All Posts Tagged ‘Summer

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A look back — 2015 in review.

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A week late because that’s how life works.

2015. What a year. Truth be told, it was a doozy. I got to stroll through Paris on a perfect summer’s night and I got to relish the view from atop Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai. I also experienced the absolute punch in the gut of my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and have spent much of the year coming to terms with what that means for him, for me, and for our family. I left an old job, I got a new job, I left New York! I laughed (a lot), I cried (a lot, mostly behind closed doors but occasionally in the middle of dinner with friends because they are wonderful and they care about me immensely), I cooked and ate a lot a lot (some healthy, some not so healthy, some downright indulgent). The highs were really high and the lows were really low, and I end the year on a different coast than I started. And through it all, this little blog o’ mine was a constant source of comfort and a creative outlet and a way to connect with all of my people (all 35 of you).

So in celebration of all that was, here are a few highlights of the culinary variety that I will cherish from 2015.

Favorite Things I Ate in 2015
Dumplings with Black Vinegar & Chili Sauce in Flushing, NY: Do yourself a favor the next time you find yourself in the New York City metropolitan area: take the 7 train all the way to the Flushing Main Street stop, head across the street to the New World Mall and take the escalator down to the basement food court (just go with me on this one). Look for the two little ladies in the corner making dumplings by hand. Run to them as if they are your long lost surrogate Chinese grandmothers. Order one of each kind of dumpling (the pork and chive are my faves) and dive right in (don’t forget the black vinegar. Never forget the black vinegar). They’re cheap, authentic and crazy delicious. You’ll work up an appetite on the commute out, but your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.

Brillat Savarin Cheese in Paris, France: How can you go wrong with French cheese? The answer is you cannot. But when I laid my hands on this creamy slice of heaven for the first time (shout out to the cheesemonger in Montmartre who steered me in this glorious direction), it was like I had never eaten cheese before. Rich, creamy, perfect for slathering on a freshly baked french baguette. Did my cholesterol suffer as a result? Definitely. Was it worth it? Hoooooo boy was it ever. (P.S. they sell this cheese at Whole Foods so get thee some toute suite).

Kauai Waffle with Mango & Bananas and Coconut Syrup at Hanalei Coffee Roasters on Kauai, HI: Hi, my name is Tina and I don’t like sweet breakfast foods (Hi, Tina). I know, I’m a weirdo but give me bacon and eggs over pancakes any day of the week. Except Saturday, June 20th, 2015, when I first experienced the Kauai waffle. This tiny coffee shop on the North Shore of Kauai churns out these bad boys for locals and tourists alike, and you’d be a fool to pass on them. They’re light and fluffy and I swear the fruit gets picked off of a tree out back, sliced up and placed directly on the waffle because it is the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted. Also, coconut syrup. Who knew? A revelation.

Sushi from Shoga in Sandpoint, ID: Yes, that’s right, the best sushi I had all year was from a sushi bar in Idaho. Deal with it, snobs. The fish was crazy fresh, the sushi rice was on point, and I’ve never had better spicy tuna. Look ‘em up the next time you’re in North Idaho (because I know that’s a regular destination for all of you); their sister restaurant, 41 South, is also a treat.

Pan Roasted Cauliflower at Imperial in Portland, OR: My first truly great meal after my return to Portland! This city knows what it’s doing when it comes to food (see here please), so I wasn’t at all surprised that my meal at Imperial was fantastic. But the star of the show was the pan-roasted cauliflower with hummus and cara cara oranges. You know when cauliflower gets nice and brown and crispy and caramelized and it’s just the best? This was that x 1000. The rich earthiness of the cauliflower was perfectly paired with the brightness of the oranges and the hummus just rounded everything out in the best, creamiest way possible. Had I not been in a public setting, I definitely would have licked the bowl. But maybe I also did lick the bowl anyway? #sogood

Favorite Things I Cooked in 2015
Ricotta Toast w/ Lemon & Honey: Simple, easy, can be done a thousand different ways. Toast had a moment in 2015 and I was right there to try ‘em all. This one, however, came out on top for me (closely followed by OG Avocado Toast), due to its simple, fresh flavors of Spring.

Cacio e Pepe: This was the dish I came back to most in 2015. There really is nothing more satisfying than a simple bowl of pasta and cheese, and it’s so easy to throw together and so easy to jazz up, I will eat cacio e pepe for many years to come.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake: Showstopper! This was a fun one. One of those recipes that you try on a whim and you probably don’t make very often because it’s, shall we say, rather labor intensive. But it was equally as delicious and was a big hit among my rhubarb-loving coworkers. Plus, it’s real pretty.

Chicken Tortilla Stew: My favorite Fall/Winter dish, this one got a lot of people talking. It’s spicy and tangy and it warms your insides, perfect for an afternoon of football or a Saturday night dinner party or reheated on a chilly Tuesday. It’s all things to all people, the everyman’s stew. And it’s just crazy good.

Cinnamon Rolls & Bacon on Christmas Morning: OK, I’ll amend my ‘no sweet breakfast foods’ to include one item — I LOVE cinnamon rolls. So this year I thought I’d make them from scratch for Christmas morning (these ones, if you’re curious). And they were great! They aren’t beginner’s baker territory (any recipe that spans over multiple days is not for a beginner in my book), but they were worth the effort. Fry up a little bacon along side and you’re all set. Heart attack! Come at me.

Favorite Food Memories of 2015
Brunch at Russ & Daughters in New York, NY: Such a quintessential New York day. You get out of bed early, throw on about 16 layers of clothing and head out into the sub zero temperatures. Gotta get those bagels, y’all. I met a few favorite friends and we sat around in our cozy sweaters and gobbled up our perfect bagels with perfect lox and perfect cream cheese and it was heaven. Lots of laughter, lots of coffee, endless potato latkes. A cozy respite of warmth from an otherwise chilled to the bone day. I love New York for days like these, they are what makes the city so goddamn special.

Dinner at Bistroy Les Papilles in Paris, France: Bold statement — this was my favorite restaurant meal of 2015. I mean, they had a bit of an advantage going in, seeing that this is a tiny bistro in Paris run by a Michelin-starred chef that is also a wine shop and you choose your dinner wine by grabbing a bottle off the wall. It feels like you’re being invited into the chef’s home to eat, and eat you do, incredibly well. The entire meal was perfection — from the delicious wine to the falling off the bone lamb shank (oh, the lamb shank), to the gorgeous cheese course to the creme brûlée for dessert. My dinner date and I stumbled out of the restaurant as if in a fever dream, not quite sure what we had just experienced was real (also, we were probably drunk). It was insane, I still dream about it, I won’t ever forget it.

