Chocolate (Granola) for Breakfast

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When people ask if we’re settled into our new house, I can finally say yes. Well, not including things upstairs. Or the boxes all over the basement. But we called the downstairs settled, with pictures hung on the wall and welcome mats in place, at 11PM the night before Lilli’s fourth birthday party, which was scheduled to start at 11:30AM on the following day. Lilli asked for a dinosaur-themed party, so I found dinosaur paper tablecloths, napkins, and plates, and dinosaur sun catchers as an arts-and-craft project for the kids to work on in the playroom. Obviously, the kids didn’t touch the sun catchers and were totally fine with playing dress-up, making play-dough messes, and sticking stickers on any and all surfaces.

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The arting corner

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The dress up corner

I called a bakery to inquire about having a dinosaur cake made, but nearly passed out when they told me it would cost at least $100 to make. Undeterred, and not wanting to let down my little girl, I found a dinosaur baking pan online for $10 and hoped for the best. It was not quite Cake Wrecks bad, but I can say without hesitation it was made with a ton of love by me and Rich the night before. It was a vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting, just as she requested, although it probably wasn’t exactly the vision she had in mind. It tasted much better than it ended up looking.

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Last year, for her third birthday party, we had a build-your-own cupcake bar. The year before we had a build your own sundae bar. This year, I decided to keep it simple, so we got some party-sized pizzas, which are apparently a Western Mass thing.  But we kept the DIY theme going with a build-your-own salad bar, and a yogurt bar for dessert.

You can really go any direction you want for a salad bar, but mine had two types of lettuce, peppers, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, chick peas, kidney beans, steamed green beans, steamed broccoli, shredded carrots, croutons (store-bought), artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, shredded red cabbage, feta, blue cheese, cheddar, radish, avocado, olives, beets (again, buy the packaged ones), sunflower seeds and raisins. If I had had the time I would have served pickled onions and roasted some Brussels sprouts. I served two store-bought dressings and this tamari and tahini dressing I hadn’t made in years, which was a hit.

The yogurt bar became a part of dessert, although if I had been a guest I would have totally broken into it regardless of what part of the meal we were up to. I served plain organic whole milk yogurt and vanilla organic whole milk yogurt, and raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cut up strawberries, honey, coconut, and (drumroll) this chocolate granola.

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Let’s dispel with the notion that granola is healthy. But this granola is particularly not healthy. There’s practically two cups of chocolate chips in every batch. This granola was made as a last-ditch effort to find something for Lilli’s lunch that she would eat and that would not violate the no-nuts rule at her school. I had a little bit of shame about the amount of chocolate and sugar, and debated “pretending” it was carob as far her teachers were concerned. But this is a new favorite in our house, and I’ve found myself making it every week. It’s taken up residence in a massive glass mason jar.

There aren’t a ton of ingredients to it: Some whole oats (healthy), maple syrup from up the road (not terrible), brown sugar (pretty terrible), coconut (which Lilli doesn’t know about), a little oil, and chocolate chips. Nuts had to go, and Lilli turned up her nose at the idea of dried fruit. The way this recipe came about was an accident. I added the chocolate chips too early and the heat of the granola right from the oven caused the chocolate to melt and coat everything, making a dirty good treat. It’s kind of the opposite of when Ruth Graves Wakefield added chocolate chips to her cookie dough, hoping to make chocolate cookies. Instead, she invented chocolate chip cookies.

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Getting her nails did for the party. (Six bucks for sparkly gold nails that didn’t take me hours to do a so-so job on.)

This recipe comes together very quickly, but you do have to give the oats a little stir every 15 minutes while they bake in the oven. But if I can do it on a weeknight, you definitely can, too. Here’s a little secret from my house: I never can find my quarter cup, so I always use four tablespoons. So when this recipe calls for ¼ cup of something, plus two tablespoons, I just measure out six tablespoons; it’s less clean up time in the end. Keep the large bowl you mixed the granola in to mix the baked granola and chocolate chips together.  I reach for a sturdy spatula to stir the oats in the oven, and then use it to stir in the chips at the end. You can also reuse the parchment-lined baking sheet as a cooling surface after you’re stirred the chocolate and granola to melty goodness.

