Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Snaps

I heard someone say that August is like the Sunday of Summer. I couldn't agree more; I just wish it wasn't true. As Labor Day nears, I feel my favorite season slipping away and thought I'd share a few snaps from it. It was really a good one, filled with some fun trips, some special reunions and a lot of good food and drink! Hope yours was too! And while yes the tans will fade, the memories will last forever.

Heart-Shaped Homegrown
The Golden Hour
A Cool Cocktail
Afternoon in the Low Country
Best Tri-Tip (aka California BBQ)
Cold Spring's Rooftop Jungle 
My First Cronut (or Doughsant)
Full of Life Flatbread
The Calm Before the Storm at Cypress
Chicken 'n' Waffles (Santa Barbara-Style)
Sunset on the Bay
Clams with Corn
My Precious Godson
Alfresco Evenings
Nightcap by the Firepit
Lumineers Live

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Put a Beer in It

While I think women are quite capable, I still think there are some things that men do better. Like peeing outside, not holding grudges, and manning a grill. Having said that, I don't think that means women should concede those things, except for peeing outside—which I tried in a hoop skirt nonetheless when I was in college. All I can is that it's very difficult to accomplish with any sort of grace or class. But who says we can't master the grill, for instance? Well, that was my mindset when I finally decided to tackle the legendary beer-can chicken. 

I'm sure for some of you advanced grillers, you may laugh at the remedial nature of my quest. A beer-can chicken is like grilling for dummies. But I also say you can't go wrong with a classic and you have to start somewhere. While I've continued to dabble on the grill (with recipes like this and this), it's definitely still outside of my comfort zone.

This did seem easy though. You basically just stick a whole chicken on a half-full can of beer and then grill it for like an hour and you have a succulent, tasty chicken. The concept is that the steam from the beer flavors the meat and keeps it moist. And in theory the can props up the chicken for an even roast, so you don't have to worry about scorching, flipping, or stressing.  

But the problem with theories is that they are theories. And while this does seem impossible to screw up, I, of course, was able to screw it up. My error was that I didn't position the can well on the grill. It was kind of sitting precariously between the grates. (I could've just moved it 1 cm to the left or right and it would have been fine.) Rookie  move! As such, my bird tipped over and was left to grill unevenly for an unknown period of time. 

Thankfully it's a mistake you can recover from. While my bird was a little crispy (*cough*) on one side, it was indeed incredibly juicy. And I see now why men say that a grill is not an oven. You can't walk away from it when it's on. I used to think it was just an excuse to drink beer and avoid doing other work in the kitchen, but now I realize it's some pretty sound logic. 

The smoky-sweet rub offered great flavor to the meat and is also a ridiculously simple formula for success. It's as easy as 1-2-3...4 in this case. You just mix 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper, 2 Tbsp sweet paprika, 3 Tbsp brown sugar and 4 Tbsp kosher salt. This rub would be perfect for almost any meat so feel free to make a big batch and keep in the pantry so you have it at the ready.

Even though I biffed it a bit, I do think a beer-can chicken is a nearly fail-safe way to achieve grilling perfection—whether you're a guy or a girl. Even though it's easy, it's still impressive to pull a whole bird off a grill. And at the end of the day, who doesn't want to look like they've got it going on? 

Beer-Can Chicken

4 Tbsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
1 can lager beer
1 3 1/2 - 4 lb chicken
Foil baking pan

1. Prepare grill for high, indirect heat and fit with grill pan. For a gas grill, leave 1 burner turned off and place drip pan over unlit burner. Add water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch. Pour out (or drink) half of beer. 
2. Combine the first 4 ingredients into a small bowl and season the outside of the chicken with the rub. Place cavity of the chicken, legs pointing down, onto open beer can so that it supports the chicken upright. 
3. Place the can, with chicken, on the grill over indirect heat and above the drip pan. Grill chicken, covered, until cooked through and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees (about 45-60 minutes). Let chicken rest 10 minutes before carving.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Another Side of Ceviche

