. I drink Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Decaf and add a sprig of mint to my mug when brewing the tea (or make a large pot with several teabags and a few sprigs of mint). I drink this hot with milk, but it’s also excellent chilled. Some of the mint found its way into the cucumber and sugar snap pea salad that I made again this week.

We enjoyed a delicious meal for Mother’s Day, cooked for us by my sister. She made hamburgers on the grill with various toppings such as lettuce, tomato, onion, blue cheese, avocado, and bacon. Side dishes included oven fries, rice salad, and Israeli salad.

Of course the most exciting thing happening in our kitchen right now is the presence of our baby girl — Laura Elizabeth — who arrived on April 27th.

And, since Laura’s arrival, our family has been enjoying the cooking of many friends who have kindly provided meals for us. We’ve all enjoyed the variety and I think the kids are sorry to see the meals coming to an end.

Off The Shelf: May Magazines

Bon Appetit — This month’s issue is labled the “travel issue” and contains a collection of recipes from Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. Each collection is lengthy, filled with beautiful photos and art, as well as stories and recipes. There is also a feature devoted to carrots, which, apparently, are in season just now.

I tried the Chicken with Tarragon for a Sunday dinner and it came out very well. I was skeptical of taking time to roast garlic in a pan, but it was quick and easy and worked well. We paired the chicken with the green rice and cucumber salad (also included in this post) and together it was a scrumptious meal. We ended it with the Strawberry and Rhubarb Crumble from Monday’s post.

(Bon Appetit May 2010)
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3 large unpeeled garlic cloves
4 small skinless boneless chicken breast halves or cutlets
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream

Heat small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cover and cook until browned in spots and tender when pierced, turning occasionally, 9 to 10 minutes. Transfer to work surface to cool.

Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate (do not clean skillet).

Peel garlic. Add garlic and wine to same skillet; cook until reduced by about half, mashing garlic finely with fork, about 1 minute. Add broth and tarragon; simmer until liquid is reduced by about half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add cream and simmer to sauce consistency, about 1 minute. Return chicken to skillet with any accumulated juices. Simmer to heat through, turning occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; spoon sauce over.

Serves 4.

Everyday Food — of interest in this issue is a feature on raspberries (apparently these are in season too? Perhaps at the grocery store, certainly not in my backyard) with some amazing-looking recipes included. Another feature tells what to do with jarred, roasted peppers. The Breakfast for Dinner feature dishes up some very tempting meals that look easy and delicious. As always, there are a number of great, everyday meals, side dishes and desserts included as well.

I made the Green Rice and the Cucumber and Snap Pea Salad. Both were easy to make and turned out well. The salad was so fresh and delightful that we’ll be having it again soon. Honestly, I couldn’t stop eating it. A perfect salad for spring!

(Everyday Food May 2010)
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1 cup packed fresh cilantro
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves
1/4 white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 3/4 cups water
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

In a blender, combine cilantro, parsley, onion, garlic, water, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add rice and stir to coat. Add herb mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, 5 minutes. Add lime juice and fluff with a fork. Serve rice with lime wedges if desired.

Serves 4.

(Everyday Food May 2010)
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1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. white-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound snap peas, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal in 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup fresh mint, torn

In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Add cucumbers and peas. Toss to combine. Stir in mint just before serving.

Serves 4.

Everyday with Rachael Ray — Once again I am keenly aware that many magazines don’t follow seasonal eating very closely. While this magazine does include a number of seasonal-appropriate recipes (like Asparagus, Ham and Egg Pasta, and Rhubarb Fool), I question the appeal of recipes such as Potato-Leek soup, Chili, and Spaghetti Squash for this spring season. I felt this issue belonged more in fall.

However, there is a large section devoted to parties and weddings, which was fun to look through and might be beneficial if you are looking for ideas along those lines.

I tried the Gemelli with Fennel and Hot Sausage and it was an easy and delicious weeknight meal that is worth repeating.

(Everyday with Rachael Ray, May 2010)
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3/4 pound hot Italian sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used mild)
1 large bulb fennel, cut into strips
1 large onion, sliced
3 carrots, sliced on an angle
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt & pepper
1 pound gemelli pasta (I used penne)
1/4 cup chopped flat parsley

Preheat oven to 425F. On a baking sheet, toss the sausage, fennel, onion and carrots with the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain, reserving 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl.

Add the sausage -vegetable mixture to the pasta. Add the reserved pasta cooking water to the baking sheet, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to the pasta mixture. Toss in the parsley; season with salt and pepper.

NOTE: My kids liked this with grated cheese sprinkled on top.

Serves 4.

Cooking Light — While I didn’t get any recipes made from Cooking Light this month, I did bookmark a number of recipes that looked appealing. This issue includes an article on sandwiches, healthy eating while in the DC area, and a great round-up of seasonal recipes in the Dinner Tonight feature.

If you are into homemade ice-cream, you may want to check out their cooking class article on light ice-cream. There is also an article on smoothies.

The longest feature is devoted to pizza, with recipe after recipe of delicious and ingenious combinations for this favorite American food.

Other articles include: Haitian-American food, simple spring recipes, spring risottos, and budget cooking.

If you want a magazine that says SPRING!, this is probably the one for you.