Lilli eats this at least once a day, with plain whole milk yogurt. I fully acknowledge the amount of chocolate in this bars it from being health at all. But this is a dirty good, and easy recipe. Perfect for a snow day like today!

Chocolate Granola

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats

¼ cups plus two tablespoons dark brown sugar

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

¼ cup vegetable oil

¼ cups plus two tablespoons maple syrup

Pinch of salt

1 3/4 cups chocolate chips (or chopped up chocolate)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250F

In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil and salt.

Combine both mixtures and pour onto one sheet pan, covered with parchment paper or a silpat mat.

Cook for up to one hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve evenly colored golden oats.

Remove from oven and transfer back to the large bowl. Immediately pour in the chocolate chips and stir. You can either leave it in the bowl, or transfer it back to the pan for it to cool off, then break it into pieces before pouring it into a jar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Is No Wrong Answer

Growing up, Passover was the special time of year when my mom let us eat junk food. Looking back, I realize that had a lot to do with the availability of kosher junk food. The stores only stocked it at Passover, which meant it was the one time of year we got to have marshmallows or sugary rainbow fruit jells. Now that I’m a mom, I realize I’ve developed the same sort of habit in my own house. I lay low on rainbow hued candies, but Lilli is enjoying chocolate and Bissli, my favorite of the Israeli junk foods.

Lilli at zoo

As a general rule, I don’t serve matzo at my table; not worth the stomach ache. We do enjoy Tam Tams, and lucky for us, we haven’t had to convince Lilli to eat dried fruit alongside her crackers. She ate seven prunes in a row this weekend, and calls dried apples “apple candy.”

For the past few years I have purchased one box of matzo for the entire holiday, and it’s to fuel my Passover junk food tradition. Matzo crack, or matzo toffee if you’re feeling fancy, is pretty much the best thing you can do to matzo. Even better than shmearing it with Temp Tee whipped cream cheese and topping it with cherry preserves. I swear.

Research has told me that variations of this recipe have been floating around since 1985, which is the year that Marcy Goldman – she of the divine honey cakedeveloped this one. Now, I’ve seen many versions: Salted butter, unsalted butter, margarine. Sprinkled with salt (unnecessary if using salted butter),topped with nuts. White sugar, brown sugar. Let me be clear: IT’S ALL DELICIOUS. My recommendation is to trust your own palate and go with what suits you. There is no wrong answer for this one.

I saw a recipe earlier today that called for 2 cups, or 12 ounces of chocolate chips. Tonight I noticed that the Liebers’ bag of chocolate chips I always use is actually 9 ounces, and it works perfectly. This year I got all fancy and purchased a whisk and an offset spatula. But a fork to stir the sugar and butter into toffee and a butter knife to spread the chocolate works perfectly fine.

Matzo Crack

Ingredients

3 or 4 pieces of matzo, broken into large and small pieces to fit the pan

¾ cup or (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup packed brown sugar (white sugar is fine if that’s what you have)

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 275F.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place matzos in an even layer on the baking sheet. You will need to break the pieces of matzo to fit the pan. I find four pieces is generally how many it takes to fill the entire pan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sugar and immediately reduce the temperature to low. Cook, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved, thickens and begins to bubble.

Drizzle the now-toffee over the matzo and spread it to cover using a butter knife, spatula or offset spatula.

Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake until the toffee gets shiny, which should take about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and evenly sprinkle the entire pan with the chocolate chips. Let stand for five minutes. The heat of the toffee will have begun to melt the chocolate; spread the chips across the matzos with an offset spatula, spatula or butter knife. If you’re using, sprinkle with salt and/or nuts.

Transfer the entire pan of matzo crack to the fridge and chill it for at least two hours.

Break the chilled matzo crack into pieces. Best to keep it stored in the refrigerator, although you probably won’t have leftovers.

Mango Mango

I don’t know about your market, but around here, mangoes have been on sale for the past few weeks. A good sale on fruit is something I can’t just walk by – note the four pints of raspberries currently resting on the second shelf of my fridge – so on-sale mangoes always make their way into my cart. The last time I was in the market, I bought five mangoes. As soon as they ripened, I ate one and used two of them to make this fresh mango bread from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. 