The first time I was exposed to ceviche I was living in Panama (as in Panama, Central America not Panama, Florida) with a very limited palate. Well, I was like 6 or 7 so my narrow focus on buttered noodles and hotdogs is kind of expected. [Side note: Chicken nuggets didn't even EXIST back then. Damn, I'm getting old!] The likelihood of me eating raw fish "cooked" in lime juice was low. Very low. It seemed like one of those "parent lies" they tell you to try to get you to do something they want yet you know they're totally full of it. Like when my mom told me that the giant bowl of whipped yucca was delicious mashed potatoes. More like mashed paste. I admit, though, that at the time I was strangely intrigued by the idea of cooking something with lime juice. It seemed improbable but I'd also recently seen my neighbor mimic an erupting "volcano" with a roll of Mentos and a 2-liter bottle of Coke.

Fast forward many years and I finally did try ceviche, like a big girl. And it was delicious and refreshing and made me feel like I was on a beach with sand between my toes. Living by the ocean provides access to wonderfully fresh fish and Santa Barbara grows citrus like kudzu in the South, so ceviche is common. It usually tastes even better with a margarita or cold beer but that is optional. I've come to realize that I really love lime, especially lime juice. I mean, I'm not dissing the lemon but if I had to choose between the two it would not even be a contest. Maybe too many tequila shots in college?....The lemon never had a chance.

So I was instantly drawn to a recipe I saw for a vegetable "ceviche" in the August issue of Food & Wine. I was hosting a dinner to celebrate Fiesta, which is Santa Barbara's equivalent of Mardi Gras with cascarones instead of beads and flamenco instead of women flashing their boobs, and thought the vegetable "ceviche" would be the perfect accompaniment to the tacos I was serving. And I was thankfully right since I made about 10 pounds of it.

It utilizes many of summer's finest stars—corn, nectarines, tomatoes—and preserves their sweetness and silkiness with a tart lime marinade, which seems like it shouldn't work but does. Kind of like cooking raw fish in lime juice. The ripe avocado adds a welcomed creaminess that compliments the zippy jalapeño and cilantro. And if you think that cilantro tastes like soap the same way that I think yucca tastes like paste, then I beg you to just give it a chance. It really does round out the balance of the dish. 

And if you want to feel a little closer to the beach, I suggest you whip up a batch of these to wash this "ceviche" down with. I feel like summer is sadly winding down so I'll gladly squeeze every last ounce out of it I can. 

Summer Vegetable "Ceviche" 
from Food & Wine

1 cup shelled edamame (or cooked baby lima beans)
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears)
2 nectarines, cut into thin wedges (can substitute peaches)
1 avocado, cubed
1 large orange bell pepper, finely julienned (you can certainly use a red or green one)
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. In a large bowl, whisk the lime zest and juice with the olive oil, scallion, jalapeño and shallot; season the dressing with salt and pepper. 
2. Gently fold in the edamame, corn, nectarines, avocado, bell pepper, and tomatoes. 
3. Refrigerate the "ceviche" for at least two hours and up to 8. Fold in cilantro just before serving. 
Serves 8-10

Friday, August 9, 2013

Get Your Drink On

It's Friday people! So it's time to get your drink on!

If you're looking for something a little more ladylike or refined, might I suggest the Peach Cooler. [Spoiler alert: It has peaches in it.] 

My girl Gywnnie created this spin on a Pimm's Cup, a cocktail favorite from Jolly Old England. It's basically a sophisticated wine cooler — and a very far cry from the Bartles & Jaymes coolers we used to drink in high school so don't judge prematurely. 

I made it for a cocktail party my parents hosted when I was visiting them in the Low Country a few weeks ago. People went nuts for it. The key of course is using really ripe and fragrant peaches. It's the perfect libation to sip on a warm summer's night (and by night I mean as soon as you can get the hell out of the office). 


