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I live near an empanada haven of sorts. Within a few blocks are three different empanada shops – and an Argentine gelato place. I’m not entirely sure why we’ve become the hot bed of these delicious pastries but I’m happy about it. Not long ago a friend and I decided to do an empanada crawl and hit them all, tasting and comparing. The first, a little grocery store that’s been in the neighborhood forever, sells hot empanadas from a case by the register. On our crawl night, they had a seasonal pumpkin version that was so good I went back and got two more. The pumpkin was caramelized in deep, dark, sweet chunks, almost candied, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

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Sticky toffee pudding has always intrigued me. It’s warm, nice and moist and bathed in a buttery caramel sauce that reels me in every time. Warm caramel sauce is my thing. What has always surprised me is this cake has dates in it. It’s a date cake with caramel poured over, which in theory, always sounds a bit odd to this Yank. Dates have really come on strong in the last few years but sticky toffee pudding has been a thing in Great Britain for forever, best as I can tell. For good reason too … it’s delicious.

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Last month, I spent a chunk of time caring for my mother, post surgery. This essentially consisted of me complaining how hot it was (115°F), cajoling her to do all her physical therapy, eating as much Mexican food as possible and cooking up a storm. I wanted to fill her freezer with easy meals that could be simply reheated in the coming weeks; healthy, comforting dishes that both she and other friends and family members could easily heat up for lunches and dinners without much fuss.

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I came home from the Labor Day weekend with a big bag full of peppers, a gift from a friend with a large and productive garden. I was thrilled – homegrown produce is always welcome – but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Her husband suggested salsa but I’d just come off a similar project and wasn’t all that interested in making more. I’d already made a delightfully cheesy hatch chile queso dip, but that only used five of the hatch chiles. There we so many more in the bag. So I did what I always do when I’m not sure how to proceed: I googled. “What to make with a lot of peppers” yielded the expected results with recipes for peperonata dominating. No surprise as it is essentially a pepper dish but I was surprised at the lack of variety in the recipes. Italian in origin, peperonata contains slowly stewed sweet peppers, onions, garlic and sometimes tomato, and it is absolutely delicious. But my peppers were mainly Mexican/Southwest in origin – anaheim, poblano, hatch, jalapeno as well as a mess of hungarian yellow. An idea formed. Would a spicy version work? I wasn’t sure but a southwest style peperonata was now in the works.

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Queso. Chile con Queso. Cheese Dip. As a kid we called it Dip Dip. Whatever you call it, it’s damn good. We all know this. And we all know one other thing, though some may be ashamed to admit it. Skip the real cheese. It has to be made with melty, smooth processed cheese. Yes, the beloved Velveeta. This is not the place for fancy cheese. I’ve tried. Boy have I tried. I may make macaroni & cheese with a béchamel and handfuls upon handfuls of sharp cheddar but when it comes to queso, I track down the Velveeta. Because that’s just what it needs to be.

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When it comes to bringing a dessert to a party or summer bbq, a fruit galette is the way to go.  Absolutely, no question. First off, they are way easier to make than a traditional pie especially in an unairconditioned summer kitchen (hello, welcome to my world.) The pastry is a lot friendlier and forgiving than a pie dough due to the addition of a bit of sugar and is much easier to handle. Since galettes are free-form, they scale up or down easily and take any extra fruit additions like a champ. The filling is simple: some kind of fruit, sugar, a bit of thickener and if you’re feeling super duper fancy, some citrus zest and/or juice. But the number one reason you should be bringing galettes to parties is that there is no need to bring a pan home. Nope. No driving back the next day to get your pie tin, no wondering where the hell the bottom to your tart pan went. Slide that thing off the sheet pan onto a piece of cardboard or a cheap thrift store plate and you’re off. How many pie plates and tart pan bottoms have you lost over the years, left at long forgotten parties? Exactly my point.

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Pan con tomate. Pa amb tomàquet. Or, simply put, tomato toast. Crusty bread, juicy tomato, maybe a hint of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. That’s all there is to it. Summer in a few bites. When the tomatoes are bursting to the point of juicy ridiculousness and its too damn hot to think about doing much, this is what you make. When done properly, you’ll wonder why you eat anything else.

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