Leo and Lilli

I brought this bread to Western Mass for a visit with my parents. (I also brought this double chocolate banana bread, which was a hit.) My sister-in-law had her 10-year Smith reunion at the same time, so Sylvie and Leo came up for a visit as well. Leo and Lilli had Cousin Time, where Leo’s diminutive size did not stop him getting whatever toy he wanted — even if Lilli was using it.

The bread was a big hit, so much so that there was none left for Rich, who was away for the weekend at a conference. Because I’d promised him some, I zipped home that Sunday and made the bread a second time with the remaining two mangoes. Yes, that’s right, I baked this bread twice in a four-day period.

Quick bread refers to the batter not needing time to rise like normal bread dough. But this quick bread also whips together in a flash. Sure, the baking takes about an hour and a half, but you certainly don’t need to be anywhere near the kitchen while that’s happening. The recipe calls for light brown sugar, but I used dark brown. I think it gave it a nice caramelly flavor to it.

This is a dairy-free recipe, and if you want to keep it parve, use Earth Balance instead of butter for when you butter the pan.

Fresh Mango Bread from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking

Ingredients

3 large eggs

¾ cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup (packed) brown sugar

2 cups diced mango

¾ cup moist, plump golden raisins

Grated zest of ½ lime

Directions

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 ½ -x – 4 ½ inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other. (This extra insulation will keep the bottom on the bread from overbaking.)

Whisk the eggs and oil together.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Rub the brown sugar between your palms into the bowl, breaking up any lumps, then stir it in. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, switch to a sturdy rubber spatula or wooden spoon and mix until blended – the batter will be very thick (really more like a dough than a batter) and not easily mixed, but persevere, it will soon come together. Stir in the mango, raisins and zest. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake the bread for 1 ½ hours, or until it is golden brown and a think knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (If the bread looks as if it’s getting too brown as it bakes, cover it loosely with a foil tent.) Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the pan and unmolding. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.

Go Fish

When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine suggested we buy a membership to Costco, to help defray the cost of things like diapers. We snorted at the time, because we planned on using cloth. But three months of daily loads of laundry had us questioning both environmental and practical benefits of that decision.

salmon and cantaloupe

So we got a Costco membership, over Rich’s objections. He just didn’t see the point of having to pay to shop somewhere. I kept on insisting we’d find a use for it, and I like the fact that the company pays a living wage. I also like that I don’t have to make us lunch or dinner when we hit it up on a weekend because of all the free samples, and I know he likes any opportunity to eat pork, even if it’s just on the end of a toothpick. He finally relented when, after our microwave gave up the ghost, he discovered that the difference in price between a new one at Costco and elsewhere more than covered the cost of membership.

But other than the occasional small appliance, I keep going back to Costco for a relatively short list of items: bulk hazelnuts, bulk frozen fish, bulk brown rice and produce in the wintertime. I’ve never been bashful about my love of fish; that’s why I call this blog “mostly vegetarian.” And it turns out that Lilli adores salmon as much as her mommy. So I often grab a few frozen filets the night before and toss them in a bowl in the fridge to defrost during the day. I rub a little olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt on the pieces, and simply roast them in a hot toaster oven for less than 10 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner. I cook up a huge pot of brown rice in my rice cooker once a week, and enjoy that on the side.

Elton John

Fish? Did you say fish?

But when I saw this recipe for salmon with cantaloupe and fried shallots in my 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook, I knew we had a keeper. Lilli not only loves salmon, but she also eats cantaloupe at nearly every meal. And when I told Rich I found a recipe that called for both salmon and cantaloupe he noted that there is a slurry of that in her bib after almost every dinner. The fact that this had a dressing of fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice, my own favorite trinity, was icing on the cake.

I actually had everything in the house for this dish, so it is a pantry dish, at least in my world. I eliminated the horseradish from my version, simply because I despise the taste, but I’ll leave it in parenthesis in case that’s up your alley. I also left out the celery leaves because I never have celery in the house. Buttermilk seems to always linger next to the milk in our fridge.

Fried Shallots, Round 2

Fried shallots, round 2.

I would suggest zesting the lime before you juice it; I wish the printed recipe would have said that. I didn’t scoop the cantaloupe, but used the small pieces I serve Lilli, which turned out to be just about a ¼ of an inch in size.

I’d never fried shallots before and overdid the first batch. Set a timer for four minutes and don’t think they need to be any darker when the timer beeps, because they don’t.