Peach Cooler
from Bon Appetit

2 very rip peaches, peeled, cut into wedges
6 Tbsp peach liqueur 
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup vodka
1 English hothouse cucumber
2 cups chilled prosecco 
1 1/2 cups chilled soda water
12 fresh mint leaves

In a blender, blend the peaches, peach liqueur, and lemon juice until smooth. Pour into a pitcher and stir in vodka, prosecco and soda water. [Note: If you want to make this in advance, hold off on the prosecco and soda water so they don't go flat. Just cover and chill up to 4 hours and then add in the bubbly stuff when you're ready to serve.]
Cut 1/2 the cucumber lengthwise and into spears for garnish. Thinly slice remaining cucumber and add to the pitcher along with the mint. Fill glasses with ice and fill with the cooler. Garnish with a cucumber spear. Serves 4

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Just Can't Get Enough

When I was in middle school, I attended Camp Avalon, a sailing camp for girls in Cape Cod. There are a few stark memories: 

1) How the freezing ocean water numbed your legs and made them look like purple popsicles—even in August.

2) That I had the coolest counselor who attended Kenyon College, so of course I wanted to go to school there and be cool like her until my mom told me she wouldn't come visit me in Ohio (true story).

3) And how every single morning we were roused from our bunks by Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" blaring throughout the camp. 

depeche mode - just can't get enough by robertjgunn

You'd think I would hate that song now after being subjected to it over and over and over again like a form of torture, but to this day whenever I hear that song a big smile comes over me and I find myself jumping up and wanting to do a little Molly Ringwald dance (The Breakfast Club style). I just can't get enough of "Just Can't Get Enough!" And that is precisely the way I feel about summertime peaches! 

Which makes sense now that the American Bureau of Peaches has me on their payroll. Well, they don't really but they should because I am out there praising and pushing peaches to everyone I see. They're just so sweet and juicy right now. I don't want anyone to miss out on this seasonal delight. That probably explains why they can't seem to be kept out of any dish or drink I make right now. 

Take this salad I made for a party a few weeks ago. I was asked to bring a beet salad but in truth have grown a little tired of the omnipresent roasted beet salad. I thought for a bit the kale salad might eclipse it, but the beet salad doesn't seem ready to relinquish its crown anytime soon. Probably because it's really tasty and satisfying, especially when you add goat cheese, toasted pistachios, tangerines, and a tarragon vinaigrette to it. 

Oh and did I mention that adding peaches just catapults it to the next level of enjoyment? Cuz it does. While I know some people feel like everything is better with bacon, I'm officially changing to the "everything is better with peaches" team. We may be small but we're strong.

And because I split my time with the "everything tastes better with bread" team, I would encourage you to also try this beet-peach ("beach?") salad as a crostini. 

All I can say is get on the peaches, people! Your time is running out! 

Roasted Beet and Peach Salad

1 bunch of beets (any color--I used a few red and golden)
3 tangerines (or 2 navel oranges)
2 peaches
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
1 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped (or 1/4 tsp dried)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 handfuls of arugula
1/4 toasted pistachios 
microgreens for garnish
Baguette (optional)

1. Cut greens from beets and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast in 400 degree oven for approximately 1 hour (depending on how large the beets are).
2. Unwrap beets carefully to let steam escape. When cool enough to handle, cut stems off and peel beets. You may want to use gloves because beets can leave your hands and fingernails red—for quite a while. Slice beets. I like them in half coins but you can do wedges—whatever you like. 
3. Whisk the Dijon, vinegar, tarragon, salt, pepper and olive oil together. Tweak as needed (more salt and pepper, a drizzle of honey, etc.). 
4. Peel and slice tangerines and peaches and add to the beets. Toss with some of the vinaigrette and Italian parsley. 
5. Place arugula on the bottom of a platter. Top with beet mixture and then sprinkle crumbled goat cheese and pistachios on top. "Dust" with microgreens and serve! 
6. If you want to make this into a crostini, just slice and grill a baguette and serve along side the salad.