Tart night in New York, NY: Bolder statement — this was my favorite home-cooked meal of 2015 (not really a bold statement). My absolute favorite nights are those that come together spontaneously. You go in with no expectations because you’d had no time to build it up in your head, and you end up having the best of times. A roof deck with a perfect view of Manhattan at dusk doesn’t hurt either. What started as a wild experiment in baking ended in a laughter-filled night with favorite friends, gobbling up summer’s bounty and washing it down with endless rosé. Good food, good friends, good wine — what more could a girl ask for?

Clamming on Long Island, West Islip, NY: One of the saddest things I can think of is the potential of a shellfish allergy. I don’t have one, THANK GOD, but if I did, there would be tears. And because I don’t have a shellfish allergy, I was able to fully embrace digging around in the sand of the Great South Bay lookin’ for clams with my favorite LI residents. Clamming is not a graceful exercise; it mostly involves wading around in hip deep water digging your heels into the sand waiting to feel the bump of a shell. Clamming is not a speedy exercise; it takes a few hours at minimum to produce a take large enough for an actual meal. But. BUT. When you take these puppies home, scrub ‘em up, and steam them juuuuust enough to open with a little white wine and garlic and fresh herbs, it is all WORTH IT. Man, is it. Company wasn’t too shabby either.

Lunch at Machine Shed, Davenport, IA: This was a bittersweet memory. There was the joy of having most of my Radeke family together again at one table, something we haven’t done in many years. There was some really, really good fried chicken and biscuits. Maybe the best I’ve ever had. And there was the ultimate realization, through a few simple interactions, that my father is sick, and things will never be the same. I walked away from that meal with two things: One — the belief that family is everything and moments like that are not endless, so you better cherish them while you can. And Two — a butter dish shaped like a cow.

So much good in 2015, and so much good to look forward to in 2016. I hope all of you had memories to cherish from the last year, thank you for sticking with this crazy ride of mine along the way!

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sunday dinner: pan-seared steak & farmers market salad.

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It’s September, guys. SEPTEMBER (where does the time go?!). And the whole world is all pumpkin spice lattés and knee-high boots over jeans and apple picking and pumpkin patches, but you know what? IT’S STILL SUMMER. It is. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fall like WHOA, but I’m going to make the most of every last golden hour of this gorgeous season. I’m going to shout it from the rooftops like a crazy person because it’s still 80 degrees and I wanna go to the beach not the corn maze. We’ll leave sweater weather for next week.

This week is all about good meat and great veggies. The true stars of summer. Let me talk to you about what your Sunday should look like.

First, make friends with your butcher. Get him to cut you a good piece of meat. A nice NY strip or a ribeye. One that’s not too thick, not too marbled, one that’s juuuuuuust right. He’ll know which one. Your butcher will not lead you astray.

Next, the farmers markets in the Northeast are still positively bursting with amazing vegetables these days, so go hang out in one for awhile. Pick up some of those insanely delicious tomatoes, a few of the greenest beans, and a variety of fresh herbs. Grab some beets if they have ‘em, otherwise make a quick trip to the grocery store to fill out your menu.

This is simple, good food, people. It doesn’t need much, and it is the BEST. The best. Just like Summer.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pan-Seared Steak and Farmers’ Market Salad
Serves 2

You will need:

For the steak:
2 6-8oz steaks, strip steak or ribeye is best
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
1 small container cherry or grape tomatoes
4 small beets, trimmed of roots and stems
¼lb green beans
fresh feta cheese
a handful of each of the following: basil, mint, flat leaf parsley
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen equipment: cast iron pan, tin foil, baking sheet, tongs

This is the kind of dinner that produces gourmet taste with minimal effort. Literally the hardest thing you will do is chop vegetables. Promise.

Before you start anything, remove your steak from the fridge and set on a plate with a few paper towels. The goal is to allow your steak to come to room temperature, and the paper towels will soak up any excess moisture. The dryer the steak, the better the sear.

Roast the beets. You need to take care of your beets first as they will need the longest amount of time to cook. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub your beets clean and place on top of a piece of tin foil. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Fold the foil over the beets to form a little packet, leaving a little breathing room for the steam that will be produced during the cooking process. When the oven is up to temperature, roast your beets for 45 minutes until they are soft and a vibrant purple. When your beets have about 10 minutes left on their cooking time, place the cast iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven (more on this later). When you hit the 45-minute mark, remove the beets from the oven, cool slightly, then rub off the skin with a paper towel. Cool completely, slice in 1/4 inch slices and set aside.

Prep the salad veggies. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil over high heat on the stove. Cut the ends off the beans and cut in half, then add the boiling water. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the hot water and place in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Chop the tomatoes and the fresh herbs and place in a large salad bowl, adding the beans and the sliced beets. Toss with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Just before serving add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a few good chunks of feta.

Cook the steak. Once the beets are out of the oven, turn the temperature up to 500 degrees, keeping the cast iron pan in the oven. When the oven reaches 500 degrees, remove the pan (VERY CAREFULLY) and place it on a burner on high heat. Let the pan continue to heat on the stove for another 5 minutes or so. This may seem extreme but the high heat in the pan is what is going to give you a good sear on your steak.

While your pan heats on the stove, drizzle your steak with a little olive oil and rub it into the meat. Generously season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper. Add your steak to the hot pan using your tongs and don’t move it for 30 seconds. You may want to turn on your kitchen fan as the steak is likely to smoke. After 30 seconds, flip the steak and cook another 30 seconds.

Next, carefully place your pan back in the hot oven and cook for two minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, flip the steak, and cook for another two minutes (these times will produce a medium rare steak; adjust accordingly for your preferred temperature). Remove from the oven and place the cooked steak on a plate tented in foil to rest for about 10 minutes. By letting the steak rest, you allow it to reabsorb its delicious juices, which will boost the flavor and prevent a dry steak.

Once your steak has had it’s little power nap, slice it thinly against the grain and serve with a little steak sauce on the side. I made this one, and it’s delicious, but no judgment if your “homemade” steak sauce is A-1. No one will ever know.