The salmon from Costco is skinless, but I followed the directions on the recipe and it worked beautifully.

This dish is fantastic. As Rich put it, “wow, this was like eating in a fancy restaurant!” Costco, people. Costco.

Salmon with Cantaloupe and Fried Shallots from the 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

(2 Tablespoons freshly grated horseradish)

Juice of 1 fresh lime (remember to zest the lime first!)

1 Tablespoon Asian fish sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Shallots

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 large shallots, thinly sliced crosswise and separated into rings

Cornstarch, for dusting

Salt

Salmon and garnishes

Four 6-ounce salmon fillets with skin (or, four pieces of frozen salmon from Costco you will have defrosted the night before)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1/3 small cantaloupe, scooped into small balls or cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

(Freshly grated horseradish)

(1/4 cup celery leaves)

Directions

  1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the horseradish if you’re using it, lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the fried shallots: In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil. Put the shallot rings in a colander and dust heavily with cornstarch, shaking to coat them well. Add the shallots to the hot oil in an even layer and fry over moderate heat until browned and crisp, about four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried shallots to paper towels to drain. Season the shallots lightly with salt.
  3. Prepare the salmon: Preheat the oven to 400F. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the salmon skin side down and cook over high heat until the skin is browned and crisp, about three minutes. Turn the fillets and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook for about three minutes, or until the salmon fillets are just cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, divide the cantaloupe among four shallow bowls. Drizzle with the buttermilk and season lightly with salt. Lay the salmon on the cantaloupe and spoon the vinaigrette on top. Sprinkle with the lime zest and grated horseradish. Scatter the celery leaves and fried shallots over the salmon and serve right away.

The vinaigrette and fried shallots cane be kept at room temperature for up to four hours.

 

A Family Affair

I’m doubting that Lilli will remember her first Fourth of July with her cousin Leo (son of Sylvie and Miriam, and now about 13 weeks old), but we certainly will. Each year we head up to York Harbor, Maine, to stay with Syl’s in-laws. As you might expect, this year involved many cute photo ops with our babies.

Lilli examines Leo

I like to bring a nice baked good whenever we head up (you’ll remember I sent them the date nut bread for Chanukah this year), but because Sylvie is deathly allergic to walnuts, and Miriam is allergic to all nuts, I went to work on a fruity dessert.

Super Baby!

I found my solution in a gift bag I received last week at a blogger lunch. I don’t usually go to such events, and rarely do they make their way onto my blog, but it was a great meal and I’m really happy with the product. Briefly, there is a family-run Hawaiian bakery called King’s Hawaiian. They bake a sweet bread, like one of those Portuguese breads — which, I read, is where the grandfather who started the company found his inspiration.

Cousins!

They are a West-Coast brand and are just getting started on the East-Coast, so they invited some local bloggers to a meal at the Cambridge restaurant Catalyst. Chef William Kovel did all sorts of incredible things with the bread: white gazpacho sips with marcona almonds and King’s Hawaiian garlic chips; a Greek salad with grilled ahi tuna and olive crostini. He even did a little chef demo at the end with a white chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce.

It was the first time I was really away from Lilli for an afternoon of fun, and I got a little carried away with the guava mimosas. And so, of course, I took zero photos of my meal, and only took shots of the magnificent centerpieces. I was pretty psyched to win one as a door prize, and I actually brought it up to Maine.

centerpiece

I also brought a loaf of the sweet round bread and used it to make this red, white and blue bread salad. It features strawberries from the CSA, and Syl gets special props for suggesting the addition of blueberries, making this a perfectly delicious patriotic dessert.

strawberry bread salad

Because our holiday barbecue featured meat and this bread is dairy, we had to eat our dessert first, before dinner. Unlike most of the recipes I share, this one takes some time; the bread needs to dry out overnight, so plan ahead.

Red, White and Blue Bread Salad aka Patriotic Panzanella

Ingredients

1 King’s Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread

1 quart strawberries

1 Tablespoon white sugar

¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

Pinch of kosher salt

1 cup blueberries, washed

Directions

The night before you want to serve this, slice the round bread into one-inch cubes. Set them aside on the counter overnight on a large baking pan.

