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Posts Tagged ‘Summer’

Happy August, everyone! We’ve had a very full and good weekend so far here in “the Hav”, with a few friends visiting from out-of-town to partake in some lechon. The unfortunate things about lechon are: 1) it’s so enormous it really takes a full party to eat, and 2) it’s time-consuming and therefore requires a real occasion to make it worth making. 7 hours on the grill means we can’t make this baby on a normal weeknight!

The occasion for celebration this time around is that three of our favorite former roommates (MT, AT, and LL) were in town visiting. Perhaps the next time you come to visit, we’ll make that an excuse to fire up the grill for some lechon again!

Lechon

As far as the pork goes, this time around we tried something a little different.  First, just because it was easier to get, we used a bone-in, skin-on shoulder (instead of the boneless, skinless shoulders sold at Costco).  Perhaps the bone added flavor, but not that we could tell.  It did, however, add difficulty to carving.  The second change was that the first three hours we cooked the shoulder directly on the grill and finished the last four hours wrapped in foil.  This created a smokey, crunchy crust without drying it out.  This is a change we definitely recommend.

One additional recommendation — do overestimate the amount of meat you’ll need. We bought a 7.5 lb. bone-in shoulder for a party of 8 adults and 1 baby with a healthy appetite for meat, and ended up with barely an ounce of leftover lechon. A big part of the reason we had no leftovers is that the bone really took up a lot of the 7 lb. We spent too much time cooking for us to not end up with leftovers, so we are definitely going to overestimate in the future.

Cheese Plate

This bit is pretty exciting. Greg and I have taken to eating cheese plates pretty regularly as a pre-dinner snack, usually just a small sliver of 3-year Vermont cheddar with a few slices of peach. Cheese plates are a great way to start a party, since they’re a very low-maintenance, prep-ahead appetizer that keeps guests entertained until the main meal is served.

This cheese plate pictured above has the following: 1) toasted almonds dusted in salt, sugar, and cinnamon; 2) a small wedge of pecorino romano with a drizzle of agave; 3) hand-picked peaches from Lyman’s; 4) 3-year old Vermont cheddar.

Cabbage-Fennel-Celery Slaw

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 head fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch celery, thinly sliced
sesame oil, agave, salt to taste

This is a pretty different slaw from the type we usually make. This includes cabbage, fennel, and celery, and very minimal dressings to allow the vegetable flavors really stand out on their own. (Also, I’m suffering from a bad case of strep throat so am a bit timid about extra seasonings these days, especially anything acidic or spicy. Under normal circumstances, we would have added some apple cider vinegar or habanero salt in a heart beat!)

Slice all vegetables extremely thin, ~1/8″ thick. We used a fabulous mandoline that we had received from our two good friends on the other side of the pond (we know you’re reading this, M&A!). Salt the vegetables, and let sit, refrigerated, for at least two hours. This step helps to tenderize the cabbage.

Gently whisk together agave and sesame oil, and drizzle over the slaw. Toss all vegetables until well-combined, and taste. Add additional seasoning, if needed.

Peas-Feta-Avocado Salad (not pictured)

3 c frozen shelled peas
6 oz. feta, cubed
1 avocado, cubed
olive oil, salt, pepper to taste

Defrost frozen peas in microwave or by running under hot water for 30 seconds. Toss with cubed feta and cubed avocado. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

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Upon returning from our trip to China/Taiwan, we’ve turned over a new leaf and have decided to start eating healthier than ever. We’ve cut out processed sugar (fruit is fine), and have stuck to whole grains, lots of vegetables, and very limited sweets (save the very occasional baked treat with maple sugar or fruit as sweetener). Keeping to this new healthy lifestyle, we have collectively lost about ten pounds in the last six weeks!

We’ve recently received a cookbook written by one of my favorite bloggers — Super Natural Every Day. This book emphasizes whole grains and vegetables, keeping pantries stocked with whole, natural foods made with as little processing and as few added flavorings, stabilizers, and preservatives as possible. It’s really a fabulous read, and the blog is one of my long-standing favorites. The salad featured here is largely based on her kale salad with toasted coconut.