Enjoy the simplicity of this meal — one that makes great use of a good piece of meat and the glory that is a late Summer farmers market. And enjoy the season, my friends, savor every last moment of this sweet, sweet Summer.

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meatless monday: spiced veggie tostadas with lime crema & salsa fresca.

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Can we talk about the phrase ‘meat substitute’ for a minute? A strange topic for a holiday Monday, I know, but I’d like to discuss. And what I’d like to discuss is how much I don’t like this phrase or the concept it describes. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you.

First of all, I personally don’t think that a proper ‘substitute’ for meat exists. And that’s not to say that meat is better than any other protein option out there, or that you should only eat meat, but I don’t think you can sub in a vegetable protein with the same result. Meat — whether you’re talking about beef or pork or any variety of poultry — has a specific flavor and texture that I don’t think is easily replicated. Never in my life have I been ‘tricked’ by a meat substitute to think that it’s actually meat. ‘Oh my! Is this a vegetable patty or a juicy steak? I just can’t tell!’ No. That’s never happened.

Second, and here’s the real kicker for me — vegetables are AWESOME. Like, I really really love them. So why do we need to relegate them to second class status? Why do they need to be a substitute for anything? I think they’re pretty amazing all on their own, so let’s celebrate that by cooking them in the way they should be cooked (which is to say, simply, and with little fanfare) instead of wasting our time inventing things like tofurkey (blech). OK, off my soapbox.

This recipe does exactly that — it celebrates vegetables the way they should be, with flavors that are layered and rich and full of umami. It’s a veggie party on a corn tortilla platter.

No meat necessary.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Spiced Veggie Tostadas with Lime Crema & Salsa Fresca (adapted from Blue Apron)
Serves 2

You will need:

Tostadas
1 medium eggplant
1 sweet bell pepper or 4-5 small sweet peppers
2 ears sweet corn
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 can refried beans (either pinto or black beans will do)
1 can diced jalapeños
4 corn tortillas
Mexican or cajun seasoning (or make your own with 1/2 teaspoon each of oregano, chile powder, cumin and garlic powder)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Lime Crema
1/4 cup sour cream (or Mexican crema if you can find it)
Juice of 1/4 lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salsa Fresca
1 medium tomato
1 avocado
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 lime
Handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

Kitchen equipment: baking sheet, large saute pan, various sizes of mixing bowls

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees for your tortillas.

Prep your vegetables: While the oven is coming up to temperature, prep your veggies. First wash and slice your eggplant into 1/4 inch slices, discarding the ends. Cut off the stem ends of your peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. Slice the peppers into thin strips. Shuck the corn, removing any stray silk, then cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Pit the avocado and chop roughly; place it in a bowl with the juice of 1 lime wedge. Core and rough chop the tomato and add it to the avocado. Thinly slice one half of the onion and finely chop the other and place the chopped half in a small bowl with the juice of 1/2 lime. Set aside. Wash and pat dry the cilantro, then rough chop until you have about a handful.

Whew! Anyone need a break?

I know, lots of prep work, but it will all be worth it in the end, I promise.

Bake the tortillas: Next, take your tortillas and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a little more oil on each tortilla, then flip them back and forth until both sides are thoroughly coated in oil. Bake for 6-8 minutes, then flip and back another 2 minutes, until tortillas are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and immediately season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the lime crema: mix the sour cream with the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the salsa fresca: Add the onion-lime mixture to the tomato-avocado mixture and toss to incorporate. Add the chopped cilantro, a little drizzle of olive oil, and another shake of salt and pepper. Mix it up and set aside.

Make the beans: Mix together the refried beans and the jalapeños in a small, microwave-safe bowl, then microwave on high for two minutes. Stir and set aside.

Cook the veggies: Combine the eggplant slices with a drizzle of olive oil, the mexican/cajun seasoning and a grind of salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Heat two teaspoons olive oil in your saute pan over medium-high heat, then add the seasoned eggplant in a single layer. Allow the eggplant to brown without touching them much, flipping after about 4 minutes. Brown the other side for another 3ish minutes, then remove from the pan and place on a plate with a paper towel.

In the same pan you used to cook your eggplant (don’t wipe it out, that leftover spice will be great on your veggies), add a touch more oil, then add the peppers and corn. Saute until the veggies are slightly soft and charred, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the plate with the eggplant.

Bring it all together: The finish line is in sight, folks! Hang in there for the delicious.

Take your baked tortillas, placing two on each plate. Spread a thin layer of beans on each tortilla, then top with a few slices of eggplant. Add a spoonful or two of the pepper-corn mixture, then drizzle with a little lime crema. Finish with a large spoonful of salsa fresca and a few extra leaves of cilantro. Serve with extra beans and veggies on the side.

I highly recommend a Mexican beer as the perfect pairing to this meal; the crisp bubbles of the beer bring out the rich spices of the veggies. These babies are far from a ‘meat substitute’, they are first class delicious.

Carnivores and herbivores unite! This one’s a keeper.

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sunday treat: grandma radeke’s zucchini bread.

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Let me tell you a little ditty about Thelma Radeke (aka Grandma). My father’s mother, Thelma was born in South Dakota in 1914, and at the young and fresh age of 20, she married my Grandfather and began her life in Iowa. They eventually settled in the tiny farming town of Clarence (population 961!), and my grandfather managed the local creamery, churning out award winning butter for all of Benton County. Butter is in my genes, people, and I am not mad about it.

Thelma was a tough lady and managed the family with an iron fist. Also, the woman could BAKE. Like good Lutheran, Iowa farmhouse family matriarch next level sh**. I was born on Thelma’s 66th birthday, so I like to think some of her baking magic passed down to me with that connection. I didn’t get to spend much time with her — she died when I was only six years old — but she did leave quite an impression on my family. I remember as a child, carefully fingering the delicate recipe cards in our family recipe binder — cards with tiny yellow flowers and perfect cursive script, full of her kitchen wisdom.

