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.