We made this for lunch with a bit of leftover short grain brown rice, but really any grain will do (quinoa, wheat berries, etc.). For a more substantial meal, you may want to consider adding some protein (tofu, any kind of white bean, or chicken) or a sprinkle of toasted nuts.

One important note — do be sure to wash your kale carefully. Though kale is not one of the dirty dozen, it is a “special mention” on the list of vegetables that are commonly contaminated with toxic insecticides. Also, it drives us crazy when people tell recommend discarding the ribs of kale! Yes, they are tougher than the leaves are, but full of fiber and should not pose a problem to young healthy teeth. If you’re an 80-year old with dentures, you may want to be a bit more careful, but otherwise, keep the ribs.

Coconut Kale and Caramelized Leek Salad

1/2 bunch of kale, finely chopped
1 leek
1/4 c coconut flakes, unsweetened
1 c cooked brown rice
a few sprigs of fresh herbs (we used basil)
sesame oil to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the kale and coconut flakes evenly on two cookie sheets, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 10-15 minutes. Do check on these and toss a few times during baking, as they are prone to burning.

On low heat, saute chopped leeks until soft and caramelized (brown). Alternatively, you can slice these lengthwise into halves and grill, then chop after grilling, as we did.

Once the kale and coconut are finished, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, drizzle with a bit of sesame oil or good olive oil, add some chopped herbs (basil, in our case), and a grinding or two of black pepper.

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Summer’s Bounty

One of the best things about summer is the sheer amount of produce available! Here in Connecticut, summer squash, leafy greens, and berries are flooding our markets with color and flavor and fragrance. A recent trip to Edge of the Woods yielded a bounty of summer’s finest — kale, rainbow chard, eggplant, and tomatoes.

It’s these tomatoes that inspired our dinner tonight. Beautiful, bright Jersey grown yellow and red tomatoes were the star. The key to taking simple salads like this truly over the top is to use all good ingredients. When you’re only using a few ingredients, use the best you can get your hands on. Every ingredient will stand out, so every ingredient should shine. (Keep in mind that good ingredients don’t have to break the bank; these tomatoes were only $2/lb!)

We tossed these tomatoes gently with some crumbled feta cheese, then heaped onto a bed of spinach. We used a pinch of New Zealand salt, a drizzle of Modena balsamic vinegar, and finished it off with a 2011 Spanish olive oil and a grinding of black pepper. (Again, as fancy as all of these ingredients may sound, they don’t have to be expensive. We buy our olive oil and balsamic vinegar at Costco, which has excellent, affordable Kirkland brand ingredients.)

Tomato Feta Spinach Salad

Two tomatoes, chopped
4 oz. feta, crumbled
Two handfuls of spinach, washed
good olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, good salt

Gently toss tomatoes and feta. Spread spinach onto serving plate. Heap with tomato-feta mixture. Top with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

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It’s the beginning of blueberry season here in Connecticut, and we spent the morning picking our own at Lyman’s Orchards. Lyman’s has made many an appearance on this blog, as it is one of the largest (>1,000 acres!) family farms in Connecticut. Lyman’s is one of the primary reasons we’re contemplating the possibility of staying in Connecticut past Greg’s graduation. The pizza here is great, Yale is okay, and having the best orchard in the world a mere half hour drive away certainly doesn’t hurt. (Actually, having our group of friends here is really the key reason we’d stay… but more on that two years from now.)

Blueberries are terrifically healthy, high in oxygen radical absorbance capacity (also known as ORACs) which can prevent brain aging and cancer! Blueberries are also a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and manganese. The only catch is that due to their thin skins, they can easily absorb pesticides (if used), so be sure to wash carefully with water and a splash of vinegar to kill most bacteria and any mold spores.