The next day, clean, hull and quarter your strawberries. Macerate them by putting them into a medium sized bowl and sprinkling a tablespoon of white sugar on them. While you do the other steps of this recipe, make sure to poke them every 10 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 275F. (Yes, I know it’s July, but this oven temp isn’t exactly sultry.)

In a small saucepan, melt the stick of butter with the brown sugar and pinch of kosher salt. After it melts, pour the sauce on top of the dried out bread. Toss as if you were making a salad, with some large serving spoons. Make sure everything gets coated.

Put the pan in the oven for approximately 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the pan, scraping all the bread and the pan’s sugar bits into a large bowl. Now add the macerated strawberries and their juices to the bowl. Add the cup of blueberries. Toss everything real good. Maybe even use your hands to make sure this is done.

Serve and enjoy.

Common Scents

It goes without saying that what I miss the most about my time in New York City are the wonderful friends I made and left behind. We snuck into the city for a long weekend last week, and I’m still a little embarrassed to have not seen everyone there that I love. At one point I found myself drinking an almond butter vegan smoothie on the Lower East Side debating if I could make it to the Upper East Side, Fort Greene and onto a barbeque in Williamsburg by 5PM. (Fort Greene and a visit with Aleza won out, and the passion fruit and cocoa nibs doughnut  convinced me I made the right decision.) We also managed to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit at the MoMA and watched my Cousin David give his first improv performance at a club in Long Island City. (He was far and away the best on the stage. Rich says I’m not allowed to say anything negative about his fellow performers, so I’ll leave it at that.)

There is one other thing I really miss about the city. It’s a little strange to say, but I miss the smell – in particular, the smell of candied nuts being peddled on every corner from the top of Manhattan to the bottom of the island. There’s a kiosk or two down by Downtown Crossing, but nothing compares to the sugared perfume found on every street corner midtown. I’ve thought about lobbying Yankee Candle to capture the scent in wax.

I managed to abstain in the city, but tonight I made these. (It’s a reprise of a dish from my birthday party; my father-in-law took quite a liking to them.) It’s a riff off a smitten kitchen recipe that Deb had also riffed off of. I changed the cayenne pepper to ancho chile powder. If that’s not in your spice cabinet, no need to go to the market. You can always use cayenne, or even smoked paprika. Although nuts can get expensive, I bought this can of cashews at Ocean State Job Lot for $3. I’ve noticed Trader Joe’s tends to have a good price on nuts as well. The choice of nut is entirely up to you.

And yes, your house will smell like New York City. That’s a good thing.

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts Adapted from smitten kitchen who adapted from Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country

Karmel says: “A mason jar full of nuts and a pretty ceramic bowl is my favorite gift. If you bring these to a party, tell the host or hostess to hide them, or they will disappear.”

Ingredients

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2/3 cup white granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Generous pinch ancho chile powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pound nuts – cashews, walnuts, pecan halves – this is entirely up to you

1 egg white, room temperature

1 Tablespoon water

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix sugars, salt, chile powder, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add nuts, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

Iron Chef: CSA

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of judging a local Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient was not some creature off the ocean’s floor or an exotic fruit flown in from a far off island. Instead, it was the contents of the contestants’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, to highlight New England’s incredible summer bounties.

The teams used different farms and were assured that they didn’t need to use their entire boxes. To make sure the competition was fair, a list of standard vegetarian ingredients was issued, to be used in moderate quantities to enhance the vegetables: eggs, butter, up to 24 oz of soy products, 1 can beans/chickpeas or up to 2 lbs dried legumes, vegetable broth, garlic, onion,  nuts, flour, rice, quinoa or couscous, cornstarch, cocoa, sugar, up to 6 oz of cheese,  salt, pepper, milk, extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, lemon/lime juice. Contestants were allowed to use any spices but got extra points for fresh herbs.

Some teams really stepped up for the competition and produced terrific dishes, including a refreshing tomato granita served in a hollowed-out cucumber and fresh, homemade pasta. Others, I am sad to report, did not. “A quiche?” I asked one team. “You bring me quiche? Do you want to win?”

(Side note: Before I get a dozen comments from people defending quiche, I just want to say, I get it. In fact, I keep a package of frozen Orinoco pie shells in my freezer, just in case I need to show up at a potluck at an hour’s notice: some eggs, some milk, a softened onion, a jar of roasted red peppers kept in the pantry for this specific food emergency, a fluffy pile of grated cheese. Yes, I get it. But there’s a contest going on, people!)

