With summer drawing to a close (and boy, did it go fast this year), I’m trying to mark as many warm weather cooking projects off my culinary bucket list as possible. This season, that list has included homemade frozen yogurt, tomato cobbler, blueberry buckle and whole grilled fish. I managed to get the first three checked off in delicious fashion weeks ago, but the grilled whole fish has been haunting me since June.
Last week I decided it was time to be brave and tackle Bobby Flay’s Grilled Sardines With Garlic Walnut Sauce before Labor Day arrived. I figured that sardines would be easy, since they’re small fish (my assumption being that tiny fish would be more manageable than giant ones). Of course, when I paid a visit to my local fish market, I was told that sardines are hard to come by this time of year and that I shouldn’t expect to see them in the Philadelphia area until November.
Instead of letting my hopes be dashed entirely, I decided to pick a different small fish that could stand in for the sardines. I landed on tiny trout, and though the flesh isn’t as dense and oily, I had a sense that they would still go nicely with the sauce.
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We’ve gotten to that time of summer when even those of us who are most dedicated to the act of cooking are ready for a bit of a break from the kitchen. Thankfully, with summer produce approaching its absolute zenith, it’s possible to eat incredibly well without spending hours by the oven or the stove.
This time of year, I eat open-face tomato sandwiches for breakfast. For lunch, I toss cucumber, corn, tomato and basil together, add a little salt and olive oil and call it done. Dinnertime calls for big salads made with quick-cooking grains or pasta and lots of vegetables. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll call a friend with a grill and invite myself over for a cookout.
In past years, I used a lot of quinoa in dinner salads, but after a plaintive request from my husband for a little variety, I started scanning blogs and websites for something new. The answer came in the form of a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. She combines large couscous grains with grape tomatoes, red pepper, torn spinach, mint and a smoked paprika dressing. The finished product is both familiar (it is essentially a riff on the classic pasta salad) and different enough to be entirely appealing.
Before you start simmering your couscous, read these tips
During my late elementary and early middle school years, my mother began relaxing her food rules. This can be credited in part to my sister’s refusal to eat more than a bite or two of anything healthy, as well as my mom’s return to a full-time work schedule. There were still plenty of whole grains and vegetables in our lunch bags and on our plates, but come Friday evening, things got a little lax (however, even on these takeout nights, a bowl of carrot sticks would appear on the table).
Some weeks, we’d be allowed to order pizza. Other times, we’d pile into the car and go through the Taco Bell drive-thru. It was on one of these Friday night outings that I first tried a tostada. Back in 1991, I was totally taken by the idea of piling a world of tasty meat and cheese atop a fried corn tortilla. For years, I ordered them whenever and wherever I could and they remain one of my favorite things to order in Mexican restaurants.
Over the weekend, I found myself with a powerful tostada craving. The time had come to try and make a tasty one at home. You see, my husband, Scott, has been doing a masterful job of losing weight over the last few months, and has done it primarily by cutting out carbs. By making tostadas in our kitchen, I could quell my craving and make a meal that would work for him by subbing out the crunchy tortilla for a giant salad. Marcela Valladolid’s recipe for Shredded Spicy Chicken Tostadas was the perfect starting place.
Before you start shredding chicken, read these tips
For the last 10 years, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Center City Philadelphia. It’s a wonderful, light-filled space that has been in my family since 1965. I am well and truly lucky to call it home. The apartment really has only one downside and that’s the total absence of outdoor space. During the winter months, it’s no big thing, but come summer, I long to have a bit of space in which to grow a few vegetables and set up a grill.
I’ve not found an adequate substitute for indoor gardening yet, but when it comes to giving food a grill-like flavor and appearance, I’ve developed a few tricks. I have a stovetop grill pan and a fancy George Foreman-like appliance that does a very nice job with pork chops. When it’s about more than the simple appearance of grill marks, I use either smoked paprika, liquid smoke or hickory-smoked sea salt. Each has a way of lending a touch of open fire to the foods they’ve been added to.
Recently, my husband announced that he was longing for ribs, preferably the kind that tasted like they’d spent hours in contact with indirect, smoky heat. Before we made tracks for our local barbecue joint, I decided to see if I couldn’t find a way to mimic that kind of flavor at home.
Before you heat your oven, read these tips
For the last 10 years of their life, my grandparents ate at the same restaurant nearly every night. It was located across the street from their apartment building and served as the de facto dining room for many of their neighbors as well. My grandmother liked it because the waitresses all knew her by name and would bring her a glass of iced tea the moment she sat down. My grandfather kept going back because it appealed to his frugal side.
When you ordered off the dinner menu, in addition to being served your entrée, you also got bread, a cup of soup, a salad, two sides, dessert and coffee. All told, it was enough food for two or even three meals and Grandpa Sid saw that as a great bargain.
Each night, they’d eat their soups and salads, poke at the entrée and sides a bit and then move on to the real showpiece of the meal: dessert. Little Pete’s always had at least a dozen pies, cakes, custards and pastries on offer, along with four flavors of ice cream. When I was young, I thought it was paradise.
Before you start sifting flour, read these tips
My sister and I were quite young when our parents decided we were old enough to join them in having artichokes for dinner. An enthusiastic eater from an early age (my first sentence was, “More mayonnaise, please”), I was always happy to try a new food. My sister wasn’t quite so eager, but since there was melted butter involved, she was willing to play along.
