Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Late Summer Sweets

If you'd asked me 10 or 15 years ago what my favorite season was, perhaps via an email survey with several other important questions, I would have undoubtedly, annoyingly answered "Indian summer." It was totally cheating, but ask me again now, and my answer will likely be the same. 

Autumn is, technically, the winner: I love the back-to-school feeling it evokes, along with celebrations surrounding my wedding anniversary, birthday, and Halloween. However, even after days of relentless heat and humidity, I'm never quite ready to let go of summer. There's something completely magical about the weather that we get to squeeze in between pool days and those first colorful, falling leaves. 

The sun may still be hot during Indian summer, but it's much gentler, allowing for transitional outfits like dresses with boots, and a vast range of cooking opportunities. Almost anything goes. Tomatoes are still available, greens return with a vengeance, and people who are impatient for fall start pushing flavors like cinnamon and pumpkin.

It's slightly different at our house, however. We abide by seasonal produce, of course, but grill nearly year-round, and I never adjust my desserts for the time of year...they're all chocolate, all the time. The closest I've gotten to a traditional summer dessert in the past few months was homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream, and it was absolutely divine. I followed instructions for herb ice cream and substituted several (gifted) sprigs of mint in for basil to steep in the egg yolk and cream mixture, as shown below.

Making the chocolate chips was my favorite part of the process - so simple! I melted 4 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate, added a teaspoon of vegetable oil, and spread it into a thin layer on a Silpat-covered baking sheet. After a stint in the refrigerator, I broke the chocolate into small shards, and into the ice cream maker they went. Unfortunately I was too pleased with myself to remember to take a picture of the finished product, but it was well-received by everyone who tried it.

My consolation baked good for coming back from vacation was this recipe for fudgy oatmeal cookie bars, which was very popular on Pinterest for awhile. I took a picture, but it was much less interesting than the others I've seen, but rest assured that the cookie bars are wonderful. The only thing I may change the next time I make them is the type of chocolate used for the filling - dark chocolate, instead of semi-sweet, seems like a logical next step.

As soon as I saw these brownies, I knew I needed to try them as soon as humanly possible. Last Sunday was nice and rainy, and I seized the chance to combine brownies with Kit Kat bites, plus a topping of Nutella, chocolate chips, crushed oreos, and Rice Krispies.

Need I say more? I know my high school and college selves would approve, whatever the weather.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Vacation Recipes

It's rare, but every once and awhile I find myself with some quiet time on a weekend afternoon. The house is clean, dinner is planned, and I have a chance to read a few chapters of an engaging novel, peruse the stack of magazines that have piled up next to the couch, or find something mindless to watch on TV.

Almost every moment of a week at the beach feels just that way, without any obligations aside from enjoying yourself and making delicious dinners to share with everyone in the house. Thankfully, Davy's family likes eating just as much as mine, and cooking is taken very seriously.

Aside from the traditional mid-week lobster night (always a treat), we enjoyed pasta with red sauce and sausage made by Davy's Aunt Jan in New Jersey, which was transported to the Outer Banks and then carefully prepared by his Uncle Bruce. Dinner included garlic bread to die for, and a giant, crunchy salad.

Cary and Brian put together an extensive taco feast, complete with grilled chicken, pan-fried tilapia, corn and flour tortillas, homemade cole slaw, kale salad, and pico de gallo. The picture of my plate doesn't really do it justice - everything was exceptional.

Taco night was a tough act to follow, but my parents made a fabulous meal with a variety of fresh seafood, ciabatta, and roasted vegetables. Davy discovered a hidden talent for oyster shucking that night, and I found a small pearl in one of the beauties below. 

When it was our turn to cook, we decided on a Greek-inspired spread, including chicken and pork souvlaki, Greek salad, tzatziki sauce, pita, and baked feta (an appetizer we'd ordered two days in a row from the same little restaurant in Oia). I've included a recipe for our version below. We made it again when we got back to Richmond to try to bring back some vacation magic during the work week. 

For the salad and the souvlaki, we adapted parts of this method, which I love because the dressing and marinade are composed of the same ingredients. My tzatziki, which I learned how to make on a boat tour around Santorini, is slightly different from the Serious Eats recipe in the link above, so I've included instructions below. It pairs beautifully with many different types of foods and can be made in advance, allowing you to soak up even more of that precious, precious down time.

Tzatziki Sauce

1 big clove garlic, grated
1 medium cucumber, peeled and grated
1 cup yogurt (preferably full-fat Fage, but if you can't get full-fat, let the yogurt drain over paper towels in a colander)
a few teaspoons red wine vinegar (to taste)
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil 
1 teaspoon salt for cucumbers, plus some to taste

1. Toss the cucumber with salt in a colander, and allow it to sit for 20-40 minutes.
2. Drain the cucumber - I rinse it, then squeeze out as much moisture as I can.
3. Combine the yogurt, garlic, and cucumber, then add vinegar and olive oil. At this point I just sort of play around with the olive oil, vinegar and salt until it tastes right to me. It also helps to let everything rest together for an hour or so, and then taste again. 
4. Scoop that deliciousness up with some yummy pita, serve with grilled fish, dip veggies in it, or anything else you can think of!