“Hey,” they responded, “We were at the Springsteen concert last night. It got out late. We didn’t have enough time. The crust is homemade, if that helps.” It helped, a little. Duly noted.

After the parade of dishes, we, the judges huddled upstairs comparing notes, where, a la Twelve Angry Men, I may have provoked a “spirited” conversation about which team should win. My favorite was the first team, which kicked off the competition with fresh summer rolls stuffed with ripe mango, served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. “But Molly,” my judges pointed out, “they broke the rules. There’s no such thing as a mango in a CSA box. There’s no such thing as a local mango, period. It’s New England! And rice papers? Peanut butter? Those things just aren’t allowed.” “But they were my favorite!” I argued. “I loved the mango in the summer rolls; so refreshing in this heat.”

I was outvoted ultimately, and realistically we couldn’t award the CSA Iron Chef competition to fresh mango summer rolls. I relented and begrudgingly shaved points from their score. The winner, I guess I should just mention at this point, was the tomato granita team, which was captained by my sister. Hey, I’m nothing if not impartial.

The fresh mango was such a treat for me. I never buy them, exactly for the reason why my fellow judges felt they had no place in the competition. But here’s the thing: It’s mango season, really and truly. As Melissa Clark wrote last month, springtime is mango season in India and all the hot steamy places mangoes grow. My Facebook feed is now full of photos of friends’ mango trees in Miami, brimming with the orange gems. Considering that we seem to have skipped from winter right into summer (complete with thunderstorms and tornadoes) the time is right for fresh mango summer rolls.

I bought my rice papers at H-Mart in Burlington, but I’ve also picked them up at Super 88 (now Hong Kong Market) at Packard’s Corner. The Thai basil and fresh mint are what makes it taste like a summer roll. I picked up my bunches at Russo’s this time around, but I know H-Mart and Hong Kong Market sells them as well.

If you’ve never made a summer roll before, don’t fret, it’s very simple. Think burrito. Some of the rice papers will rip, but just keep going. And please don’t worry if they don’t all look gorgeous; they’ll still taste delicious. Make sure you have all your ingredients laid out on the counter assembly-line style, starting with a pan of warm water for soaking the rice paper.

To prepare the mango: I peel mine with a peeler, then I stand it up and, with a sharp knife, cut the flesh right up off its pit. For this dish, I slice everything very, very thin, the length and width of two matchsticks.

Most recipes I’ve read for summer rolls call for Napa cabbage, although I’ve never actually been served them that way in a restaurant. After ranch dressing, this is the best use of iceberg lettuce.  I thought that some crisp, sweet red pepper would be nice with the mango, and it was. I also used some fresh tofu, and I’ve seen some restaurants use grilled meat in theirs. I say go for it, if that’s your thing. Otherwise, hello, vegan yumminess!

Fresh Summer Rolls

8 rice papers, but keep more around because some will rip

One head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced. Use a plastic knife if you’ve got one handy; steel knives will cause the lettuce to brown.

¼ cup Thai basil, julienned

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, julienned

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Half a red pepper, cleaned and sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One mango, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One block tofu, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

Directions:

Fill a large pan with warm water and set on counter. Next to that, place a large plate. If you have room on your counter, place the herbed lettuce directly in back of the plate. If not, place it right next to the plate. Next to that, set your plate of mango, tofu and red peppers.

Take one sheath of rice paper, gently lay it into the water, swish it between your fingers for about 15 seconds, until it softens.

Remove it from the pan and lay it on the plate.

Place about ¼ cup of lettuce near the bottom of the paper. Add a slice of mango (or two), red pepper and tofu.

Fold up the bottom, then the sides, and roll up to the top.

Repeat.

And please don’t get frustrated if the first two or three, or even the seventh, rips. It will happen.

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 tablespoon grated ginger

Juice of half a lime

Mix all ingredients in bowl and give it a taste. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more sugar. Maybe you’ll think it needs more ginger. Definitely fine tune it to your own tastes. Also, this makes a ton of sauce. It will keep in the fridge for a few days. My suggestion is to find yourself some steamed broccoli and some noodles. Maybe brown rice. I promise you at no time will you throw your hands up in the air and shriek that you have too much peanut sauce on hand.