Easy Summer Salad: Antipasto Chickpea Salad

Antipasto chickpea Salad Hero

One of the thing I love about summer cooking is that it’s not really “cooking” at all; there’s an emphasis on easy to put together salads and other cold dishes.

This easy and flavorful chickpea salad has 3 basic steps: (1) purchase yummy antipasto from your supermarket; (2) open a can of chickpeas; and (3) combine, season and chill.

Antipasto chickpea Salad strip 2

I love the antipasto bar at my local store. It’s abundant and filled with variety of antipasti that make it easy to pull together a simple but elegant and filling appetizer platter. You can take as much or as little as you want, put it all in one container or separate containers, and the price is calculated by pound. It’s also economical if you don’t want to store full-size jars of olives, artichokes, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and more. (No more opening a jar of fuzzy sundried tomatoes!)

I thought up this easy chickpea summer salad on my last trip to the store. I knew I wanted a mix of spicy, vinegary flavors with fresh basil and lemon. So, I selected just a few of each of: marinated artichokes, jumbo black olives, sundried tomatoes, peppadew peppers and roasted garlic cloves. You can mix and match whatever you enjoy the most, what looks great and sounds great that day. I used a 1-pound size container, but it was only about 1/2 full. It was a good chickpea-to-antipasto ratio in the final salad.

Antipasto chickpea Salad strip 1

The chickpea salad came together really easily, in minutes actually! The longest part was waiting for it to chill and blend before devouring it! Serve it as a side dish or to make it an entree salad, serve on top of a bed of mixed greens drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.

Easy Antipasto Chickpea Salad

1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and air-dried

1/2 pound of mixed antipasto

Juice of 1 lemon

1 T. olive oil

2 T. grated Parmesan cheese (or more to taste)

5 or 6 large basil leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place chickpeas in a small serving bowl.
  2. Chop antipasto into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Add the antipasto pieces (and any oil from the container) to the chickpeas.
  4. Roll the basil leaves together into a small, tight roll and slice thinly into a chiffonade.
  5. Add the basil, lemon juice, olive oil and cheese to the bowl and mix gently. Season with salt and pepper (and if you like, a bit of onion powder).
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

This chickpea salad is even better the next day! It’s a great dish to take to a summer barbecue or family reunion. Enjoy!

Serves 4.


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Chickpea salad pin

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7-Layer Quinoa Salad

7 Layer Quinoa Salad pin

A favorite 7-layer dip recipe from my mom circa 1978 inspired this healthier version. It’s a perfect side dish for a backyard barbecue or beach party.

My friend Jennifer and I like to use each other as test subjects for new recipes. It’s a wonderful excuse to get together and catch up. I recently had her over for an afternoon by the pool, and came up with this twist on a 7-layer dip. In my childhood, it was a frequent guest at a “bring a dish” party because it’s easy to assemble and nearly universally liked. This version, however, substitutes protein-packed quinoa for mushy refried beans, and there are no tortilla chips needed.

I served this with simply marinated grilled chicken breast and it was a hit! My attempt to reproduce Starbucks’ lime refresher was not as effective, however. Always tactful, Jennifer politely declined a second helping of the beverage, but went home with a container of this flavorful salad.

What You Need:

1 c. uncooked quinoa
2 c. chicken stock or vegetable stock
Olive oil
2 limes
1/2 t. each dried cilantro, oregano and parsley
Salt and pepper
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 7 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 shallot, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 c. prepared tomato salsa
1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. sour cream
1 small can sliced black olives, drained


What You Do:

1. Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions, substituting the stock for water. Place the quinoa into a large serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. (Stir in the oil and if it seems a bit dry or sticky, add a bit more oil.) Add the juice and zest of 1 lime and the herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and let the mixture cool.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients. In a small bowl, combine the corn, cherry tomatoes, shallot, jalapeno and the juice of 1/2 a lime. In a separate bowl, combine the sour cream with the juice of 1/2 a lime and set aside.

3. To layer the salad, add the ingredients in this order, but do not stir them into the quinoa:

Layer 1: Black beans

Layer 2: Corn salsa

Layer 3: Diced avocado

Layer 4: Tomato salsa

Layer 5: Cheddar cheese

Layer 6: Limed sour cream

Layer 7: Sliced black olives

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Once the dish is presented, gently mix all the ingredients in with the quinoa so every spoonful has a little bit of everything.

Serves 6 to 8



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Dorm Checklist Tops Pin List

Recently I participated in Dawn Mena’s Captivating Copy Blog Summer Camp to get fresh ideas for blog articles. One of her tips included a recap of most popular articles. I’m using that tip for this look back at my top five most pinned and repinned original non-holiday ideas in the last year.  (Stayed tuned for Halloween pins next month!)