Baked Feta

1 lb feta cheese, crumbled or chopped
1 medium tomato, diced
half of a big green pepper, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
chopped parsley
black pepper
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place the feta in an oven-proof dish.
3. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat, then add the onion and cook until it starts to soften and turn clear.
4. Add the green pepper and let it soften a bit, then add the tomato and garlic.
5. Saute until the tomato has broken down a fair amount, and add the vegetables to baking dish with the cheese.
6. Stir ingredients until they're well mixed, and bake for 10-15 minutes until the feta is melted and mixture is bubbling. 
7. Serve with chips, crackers, or pita.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's Been Awhile

The end of July always feels strange to me. So much of the summer has already passed, and yet I have the sense of it just starting. June rushes by, Independence Day festivities seem to consume the whole month of July, but our annual Outer Banks trip doesn't happen until August. 

On Saturday I'll leave for my eighth (!) beach week with Davy's family (it would be my ninth, but there was a one-year lapse to celebrate Cary and Brian's wedding in Chicago), which will also be the first Jones/McCulloch/Goldberg beach week. My parents are joining us from Monday-Saturday, and I'm excited for them to experience a tradition that's become a big part of my life. I have a feeling it's going to be a happy, indulgent vacation for everyone.

Just as a new component is being added to our annual beach trip, I experimented last night with a twist on the normal tomato and cucumber salads that I make nonstop in the summer. Instead of cucumber chunks, I combined a ripe peach with medium-sized red and yellow tomatoes, and added diced feta and ribbons of basil. For a dressing, I reduced the amounts of the ingredients in this recipe and added a teaspoon or so of minced shallot.

Even though peaches and tomatoes are both sweet, the bite of vinegar and lemon juice kept them under control, and allowed for the underlying flavors to come out. The salty feta and fragrant basil balanced everything together, and the salad still tasted fresh today when I ate it for my mid-morning snack.

As a side note, all of the tomatoes we've gotten from Amy and the few that started coming from our own garden have all been fantastic this year. Apparently I can't get enough - on Sunday I had the privilege of eating Proper Pie's tomato pie. My mouth is watering just looking at the picture of it.

I'm going to do my best to get a few Greece posts up here soon, and hopefully capture some of our beach week dinners, which are always delicious and eventful. Happy almost August!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is Anybody There?

Well. Here we are at the end of May! I have no idea how time disappeared so quickly, but I'm grateful to anyone who's still checking the blog to see if I've written. 

Yesterday kicked off the second week of my 2013 CSA, and I'm thrilled to be getting strawberries and vegetables from Amy. I'm also attempting to grow my own vegetables again, in brand new raised beds, and will keep you informed of their progress.

For today though, I'd like to share a grain salad recipe, which has endless possibilities for substitutions and additions. It's really more of a method, based loosely on a recipe from the The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

I discovered Trader Joe's 10 Minute grains a few months, ago, and haven't looked back since. They taste just as good (to me) as the long-cooking versions, and come in small pouches that are ideal for a two-person household. I keep the farro and barley around at all times in case I need a quick and healthy base for a meal.

The version below is from early spring, but I made a salad just yesterday with roasted spring onions, summer squash, and oregano. The possibilities really are endless, as the dressing is fairly neutral, and feta tastes good with just about everything. 

Speaking of feta, I'm leaving for a big trip to Greece in two days! I can't wait to eat my weight in cheese and baklava. Thank you so much for reading, and I'm looking forward to posting more when I return (in June!!!).

Farro Salad
adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup farro
olive oil
1/2 pound carrots 
seasoning salt
fresh thyme
2 cloves minced garlic
kale - a few handfuls, chopped

5 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce/chili sauce (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon agave nectar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
pinch of cumin
black pepper

1/2 cup crumbled feta, more or less

1. Cut the carrots into bit-sized sticks, toss with olive oil, seasoning (I used Texas Heat, but you could use any kind of seasoning salt) and fresh thyme; roast at 425 to desired doneness. I checked them after 10 minutes, stirred them, and had them in for another 10.
2. Boil water for the farro and cook for 10 minutes or until it's got a slight bite but isn't too soft. Drain and set aside.
3. Whisk the dressing ingredients in the bowl you're going to use for the salad, and adjust flavors to taste.
4. Cook the kale: heat olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, then add kale and cook until it's slightly wilted and chewable.
5. Add carrots, farro, and kale to the bowl and stir to coat everything with the dressing. Top with feta and ground black pepper.