We’ve been snacking on blueberries straight from the container since we got them, and have also enjoyed them with a splash of vanilla soy milk, and blended into a post-workout smoothie with some frozen strawberries and orange juice. And since we’re technically on a diet with a strict baking restriction imposed on me, we made just a mini-portion of following recipe. Enjoy!

Blueberry Tartlets*

1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 T confectioners’ sugar
3 T butter
1 T ice water

1 c blueberries, washed
1/8 c sugar
1/2 T cornstarch
1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 T lemon zest

Pulse flour, confectioners’ sugar, and a pinch of salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With processor running, add cold water gradually until a dough forms.

Shape dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day. Cut 1 disk into 6 pieces; on a lightly floured work surface, flatten each piece into a 2-inch round. Press a round onto bottom and up sides of each cup of a 6-cup nonstick muffin tin. Freeze 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Add berries; toss to coat. Add lemon juice. Fill shells with berry mixture. Bake until crusts are brown and filling is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly in tins. Run a rubber spatula around tarts; remove from tins. Let cool completely on rack.

*This recipe has been halved to make six cupcake-sized tartlets (of which we gave away two!)

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We wouldn’t have guessed it until this weekend, but Labor Day marks the completion of quite a year.  Okay, I suppose it’s a little bit arbitrary where we start counting (like, maybe our wedding day is slightly more appropriate) but Labor Day coincides well, too.

One year ago this weekend we had our first housewarming party as a couple, in our very own apartment, our very own home together.  It was somewhat of an eclectic soiree, combining a number of our old New York, yuppy (“young urban professional”–with no judgment attached) friends and a number of our new New Haven friends (decidedly less yuppy).  We made black beans and arepas (back in the pre-grill days) and four (or five?) desserts (can’t blame this one on not having a grill).

It was also the first time all of us met Andy.  In this last year, Andy and his now wife Marcella have been featured guests at many meals; they also received a homemade wedding cake from us in May.  Then, he was a stranger from a foreign land–Mozambique to be exact.  Now, he’s off to England for studies, leaving a gaping hole stateside.  New Haven has suffered quite a bit this summer: First an earthquake, then a hurricane, and now Andy leaving.

Well, enough maudlin rehashing of developments in our relationship and our friends’.  What says summer better than a backyard barbecue with potato salad?  We had grilled burgers with fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, and goat cheese (and the burgers were so thick they nearly passed for meatballs), a grilled corn salad with red pepper, celery, and sun dried tomatoes, and a bit of a twist on a potato salad.  Enjoy the recipes, and the extra day of rest (we sure did).

Grilled Burgers

Use 1/4 lb of meat for each burger, but do not make them as thin as you get them at the store.  Sprinkle with spices–Montreal Steak seasoning is a good mix–then roll into a ball, indent dimples in the center on both sides and maybe flatten just slightly.  The reason to keep them thick is so that you can have burgers that are medium (or more, or less) on the inside while also developing a good sear on the outside.  Too thin, and there will be no char by the time the burgers are cooked all the way through–or worse, you’ll get the char and dried out hockey pucks for burgers.

Cook over a high flame, flipping only once.  5 minutes per side should do it.  Do not fiddle around!  Fiddling keeps the burgers from developing a nice crust, which ensures an easy flip and a sturdy burger.  Top to your delight.

Mostly Green Potato Salad

2 lb potatoes (red-skinned fingerlings would be beautiful, though we used Idahos)
1 heaping T of capers
2 scallions, pickled (soaked in vinegar, salt, sugar)
1/2 cup peas
feta cheese, crumbled/chopped to taste

Cube potatoes and boil until tender (a fork should go in and out easily).  Drain.  Combine all ingredients with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Enjoy. And don’t use mayo.

Grilled Corn Salad

6 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
10 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
3 stalks diced celery
1 T ground cumin
lemon juice, salt, and olive oil to taste

As has been stated, there are a million ways to grill corn.  The easies and quickest: husk the corn and grill directly over the fire, flipping every few minutes.  Cut kernels off of corn.  Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix.  Of course, you could do this sans grill using frozen corn or oven roasted corn.  And a microwave is a great way to cook corn–one of us thinks so.