The legend of her dutch apple pie is known far and wide (it’s my father’s number one request come holiday time), but for me, it’s her zucchini bread that I cherish. It’s the first thing I remember baking (for my 4th grade bake sale) and it’s all I want when I’m craving some family comfort food. And now, good people of Plumber’s Daughter, I am sharing her magic with you.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Grandma Radeke’s Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 loaves (if you only need one loaf, just cut the recipe in half…but you’ll want to make two, promise)
You will need:

2½ cups zucchini, grated (about 2 medium-sized zucchini will do the trick)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup apple sauce
3 eggs, beaten lightly
3 cups flour
½ white sugar
½ light brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Sanding sugar

Optional additions (optional but HIGHLY recommended):

1 cup pecans, chopped
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Kitchen equipment: two 8×4 bread pans, large mixing bowl, box grater

You know this is a recipe from the early twentieth century because there’s not a lot of fuss or precision to it. There’s no ‘ensure the temperature is exactly 54 degrees’ or ‘beat the eggs for exactly 3.42 minutes until just fluffed’ — it’s basically just ‘put everything all in one bowl and stir until it comes together’. Thank you, Iowa.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour both of your bread pans and set aside until you need them.

Wash and pat dry your zucchini and cut off one end. Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the largest holes on your box grater. Two medium zucchini should produce about 2 1/2 cups. Set aside and turn your attention to the other ingredients.

Put all of your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to incorporate. Add the oil, apple sauce and lightly beaten eggs and stir. At this point, you’ll be like, ‘Tina. I thought we were making bread? Shouldn’t this look like a nice smooth batter, not some weird zucchini cookie dough?’ Don’t fret, my dear baker friend. Add the shredded zucchini and watch the magic happen. Because zucchini has a TON of water in it, your cookie dough-ish mixture will transform into a beautiful batter as the zucchini mixes in with the other ingredients. It will be light and bouncy and batter-ific, just like Grandma Radeke made it.

Once your batter is completely incorporated, fold in the nuts and/or chocolate chips if you’re using them (and you should use them), and pour the batter into your buttered and floured bread pans. Top each pan with an even sprinkling of about one tablespoon of sanding sugar.

Bake for one hour until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

I can’t eat zucchini bread without cream cheese, and I suggest you follow suit. The slightly sour bite to cream cheese pairs perfectly with the rich, slightly sweet flavor of the zucchini bread, it’s pure heaven. Grandma Radeke knew what she was doing in the kitchen, and it shines in this simple recipe. So get your Iowa farm kitchen baking on, and make some zucchini bread for Thelma. Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: summer panzanella.

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I love a good salad. It’s crunchy and refreshing and healthy and comes together easily because no actual cooking is involved. But do you know what I love even more than a regular old salad? A regular old salad with carbs. Lots of ‘em. Take out the lettuce and replace it with bread. Why not? The Italians did it and the Italians know what’s up.

A traditional panzanella (or bread salad) is a simple combination of tomatoes and crusty bread with a little drizzle of vinegar and oil. It’s incredibly delicious and incredibly versatile — you can literally add anything you want and/or have in your fridge. I’ve fancied up my panzanella with the addition of fresh peaches, a little cured meat, and some buffalo mozzarella, and I’ve loaded on the fresh herbs for that extra kick. Summer’s finest, y’all.

Top with a little tangy vinaigrette and you’ve got a party. A party in a salad. A party in a salad with lots o’ good carbs. YUM.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Summer Panzanella (aka Italian Bread Salad)

You will need:

Salad
1 crusty baguette, torn into pieces (preferably day old bread but no worries if it’s fresh)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 peach, cut in half and sliced thin
½ log salami or other cured meat, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ ball of buffalo mozzarella, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup arugula
8 leaves basil, torn
8 leaves mint, torn
Handful of Italian parsley (flat leaf), torn

Vinaigrette
¼ cup vinegar (red wine, white wine or apple cider vinegar are best)
¼ extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen equipment: baking sheet, large salad or mixing bowl

A good panzanella needs an hour or two to sit so the vinaigrette has a chance to soak into the bread and work its magic, so make this a few hours ahead of time and set aside on the counter (don’t put it in the fridge; chilling the tomatoes will completely destroy their sweetness).

If your bread is day old, then all you really need to do tear it into bite-sizeish pieces and you’re good to go. If your bread is fresh, however, it needs a little prepping.

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spread your torn bread pieces on a baking sheet, and toast on the top rack of your oven for 8-10 minutes until toasty but not too brown. Once toasted, remove from oven and add to your large salad bowl.

Slice your shallots into thin rings and add to a cup of cool water. Set aside to soak for about 10 minutes. This will cut the ‘onion-y bite’ that would otherwise overpower the other ingredients while still maintaining their crunch.

Chop the tomatoes, slice the peaches and the salami, and tear the mozzarella into small pieces. Add all ingredients to the mixing bowl with the bread. Wash and dry the arugula and add to the bowl.

Tear the basil, mint and parsley and add to the bowl (are you starting to see a theme here?).

To make the vinaigrette, combine the vinegar, mustard, honey and salt and pepper in a small bowl; then, whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a thin stream until completely incorporated.

Add the shallots to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and toss lightly. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss again to coat the ingredients thoroughly. Give it a dusting of salt and pepper and you’re good!

This salad is wonderful on its own (and by on its own I mean accompanied by a bottle of crisp rosé, obvi), but it’s also a great side dish to anything coming off the grill. I like to save a few pieces of toasted bread to add at the last minute so you have a nice mix of bread saturated with the dressing and bread that’s still crispy. Ever bite is a treat — herby and tangy and sweet summer tomato-y. DE. LISH.

Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: seared pork chops with peaches & basil.

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Tarzan & Jane. Anthony & Cleopatra. Kermit & Miss Piggy. Simon & Garfunkel. Pork chops & Peaches. Wait. What?

OK, maybe I’m reaching a little by adding pork chops and peaches to a list of history’s great pairings, but hey, I’m a believer (but NOT a Belieber). I’ve always been a big fan of meat and fruit together, but there’s just something about a juicy pork chop topped with equally juicy peaches that just sends me over the edge. A slight departure from the classic pork chop and apple pairing, but well worth the stone fruit upgrade. Simple, clean flavors that come together quickly, because who wants to slave away in the kitchen in the height of summer? With this tasty dish, you’ll be back out on the patio, glass of rosé in hand, in no time.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Seared Pork Chops with Peaches & Basil

For the Brine
3 cups water, divided
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 bay leaf

For the Pork Chops
2 center-cut, 3/4 to 1 inch thick (boneless or bone-in, you decide)
Olive Oil
Freshly ground sea salt & black pepper

For the Peaches
2 large peaches, cut in quarters and pitted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 leaves fresh basil, chopped

Kitchen equipment: shallow dish for brining chops, large cast iron or stainless steel pan (must be oven safe), tongs

First things first, brine your pork chops. Now, this is not a mandatory step (and this is definitely where my friend, Jaime, would say, ‘Tina, simple recipes do NOT include a step in which you brine pork chops!’) And she’d be right. But, come on, people. How hard is making a little bath for your meat if the end result is the juiciest, tastiest pork chop you’ve ever had? I say it’s well worth it, but if you can’t be bothered and/or you’re short on time, feel free to skip the brine.

