I’ve come to realize that I really love things of a communal nature.

For instance, I really like cooking (it was one of my favorite things to do this summer) but what I enjoy more than the actual act of cooking is sharing what I’ve created with other people. Since I got to school I’ve been considering having a dinner party, even though I don’t have an oven or really a good place to do it. If it’s just me, I’d rather just throw something in the microwave or whip up a quick bean salad and eat that for my next three or four meals (yeah… I’ve done that). Cooking for and with other people is a whole different experience. It’s not just that there are people to appreciate what you’ve put so much effort in to (although I do enjoy that), it’s that the meal becomes a centerpiece that connects people, in conversation or just in a general togetherness. I think food almost tastes better when you’re with other people, because you put more energy and love (and sometimes stress) into it, and you take more time to savor it and you can really experience the flavor while you converse between bites.

I was going to write about some of the other communal things I enjoy, but I think I’ve save those for another time and I’ll share my quick and easy recipe for the previously mentioned bean salad and Asiago crackers. So here’s where I pretend I’m a cooking blog.


The quality of ingredients that I use depends on where and for whom I’m cooking. At home it’s usually for my family and I have access to high quality items and fresh herbs, spices, and garnish. At school it’s just for me, maybe Belen, and my budget means pretty much everything comes from Wal-Mart.

Bean (or vegetable) Salad:

3-4 Cans of Bean (or other vegetables)

– You can use whatever your favorites are, here’s the selection I usually use (my favorite combination is starred):

  Red Kidney Beans
*White Kidney Beans
Black Beans (these have kind of a strong flavor/identifiable texture so I sometimes forgo them in favor of something that blends with the salad better)
*Green Beans
*Sweet White Corn
*Artichoke Hearts (especially delicious if marinated)
White Beans
Garbonzo Beans

I haven’t tried canned asparagus yet, as I’m not a huge asparagus fan, but Belen loves it so we’ll probably try throwing that in there as well.  I haven’t tried pinto beans but I’m sure they would work as well. Try to include as much color as you can.

1 Bottle Italian Dressing

– You won’t be using the entire bottle unless you’re making a huge salad, but it’s so useful that you’ll want it later.

Any brand will do, but I recommend Newman’s Italian, it’s inexpensive and has a nice flavor – you can find it at Wal-Mart.

1 Bottle Balsamic Vinegar

– Again, you won’t be using the entire bottle

Any brand will do, but a higher quality will obviously yield a better flavor. You can also use a vinaigrette, which will sometimes include other seasonings or oils which makes for a nice flavor.

Salt and Pepper – Freshly ground.

If you don’t have access to a grinder, the regular table stuff will do, but honestly invest in the prepackaged grinder and rock salt/pepper corns because the flavor is SO MUCH BETTER. A pink salt or a nice smoked salted make for a great but subtle flavor addition.

(1)After opening your vegetables of choice you’re going to want to drain the cans. If they are marinated I will sometimes leave a little of that in the can. If you’ve gone with a more starchy bean you may want to wash them, but this isn’t strictly necessary. If you chose to include artichoke hearts you will probably want to dice them, or at least quarter them.
(2)Combine the beans/vegetables in a large bowl, stirring so they are well mixed.
(3)Add your italian dress– start with about 2 tbsp, but be prepared to add more to taste.
(4)Add balsamic vinegar/vinaigrette  — again, start with 2 tbsp but add to taste.
(5)Dash in salt and pepper. The amount you need depends both on your personal preference and the kind of dressings you’re using. I use a lot more salt with the cheaper or off-brand dressings. Newman’s has a lot of seasoning in it, and usually doesn’t require much.
(5.5) If you have fresh basil or other herbs, now is a great time to throw some in.
(6) Stir and you’re ready to serve. If you allow it to marinate for a while you’ll get an even better flavor.

So there is a really simple salad that can be as cheap and easy or as fancy and presentational as you like. It’s good for you because the beans have a lot of protein and it’s really filling. Great as a side dish, but you can also just eat a bowl of this salad as a quick lunch or dinner.

As for Asiago crackers-

1 wedge Asiago cheese

Lavash flat bread (how much depends on how much you plan to make)

Butter

Garlic salt

Optional: Cayenne Pepper seasoning for a little bite.

Cooking gear: Oven; Baking sheet; Pizza slicer

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

(1) In a small bowl combine butter and garlic salt. Ratios depend on how much you like garlic.

(2)Spread garlic butter over sheet of lavash bread.

(3) Grate Asiago over the freshly buttered lavash bread. It does not take much cheese to give these a great flavor, but if you’re a big Asiago fan you’re welcome to go for it (just remember, you’re not making nachos)

(4)With the pizza slicer, cut the lavash bread in to squares. The size of playing hard is usually easiest to eat and use of dip, but size is ultimately up to you.

(5)Bake for 5 to 10 minutes depending on how crispy you like your crackers and if you want the cheese to brown.

(6)Allow to cool, then enjoy.

These are great with artichoke or spinach dip, and they’re always a big hit at parties.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll write about some of the other communal things I like. In the future I might include some of the recipe’s I’ve tried from cookbooks at home. All this talk of food made me hungry…

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