#1 College Dorm Checklist


Dorm life checklist


When my nephew Mitchell graduated high school last year, I came up with a “college dorm checklist” to include with his gift. My brother was impressed with the checklist and encouraged me to post it online. (Click the image above to download the pdf.)

Lo and behold, as of this writing, the checklist has been pinned more than 1,000 times from this blog! On Pinterest, the pin has been been repinned 19 times, and liked 2 times. It is by far my most popular offering. Who knew?


#2 College Survival Kit

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Continuing the college theme, the College Survival Kit gift bag idea has been pinned 65 times from this blog, repinned 77 times on Pinterest and liked 18 times. It’s hard to find a camo gift bag, but the graphic I designed is easy to print and adhere to any gift bag for a similar look.


#3  Summer Fruit Salsa

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This is one of my yummiest pins so far … a light and easy summer fruit salsa with cinnamon sugar tortilla chips. Pinners are eating it up, posting it 47 times from this blog and repinning it another 37 times. Three have liked it. (Note for Pinterest users: The “like” button is a great way to save ideas without adding them to a particular board.)


#4  Baby Shower Gift Wrap


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Rounding out the top five are a couple of gift giving solutions. The first is a simple embellishment idea that people seem to like for baby showers: tie a rattle on the gift with the bow. Easy and fun! It’s been pinned four times from this blog, repinned 12 times and liked once.


 #5 How to Make a Gift Basket


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Gift baskets are a great way to give a lot of small or theme-related gifts at once. A few simple guidelines ensure anyone can put together a gift collage like a pro. This article has been pinned seven times from the blog, and repinned 11 times and liked once.


It was fun to revisit these blasts from the past, and it inspired me to add to my Gift Giving Solutions board for August birthdays, too. Be sure to check it out if you need any gifts in the next month.

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Flag Inspired Fruit Pizza

Fruit Pizza

This “pizza” is a quick and festive option for a 4th of July dessert. I make it in a glass baking dish and serve it right out of the dish. It really doesn’t get a lot easier than this.


Flag Inspired Fruit Pizza

1 roll (16.5 oz) refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese  (regular or light), softened
1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow creme
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 dry quart strawberries
1 dry pint blackberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a glass 13×9 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Break apart the cookie dough in the dish; press dough evenly in bottom of the dish to form a crust. (It’s okay if the dough comes up the side of the dish a bit.) Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack.

Wash and dry the fruit; slice the strawberries and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, marshmallow creme, lemon juice and zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Spread mixture over cooled crust. Arrange fruit in rows over cream cheese. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Serves 16 to 20.

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Easy Christmas Snack: A Merry Mix Up

Easy Christmas Snack recipe

Putting together your own snack mixes takes just a few minutes, and you have complete control over the ingredients. Substitute dried fruit and nuts of your choice, add cereal pieces … it is all up to you! This seasonally–minded mix is perfect as a festive nibbler for those holiday parties. It pairs well with everything from hot mulled cider to sparkling wine!


1 16 oz. bag of pretzels (use the square waffle-like pretzels; they catch more chocolate)
6 T. butter, melted
1/3 c. sugar
1 ½ t. cinnamon
½ c. cinnamon sugar* (see below)
1 c. white chocolate chips or melting disks
1 c. dried cranberries
1 c. shelled pistachio nuts


1. Pour the pretzels into a large microwave-safe bowl. (I divided them into two large mixing bowls.)

2. Whisk together the melted butter, sugar and cinnamon. Pour the mixture over the pretzels. (Divide the butter mixture evenly if you’re using more than one bowl for the pretzels.) Gently stir the pretzels until they are completely coated with the butter mixture.

3. Microwave the pretzels on high power for 1 minute; stir. Microwave for another 45 seconds.

4. Pour the pretzels onto a parchment-lined tray in a single layer. Sprinkle generously with the reserved cinnamon sugar. (If you have any leftover cinnamon sugar, save it in an airtight container and sprinkle it on toast or oatmeal.) Allow the pretzels to cool completely.

5. Microwave the white chocolate morsels or disks in a microwave-safe bowl on high power in 30 second increments, stirring after each increment, until almost completely melted. Stir until it’s completely melted.

6. Using a tablespoon, drizzle the melted chocolate generously on the pretzels. Top immediately with the cranberries and pistachios, so the toppings stick to the chocolate. When cool, break into pieces and pile into a serving bowl or divide to use as favors or gifts.