If you’re completely bought into this journey, however, bring one cup water to a boil (I did this in a large mug in the microwave), then add your salt and other seasonings to the hot water. Stir to dissolve the salt, then pour into your shallow dish. Add the additional two cups of water to bring the brine to room temperature.

Add your chops to the brine, ensuring they are fully submerged (if not, you can add a bit more water until they are), then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to four hours.

Next, take your cast iron or stainless steel pan and place it on the center rack of your oven. Preheat the oven and the pan to 400 degrees. This genius little trick of preheating your pan will ensure that you get a nice, golden sear on the outside of your pork chop while still maintaining a nice juicy inside.

While your oven preheats, remove chops from their brine (or their packaging if you were all ‘screw your brine, Tina’) and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub the chops on both sides with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Set aside until the oven comes to temperature.

Once the pan is fully preheated, remove from the oven (very carefully and with oven mitts) and place on the stove over medium-high heat. I would also recommend turning on a fan or opening a window, as your pork chops might smoke a bit when added to the pan.

Now, add your chops to the pan and sear for about 3 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t move them around during this step — the key to a good sear is to let them do their thing without interruption. Once the chops have a nice crust on one side, flip them with your tongs and remove from the heat.

Place your pan back in the oven to finish the cooking, which should take about six to ten minutes depending on the size and thickness of your chops. The internal temperature when done should be between 140 to 145 degrees, so start checking them after about six minutes (and every minute thereafter) until you reach the right temperature.

When fully cooked, remove from the oven and place the chops on a plate tented with foil. Pour any pan juices over the chops — these should NOT go to waste. The chops need to rest for about 5-10 minutes to soak up and retain all those good juices, and that’s the perfect amount of time for you to cook the peaches.

In the same pan you cooked the pork, heat on medium-high on the stove. Place the peaches cut side down and sear until browned, about 30 to 60 seconds. Remove and add to the plate with the pork chops.

Serve the chops with the seared peaches, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a garnish of the chopped basil. I sautéed some green beans with a little garlic and olive oil to go along side, and of course, my trusty summer sidekick, a glass (read: bottle) of crisp rosé.

Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: cacio e pepe (with a summer flair).

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The Romans, man. They are a good people. They know how to live. And eat. And drink. They’ve brought us game changing inventions like aqueducts, concrete and newspapers. And, you know, numerals.

But my favorite Roman invention? Cacio e Pepe. Say it with me, CA-CHEE-O EH PEH-PEH. Hands up emoji. The simplest of the simple, ‘cacio e pepe’ literally translates to ‘cheese and pepper’. And that’s really all it is. Pasta blended with butter and cheese and pepper that results in a rich, flavorful, incredibly simple dish that I dare you not to love instantly.

Add a little summertime flair (it’s TOMATO SEASON, y’all) and you’ve got yourself a game changer of a meal. Thanks, Romans. Grazie mille.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Summertime Cacio e Pepe
Serves: 2

6 ounces pasta (I used bucatini, but you could use spaghetti or linguini and achieve the same result)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan Reggiano
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
1 small container cherry tomatoes
3-4 leaves basil, chopped in a chiffonade

Kitchen Equipment: large heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, large pot, microplane or zester (for grating cheese), TONGS (I heart tongs)

I love this recipe. It’s so goddamn simple and the end product will just blow you away with incredible flavor. Like, how did so few ingredients pack such a wallop of awesome? Who knows? The Romans know, that’s who.

First things first, get your kitchen prepped so you have everything at your disposal when timing matters later. Using your microplane or zester, grate your cheese and set aside. By using this tool instead of a standard cheese grater, you are making it much easier for your cheese to become melty and saucy later, rather than the undesirable clumpy and oily, because you’re basically grating it in the smallest possible way. You’re making whispy cheese fluff, if you will. And I will. You can use a standard cheese grater if you don’t have a microplane (though I highly suggest you pick one up, it’s one of my favorite and most used kitchen tools), but make sure you use the smallest holes possible.

Wash and chop your tomatoes (if they’re small enough you can just cut them in half) and chiffonade the basil.

Next, take your big pot and fill it with about 3 quarts water and a good few shakes of sea salt (the best chefs will always tell you that pasta should be cooked in water that ‘tastes of the sea’…so salt it up, don’t be shy!). Heat on high until you achieve a rolling boil.

Add the pasta and cook about two minutes shy of the suggested cooking time (I would say about two to three minutes total cooking time for fresh pasta, about six minutes for dried). Don’t you fret, the pasta will finish cooking when we add it to the pan sauce later. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile, in your large skillet or sauté pan, melt two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the pepper and swirl the pan around for about a minute to toast the pepper. Your butter should brown slightly but not burn.

Next, add the reserved pasta water and swirl the pan again to pick up all the nicely toasted pepper particles. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is bubbling nicely. Add the pasta and the rest of the butter.

Now. Here’s where the magic happens. Turn the heat down to low and using your tongs, toss your pasta in the pan sauce until evenly coated. Add the grated Grana Padano and toss quickly with the pasta using your tongs until the cheese melts into the pan sauce and starts to coat the pasta. This should take no more than 10-15 seconds.

Remove the pan from heat and add the grated Pecorino, tossing in a similar fashion as the Grana Padano. Really swirl the pasta around the pan to pick up all of the pepper and cheese sauce. If you’ve done it right, you should be left with a gorgeous, shiny cheese sauce that smoothly coats the pasta and is punctuated by lovely bits of toasted pepper.

Serve immediately in large bowls and top with the chopped tomatoes and basil.

The only accompaniment you need to this is a good glass of wine and a friend or loved one. And maybe a nice view and a summer breeze. But shouldn’t those accompany all of your summertime meals?

I think so. And the Romans do too.

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sunday dessert: blueberry basil lemon tart.

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I have a friend. Her name is Jaime. And one of my very favorite things about Jaime is that she can hang with my particular brand of weird. She never judges, she rarely questions, and she’s always willing to go along for the ride – whatever the ride may be.