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Over two months into the season now, it finally feels like summer. With school in New York two nights a week and countless weddings and wedding festivities through June and July, this past weekend was our first free weekend since May. And boy does it feel like summer! This weekend was full of my favorite summer activities — free outdoor movie on the New Haven Green, a full day at the beach, and an afternoon outing to the orchard.

As far as beach food goes, you’ll see in an above photo that some beach-goers prefer freshly caught fish. We, on the other hand, significantly less confident in our fishing prowess, packed ourselves a hefty portion of cut vegetables and hummus, some thyme-infused earl gray iced tea, a big bag of tortilla chips, and homemade peach tomato salsa. The salsa was born out of a gift of a peach from a lovely office-mate, and a quick trip to Edge of the Woods provided the remainder of the ingredients. (Another bonus feature of summer — bountiful produce!!

Peach-Tomato Salsa

1 very ripe peach
4 or 5 vine-ripened tomatoes
1/2 red onion
1 jalapeno pepper
small bunch cilantro
lemon juice, splash
olive oil, splash

Chop peach, onion, and tomatoes very small. (Helpful hint: a freshly sharpened chef’s knife or serrated knife does wonders on the tomatoes.) Chop cilantro and jalapeno.

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more chile, lime, or salt as needed. Let sit for at least another half hour so that the flavors meld.

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Inspired by the wonderful Lebanese food we had in Ottawa, we decided to be a little adventurous with our July 2nd grill-out.  Grilled Lebanese-style flat bread, shawarma-style barbecued chicken, a vinegary chile sauce, and a tahini-yogurt sauce.  Yep, a middle-eastern barbecue for Fourth of July weekend.

Well, at least the combination is.  The flatbread is the same grilled flatbread we’ve been making (i.e. nothing distinctly Lebanese about it).  The vinegar-chile sauce is rice wine vinegar and sriracha (more south-east Asian than middle-eastern Asian).  The tahini-yogurt–well, that one’s pretty Mediterranean.  The chicken–I think I’ll give that one credit for being a true fusion.  Barbecued chicken done exactly the way we’d do it any other time, with the trick being the marinade: a combination of acidity and spices for a distinctly new taste.

The individual parts of our take on shawarma were eclectic and far from authentic, but the flavor couldn’t be beat, and the combination was sure reminiscent of the real thing.  So we guess our subversive celebration of American Independence actually hit the mark.

Marinade for chicken
everything is approximate and suits ~8 chicken thighs

1/2 cup vinegar (we used apple cider, but white vinegar or rice wine vinegar would probably be fine as well)
1 T lemon juice
salt
pepper
1 t nutmeg
1 t ground cardamom
2-3 cloves chopped garlic

Place all ingredients and chicken in a large Ziploc bag or a bowl. Mix well so that chicken is thoroughly coated.  Marinate for an hour and longer if you desire.

Spicy Sauce

sriracha (or hot sauce of your choice)
rice vinegar (or alternative)

Add vinegar to sriracha and mix vigorously until you get the consistency and taste you desire. We added enough so that the end product had very little viscosity but wasn’t overly runny.

Tahini Yogurt Sauce

1 T tahini (this is typically sold in a jar in the ethnic foods aisle of your grocery store, though you can also get it “fresh” at natural foods stores like Edge of the Woods)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
splash lemon juice (don’t overdo it; there is already a lot of acidity in the yogurt)
1 scallion, chopped
salt and sugar to taste
nutmeg, cumin, optional

Mix all the ingredients, balancing the sugar and salt to get the flavor you desire. The acidity in the yogurt and lemon may require quite a bit more sugar than you may expect. When the tahini mixes with other ingredients, it has the tendency to thicken up quite a bit, but a bit of warm water or broth will loosen it back to the consistency you want. The end product should be scoop-able and spread-able, thick but not sticky.

Cucumber-Tomato Salad

2 cucumbers, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 T sugar
1 t salt
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T sesame oil

 Combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least one hour before serving.

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