*To make the cinnamon sugar, combine 1/2 c. granulated sugar and 1 t. cinnamon in a small bowl.

Gift ideas:

  • Make it a party favor: package the mix in clear cellophane bags tied with a festive ribbon and a Christmas poem or verse.
  • Package the mix in mason jars; use scrapbook paper to make labels; top it with a bow.
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Favorite Treats Inspire Fall Desserts

Some flavors just go so well together they’re practically inseparable in my mind. For these fall recipes, I was inspired by two of my favorite treats that feature such a flavor pairing: caramel apples and Reese’s® peanut butter cup candy. Neither is exactly a dessert on its own, so I came up with a couple of ways to get the same flavors in a more substantial serving.


Caramel Apple Tart

Rustic Caramel Apple Tart

1 refrigerator pie crust
2 Granny Smith apples
2 Golden Delicious apples
1 lemon
¼ c. + 1 T. granulated sugar
¼ c. brown sugar, packed
1 T. all purpose flour
1 t. + ¼ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
Dash of salt
3 T. cold butter (unsalted if you have it)
Milk or heavy cream
¼ c. good quality store bought caramel sauce
¼ c. chopped peanuts

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Let the pie crust come up to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

2. Zest the lemon into a large mixing bowl. Cut the lemon in half and keep nearby. Working one at a time, peel, core and slice the apples. (I use a melon baller to core the apples.) As you place each sliced apple into the bowl, squeeze a little lemon juice and combine. This will help slow down the apples turning brown.

3. Combine the 1 T. of sugar and ¼ t. cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

4. Combine the remaining sugars, flour, spices and salt in a small bowl. Add the sugar/flour/spice mixture to the apples and mix gently but thoroughly.

5. Unroll the pie crust out onto the baking sheet. Mound the apples in the center, leaving about 2 inches all around. Cube the cold Oct 18 newsletter 001butter and dot on the apples. Gently fold (but do not stretch) the edges of the crust onto the top of the apples, making a free-form, rustic tart. Make sure there are no holes in the crust, or the butter and juice will run out. (Repair any holes by gently re-closing the pastry onto itself using a little water for glue.) Using a pastry brush, brush the milk or cream onto the crust and sprinkle the reserved cinnamon sugar on the crust.

6. Bake the tart 35 to 40 minutes until the pastry is baked through and the apples are easily pierced with a small paring knife. Remove from the oven and place the baking sheet on a wire rack.

6. As soon as it’s out of the oven, drizzle the caramel sauce over the top of the tart and sprinkle with the peanuts. (That’s a traditional caramel apple coating, but you can substitute any nut you like, or leave them out all together.) Cool on the baking sheet 20 minutes, then remove to a serving platter and serve warm. Garnish with extra caramel sauce and nuts, if desired. A little freshly whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream would be nice, too.


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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

When I found a foolproof recipe for a light, fluffy peanut butter icing, I knew it would be a great match for my chocolate cake recipe.

This recipe uses baking soda as the levener to make it rise, and reminds me of the first time I baked a chocolate cake. In the second grade, I bought a kid’s cookbook at a book fair at school. The recipe called for baking soda; instead of 1 t., however, I put in 1 c. Whoops! The cake rose up like a balloon in the oven, literally touching the top of the oven – it was quite a sight! After it came out of the oven and cooled, it shrank to about 1 inch high. I cut a square out of the center just to try it. It was awful and salty. That is when I learned that measurements matter in baking, and I also learned how to pay more attention to abbreviations.

For best results, use fresh baking soda.

1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. milk
2 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar, packed
¾ c. cocoa powder
1 T. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 c. water
1 T. instant espresso

For the frosting:
1 c. peanut butter
5 T. butter
1 t. vanilla
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 c. heavy cream
½ c. mini chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 30 muffin cups with cupcake liners. In a small saucepan boil the water and stir in the instant espresso (substitute instant coffee if that’s what you have). Keep the mixture simmering while you prepare the batter.

2. Place the oil, milk, egg yolks and vanilla in a large bowl and mix with a handheld mixer on low speed, just until combined.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the bowl and stir by hand just to combine (this will prevent the dry ingredients from spraying everywhere). Mix with a handheld mixer on medium speed 2 minutes. Add the simmering coffee mixture and fold gently. (The batter will be thin.) Using a ladle, divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about 2/3 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until a tooth picked inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for a few minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans and cool completely on the wire rack.

4. To make the frosting, combine the peanut butter, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a large mixing bowl on low speed with a handheld mixer until creamy. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the frosting is nice and fluffy. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle the mini chips on top. (Note: I recommend keeping these in the fridge because of the butter content in the frosting.)

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