Like this weekend, when I texted her, “I think I’m going to make a tart tomorrow. Do you want some?”

Any number of people would respond to a text like that with a side-eye emoji and lots of question marks, but Jaime took it in stride. “Tart night?” she said, “Absolutely!”

Thus, Tart Night was born. We roped in her husband, Doug, and her dear friend, Lexy, and made a plan. We took advantage of her glorious rooftop that came complete with killer views, a perfect evening breeze, and an ever-convenient BBQ. Jaime and Lexy ventured to Whole Foods (which is an entirely different, and completely hilarious, blog post) and returned with a bounty of fresh salmon, zucchini, and corn on the cob – and the real ticket, two bottles of rosé. (Whispering Angel, y’all — look into it). Tart Night was going to be GOOD.

So now I actually had to make the tart. Yikes. And since I couldn’t just make it easy on myself, I took approximately 14 different recipes and combined them into one. And then, there was draaaaaaama along the way! At one point, I feared that Tart Night would, in fact, be tart-less! But. I made it through.

And the tart was perfection. Tart Night was perfection. We laughed and drank and stuffed our faces with the deliciousness we had created, and I didn’t even fall off the roof when I stood on a chair precariously close to the railing to shoot a picture of the tart! (See picture below — and thank you to Jaime’s husband, Doug, my impromptu security detail, for watching my back)

It was amazing. It screamed of all of the best parts of summer, and I want to do it all again next weekend. Jaime, you down? Of course you are.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Blueberry Basil Lemon Tart

Serves: 8 (although one could argue that everyone needs their own pie, so maybe this serves one?)

You will need:

Graham Cracker Crust
12 full-size graham crackers
6 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Lemon Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
5 large egg yolks
1/3 plus ¼ cup white sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Juice and zest from one lemon

Blueberry & Basil Topping
2 pints fresh blueberries
1½ teaspoons white sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
6 leaves basil, chiffonaded (I don’t think that’s a word, but let’s go with it for now)

Kitchen equipment: rolling pin, 9” pie dish, lots of mixing bowls, wire whisk, baking sheet

I’m breaking this puppy down into three parts (plus a bonus fourth part). Each part is relatively quick in and of itself, but there’s lots of ‘cooling time’ in between, so it ends up being quite the process. This is advanced level baking folks, so sit down, strap in, and get ready for a long-ish/entertaining/fairly labor-intensive ride. OK.

Part I – Make the Pie Crust

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

If you need a little outlet for your frustrations from the week, making this graham cracker crust is a great exercise for you. First, take your graham crackers and break them up into smaller pieces. If you have one, throw them in a food processor and pulse until you have mostly fine crumbs. If you are lacking in the food processor area, toss the broken pieces in a sealable gallon plastic bag and crush the pieces into crumbs using your trusty rolling pin. Working through your anger with a rolling pin will produce perfectly smashed crumbs.

Once you have properly crushed crumbs, toss them in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the sugar and cinnamon. Mix until incorporated. Next, add the melted butter and stir to incorporate. You’re going for the texture of wet sand here – you should be able to make small clumps of graham cracker and they should stick. If the mixture is too dry, you can add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until you achieve this consistency.

Once you have your crust mixture, evenly distribute in the bottom of your pie dish to form the crust. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and ‘dry looking’. Set aside to cool completely.

Part II – Make the Lemon Pastry Cream

OK, this is where things get tricky. I must confess that my first attempt at pastry cream did NOT go well, but thanks to some strategic googling and Mr. Emeril Lagasse (BAM!) it wasn’t a lost cause, so don’t lose faith, my friend. I will see you through the dark times.

The key to making this thing work is to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start the cooking process. Pastry cream requires your full attention, some serious arm strength (SO much whisking), and an extreme sense of urgency. This is not the time to take a loosy-goosy, lackadaisical, ‘I’m just gonna laze about in my caftan’ approach. This is more of a ‘using any shred of military precision I possess’ type of exercise.

First, put your egg yolks and ¼ cup sugar in a medium bowl and COMMENCE THE WHISKING. You want to whisk the eggs and sugar until they are a pale yellow and ‘ribbons’ of batter fall from your whisk when you raise it from the bowl. This will take 2-3 minutes by hand. Once you’ve achieved this state, whisk in the cornstarch until fully incorporated and set aside.

Now to the stove. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, 1/3 cup sugar and the pinch of salt and warm until just bubbling around the edges. Remove from the heat.

Next, you want to combine the milk and the egg mixture, but DO NOT for the love of all that is holy and good just dump one into the other. If you do, you’ll end up with sweetened scrambled eggs floating in warm milk. BLECH.

No, instead, you’re going to temper the egg mixture so your result is a beautiful custard not a beautiful disaster. Starting in tiny increments (like no more than a tablespoon at a time), add the warm milk to the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Once you’ve added about ¼ cup of the milk to the eggs, you can add more at a time in a thin stream, again while whisking constantly. Do this until you’ve added all of the milk to the eggs, then pour the entire thing back into the saucepan.

Put the pan back on the stove over medium heat and whisk whisk whisk until the mixture starts to bubble. Keep on whiskin’ for another one to two minutes until the mixture thickens to the consistency of custard or pudding. Remove from heat and immediately add the vanilla extract, the butter and the lemon juice and zest; all the while continuing to whisk (I told you there’d be a lot of whisking).

Now, at this point, you may have a beautifully composed custard that is smooth and supple and shiny. You may also have a lumpy, separated mess. If you have the latter, DO NOT FRET. That is exactly what I ended up with and it all worked out for me in the end.

Transfer your pastry cream into a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic wrap down onto the custard itself. This prevents the custard from forming a really gross film on the top that will derail any hopes of a beautiful pie. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely, which should take 2-3 hours.

If you’re lucky enough to have achieved a perfect pastry cream, there are no additional steps for you (here’s your blue ribbon, you first class baker, you). If, however, your pastry cream was less than perfection, you’re not done yet. When the cream has cooled completely, take it out of the fridge and using either your trusty whisk or an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, mix the cream like mad for 3-4 minutes. Somehow, like magic, it will come together beautifully and all will be right in the world. If it doesn’t come together, keep mixing until it does, and if it still doesn’t come together, you can add up to an additional cup of warm milk to the mixture in small increments until it does. If it still doesn’t come together, then I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe have a good cry and start all over.