The table was set with plates, napkins and the biggest mixing bowl we had, empty in the middle of the table. A steaming artichoke was placed on each plate. They taught us how to pull the leaves off (always taking care to avoid the thorns), dip them in the butter and then scrape the edible flesh off each leaf with our bottom teeth.
Thanks to that early training, I have spent my life as an exuberant artichoke booster. I still like eating them just like we did that first time (though a dish of homemade aioli is also good for dipping), but truly, I can’t think of a time when I’ve turned down any artichoke preparation.
Before you start cleaning your chokes, read these tips
My mother hates barbecue sauce. She won’t touch it on ribs, chicken or burgers, and can’t bear even the faintest whiff of barbecue potato chips. Her dislike is actually a point of contention in my parents’ marriage, since my father adores the stuff and once even went so far as to invest in a friend’s sauce company.
Ever the peacemaker, I’ve spent my adulthood searching out ways to create tasty grilled chicken that makes my entire family happy (in recent years, I’ve also had to work my husband’s distaste for dark meat into the chicken equation). It has to be entirely unrelated to a traditional ‘cue sauce while still being flavorful enough to turn my dad’s head away from his beloved Mr. Brown’s.
To that end, I’ve made batches of yogurt-marinated chicken breasts, a mountain of teriyaki chicken legs and even whole birds bathed in olive oil, lemon juice and rosemary and cooked under a clean cast-iron skillet.
Always on the lookout for ways to keep our summer cookouts interesting, when I spotted Bobby Flay’s recipe for Red Chile Buttermilk Chicken, I had a feeling it would be another variation that could potentially please the hearts and minds of my many persnickety family members. He has you whisk a number of spices into four cups of buttermilk, pour it over a bunch of chicken pieces and then let it sit for a while in the fridge. Once on the grill, the chicken pieces are cooked indirectly until just cooked through. The finished chicken is intensely moist and tender, nicely flavorful and shockingly easy. Plan a cookout and make it your Weekender soon.
Before you marinate your chicken, read these tips
When I was 7 years old, my parents’ best friends opened a frozen yogurt business. Their store took plain yogurt and swirled in different fruits, bits of candy and sauces to make your ideal frozen treat. To a kid, having this kind of access to dessert was magical, and my sister and I would regularly beg to be taken to the shop on weekends and summer evenings (where they’d give us extra toppings and overflowing cups of yogurt).
Sadly, the flow of frozen yogurt soon ended when my family moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore. Not only did we leave our friends’ shop behind, the cooler climate of the Pacific Northwest wasn’t nearly as welcoming to frozen yogurt as Southern California; frozen yogurt suddenly became quite hard to come by.
Still, thanks to that early conditioning, I’ve had a lifelong affinity for frozen yogurt. I’ve enjoyed the recent resurgence of shops selling the stuff in six or eight flavors, but I always wonder exactly what they’re putting in there to make it taste just like white chocolate or strawberries and cream.
Recently, with these concerns about what I was eating, I decided to try my hand at making my own frozen yogurt. I dug around for a recipe that used simple ingredients and found this one for Blueberry Frozen Yogurt from the Neelys. It features Greek yogurt, blueberries, lemon juice and just enough sugar to cut the tartness. It’s so tasty, it takes me right back to the frozen yogurt of my childhood and is perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start blending your berries, read these tips
My parents are avid vegetable and herb gardeners. My dad is responsible for digging, planting and watering, while my mom tackles the harvesting, cooking and preserving. It’s a fairly equitable division of labor for most of the season. The only time my mom complains about her end of the bargain is when the garden begins belching forth many pounds of zucchini, yellow crookneck squash and flying saucer-shaped pattypans.
Whether you’re a home gardener, CSA member or a regular farmers’ market shopper, keeping up with the flow of summer squash during its high season can easily become a full-time cooking job. I find that I am constantly looking for ways to cook it down, use it up and transform it from a rapidly reproducing raw ingredient into breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
To that end, I grate it into baked goods, cook it down into sandwich spreads and puree it into soup with tomatoes, eggplant, onions and plenty of Parmesan cheese. I also like to grill or roast it into submission and then toss it into pasta salads. Topped with a bit of cold chicken or crumbled feta, it makes for an easy dinner or potluck contribution.
Before you heat your pasta water, read these tips
I am the designated breakfast maker in my household. On weekdays, this means I make toast and coffee for myself and scramble a couple of eggs for my husband before he rushes off to work. On weekends, I try to do something a bit more leisurely. I often opt for waffles or pancakes (always made with my dad’s mix), but Scott has more of a savory tooth than a sweet one, so he regularly petitions for omelets and frittatas.
Lately, one of our favorite things to eat for breakfast while we read the newspapers (or, more often these days, our laptops) are breakfast burritos. I like that I can tuck some veggies into them and Scott likes the fact that he can sneak a bit more cheese into his when he thinks I’m not looking.
Though I often make our breakfast burritos without consulting a recipe, I do like to check out the versions that other people make in order to keep things interesting. Lately, I’ve been borrowing inspiration from this Pioneer Woman version that includes potatoes, sausage and peppers (I will confess that I sometimes tuck a little sautéed kale under the eggs, for a hit of leafy greens). A tasty Weekender, indeed!
Before you start planning your burritos, read these tips