Part III – Make the Blueberry Topping

You’re nearing the finish line, friend! Now comes the easiest part.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Spread one pint of blueberries on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar evenly over the top. Roast the blueberries for 10-12 minutes, pulling the tray from the oven and giving it a shake once about half way through the cooking time. The juices from the berries should be flowing freely but most of the berries should still be intact.

Remove from the oven and give ‘em a squeeze of lemon juice. Transfer to a small container and place in the refrigerator to cool.

Wash the other pint of blueberries but don’t do anything else to them. They are beautiful little spirits all on their own.

Chiffonade the basil (roll the leaves into a cigar-like fashion and slice them thinly) and set aside.

Part IV – Putting It All Together

You made it! HURRAH. Now let’s finish this bad boy and get to eatin’.

First, pour the pastry cream into the finished pie crust and spread evenly, being careful to not mix any stray crust crumbs into the cream.

Next, spread the roasted blueberry mixture on top of the pastry cream, leaving a slight edge so the pastry cream peeks through near the crust. This is purely for aesthetic reasons, but I like a little pop of yellow against the dark purpl-y blue of the berries.

Finally, spread the fresh blueberries over the roasted blueberries in a single layer, using enough that it’s well-covered but also leaving a few little spots for the roasted blueberries to poke through. Then, top the fresh blueberries with the basil.

Voila! You’ve arrived. If you’re making this for dessert with friends (which I did, highly recommend) do your best not to dive face first into this little ditty right away. If you made this just for you because YOU DESERVE IT, then get in there!

I’m not going to be coy or modest about this one – it’s bonkers good. Singing from the rooftops good. Dancing a jig in your kitchen good. Making bad decisions because you drank too much tequila good.

Did it take the whole afternoon to make? Yes, likely. Was it worth it? Ooooooooh boy, that it was.

Enjoy!

'Behind the Scenes' of Tart Night aka Doug making sure I didn't fall off the roof in an effort to get the perfect shot.

‘Behind the Scenes’ of Tart Night aka Doug making sure I didn’t fall off the roof in an effort to get the perfect shot.

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sunday snack: avocado toast, plain & simple.

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I had a realization today. As realizations go, it wasn’t groundbreaking or particularly unique, but it stuck with me. Popping up every once in awhile in the quieter moments of the day. A day filled with celebration. Watching a friend about to take a big leap with her love, surrounded by family and laughter and joy.

You know what I’m talking about though, right? One of those thoughts that comes straight out of your gut and kind of smacks you across the face. It was the universe telling me, ‘Wake up! Look around! Notice things!’ And that realization? That I am surrounded by truly good people in my life. Good down to their bones — caring and funny and smart and genuine. Complicated and brave and hopeful and doing their best to figure it all out one day at a time.

With all the shit we go through every day of our lives, knowing that I have such good people around me is powerful. Maybe I’m extra sentimental these days due to things happening in my personal life (things I’m not even close to being ready to put pen to paper on), but this was an incredibly comforting thought. It felt good to put it all together. It was uplifting.

What this has to do with avocado toast, who the hell knows. But as I sit here enjoying this simple, delicious snack, I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be surrounded by such goodness. I am thankful for that. I aspire to be just as good for and to the people in my life.

And that’s all I got for this stormy Sunday (oh hello, flash flood warning).

So to all of the people in my life — you know who you are — thank you. Thank. You. You’re making this journey a whole lot easier (and immensely more enjoyable).

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

OG Avocado Toast

You will need:

1 avocado
Whole grain bread
1 lemon
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

This is the simplest of the simple. I wouldn’t even call it a recipe — it’s more of a ‘gathering of ingredients’. And it should take approximately four and a half minutes for it to come together.

First things first, drizzle a little olive oil on your bread and hit each slice with a touch of salt and pepper. Turn on the broiler in your oven and toast your bread on a cookie sheet (or directly on the oven rack) for a few minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.

Once you have some nicely browned toast, scoop the avocado out of its shell into a bowl and add a small drizzle of olive oil (about a tablespoon). If you want your toast to be extra lemony, you can add a squeeze of juice to your avocado/oil mixture, but this will make the consistency more guacamole-like, which I don’t love. Whatever, you do you. This is your toast.

Mix the avocado lightly, then mash onto the toast. Top with a bit more salt and pepper, a good squeeze of lemon juice, and as many pepper flakes as your palate can handle. Enjoy immediately.

If you want to spice things up a bit (and invest a little more time), you can make the above and flourish with any of the following combos:

  • Tomato + Basil + Balsamic Vinegar
  • Poached Egg + Hot Sauce
  • Bacon + Goat Cheese
  • Feta + Black Pepper + Kalamata Olives
  • Cucumber + Pea Sprouts
  • Grilled/Roasted Corn + Queso Fresco + Lime + Smoked Paprika

Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: summer dinner party menu.

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According to the Department of Labor website:

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

The first Labor Day was celebrated in September 1882 in New York City (we’re early adopters here in the Big Apple), and with what better way to celebrate than…a picnic.

And why not? The farmer’s markets this time of year are positively bursting with gorgeous fruits and vegetables, and the weather is just begging you to spend as much time outside as possible. Throw in the modern upgrade of a three-day weekend, and we’ve got a party, folks.

Consider this menu an elevated version of the original Labor Day picnic. You’ve got your spicy oven fried chicken — a twist on an American classic, paired with roasted corn salad and some simply dressed fresh tomatoes, both enhanced by the addition of freshly chopped herbs. Finish the day with an oat cake overflowing with blueberries and blackberries — a simple, homey treat that highlights the best of the season.

Now, full disclosure here, you don’t have to make all of this menu for dinner. If you want to make any of these individually, you can use any of the following recipes: chicken, corn, tomatoes, blueberry oat cake. But. If ever there was a more perfect combination than these best of summer flavors, I don’t know about it, so I highly encourage you to attempt the full menu.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Spicy Oven Fried Chicken

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cleaned and fat trimmed
1 cup flour
2 large eggs
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
hot sauce
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roasted Corn with Fresh Herbs & Lime Butter

6-8 ears of corn, in the husk
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as basil, sage, tarragon, chives, flat-leaf parsley)
1 large clove garlic, minced
juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Farmer’s Market Tomato Salad

1 container mixed small farmer’s market tomatoes (such as cherry or pear), halved
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, mint and flat-leaf parsley
extra virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blueberry & Blackberry Oat Cake

½ stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
¾ cup flour, plus more for pan
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons quick-cooking oats, divided
2/3 cups water
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups mixed blueberries and blackberries
2 tablespoons course sanding sugar

Kitchen items needed: large shallow bowl or baking dish, two large sealable plastic bags, large baking sheet covered with tin foil or parchment paper, metal tongs, 8×8 square baking pan

Prepping and cooking a dinner party menu is all about timing. For everything to come to the table at the same time, it requires a little multi-tasking, and you’re not going to be cooking one thing at a time. You’ll likely be cooking one thing and prepping another with the goal that all is beautiful and ready to be served without spending too much time resting or cooling to a less than ideal temperature. Follow me, and you’ll be a master at this balancing act in no time.

With that in mind, we’re going to tackle dessert first (life is uncertain, etc., etc.). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grab your 8×8 square baking pan and a stick of butter and rub butter over the bottom and the four sides of the pan (do not use the entire stick, this is not Paula Deen’s kitchen). Then, throw a tablespoon or two of flour in your pan and toss it around until the pan is thoroughly coated. Discard the excess flour, tapping the side of the pan a few times. You really only want a thin layer of flour and butter so the cake doesn’t stick to the pan when it bakes.

Measure out 1 cup of oats and combine with the water; set aside to soften.

Grab two large mixing bowls, in one whisk together all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon). In the other, combine your butter and sugars (granulated and brown) and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes (you can do this in a stand mixer, with a hand mixer, or by hand with a fork, depending on how equipped your kitchen is). Once the butter/sugar mixture is creamy and light in color, add egg and vanilla and stir until just combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in small quantities until thoroughly combined, then mix in the softened oats. Fold in about half of the berries, being careful not to crush them.

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Spread batter in your buttered & floured baking pan, using your spatula to evenly distribute. Top with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oats and the sanding sugar, then top with the rest of the berries. Place on the center rack of your preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean with some moist crumbs. Set aside to cool.

With dessert covered, let’s turn to the chicken. Clean and trim your chicken so any excess fat is removed, and place your chicken thighs in a shallow bowl or baking dish. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and douse each thigh with a few shakes of hot sauce. Cover the chicken with one cup of buttermilk, ensuring that the thighs are completely submerged in the milk. Cover dish lightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate.

Once your cake is out of the oven, turn the temp up to 450 degrees. Grab your corn and trim any excess husk or silk but do not remove the husk completely. Cooking the corn in the husk allows it to roast and steam at the same time, which delivers a sweet and juicy result. Once heated, place your corn directly on the oven rack, using two racks if necessary to ensure no cobs are touching each other. Roast for 30 minutes. The husks will brown and your kitchen will smell a little like a camp fire, but this is no cause for concern. It is merely one stop on the journey to delicious.

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At this point, you’re about half way to showtime, and you look gaaawwww-geous, daaaaahling.

While the corn is roasting, let’s make us some lime butter. Mince your garlic and place in a small mixing bowl. Juice the limes and add to the garlic, and then add the salt and pepper. Melt the stick of butter (in the microwave is easiest), then while whisking constantly, add the melted butter to garlic-lime mixture in a slow stream until completely combined and emulsified. Set aside until ready for use.

When the corn is completely roasted, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly on a baking sheet. Once cool enough to handle, remove husks and using a sharp chef’s knife, remove kernels from each cob and place in a large mixing bowl. Set aside until ready for use.

And now, it’s chicken time. First, turn your oven down to 375 degrees.

Next, grab two large sealable plastic bags — in the first, add the flour and season with salt and pepper; in the second, add the panko breadcrumbs, the cajun seasoning, the smoked paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Take your marinating chicken out of the refrigerator, and using tongs or a fork, remove the thighs from the milk, shaking a bit to remove excess liquid, and place them on a large plate. Dump the marinade and rinse out your dish, then to it add the other 1/2 cup of buttermilk, the two eggs, a few healthy dashes of hot sauce and season with salt and pepper. Whisk quickly with a fork to break down the eggs and combine with the buttermilk.

Now, you’re going to set up an assembly line of sorts in the following order: your plate of chicken thighs, the bag with flour, the buttermilk-egg mixture, the bag with the breadcrumbs, then a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper or tin foil. Using your metal tongs, grab two to three chicken thighs and place them in the bag with the flour. Seal the bag and toss the chicken thighs until thoroughly coated in flour. Use your tongs to remove the thighs from the bag (shaking to remove excess flour) and place them in the buttermilk-egg mixture. Thoroughly coat the thighs in the mixture, then transfer them to the bag with the breadcrumbs. Seal the bag and shake to coat all sides of the thighs with the spiced breadcrumb mixture. Finally, grab your thighs from the breadcrumb mixture and place, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet. Repeat this assembly line until all thighs are properly ‘dressed’ and placed on the baking sheet (don’t do too many thighs at once so as not to gum up the flour or the breadcrumbs).

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Bake the chicken for 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown and crisp and the juices run clear.

While the chicken is baking, slice the tomatoes and chop the herbs for the corn and the tomatoes. You don’t want to give the herbs the opportunity to wilt, so all of this should be put together at the last minute. Place your chopped tomatoes in a serving bowl and drizzle a little olive oil and white balsamic over the top. Season with salt and pepper.

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When your chicken has about five minutes left on the clock, mix the lime butter with the corn, then add the fresh herbs and toss to incorporate. Add the other fresh herbs to the tomatoes and toss lightly.

Remove chicken from oven and transfer immediately to a serving platter. Bring everything to the table, crack open a bottle of wine (hopefully you did this awhile ago, but if not, now’s the perfect time — I’m LOVING this rosé right now), and dig in.

The crunch of the chicken with the fresh, limey flavor of the corn and the sweetness of the tomatoes are just the absolute best flavor combination. This menu truly celebrates the best of summer and should leave any guests ‘ooohing’ and ‘ahhhing’ well after the sun goes down.

Serve the berry oat cake for dessert — it’s sweet enough that you don’t need any accompaniments — and if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, this is pure magic with a cup of coffee for breakfast the next morning.

Truth be told, I want to eat this meal every weekend, surrounded by friends and family, laughing and rollocking and just livin’ life. It will be a bright, happy memory to revive in the dark winter months when a fresh, juicy tomato is but a dream.

Until then, enjoy the last few beats of this glorious season with some fresh food, some good wine, and some great company. That, my friends, is just perfect.