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Girls-Night Dinner at home

On Saturday, I went to a beautiful baby shower for Brooke, a dear friend from college who also happens to live in San Francisco.  Since a few friends would be coming in from out of town for the festivities, plus the local ladies, we figured it was the perfect opportunity for a girls night on Friday…which we opted to make a girls night in.

It was a weeknight, plus just good practice, so I kept things super easy – and called in back-up for apps and dessert.  Tessa picked up pâté and other goodies from Fatted Calf and made great {and super simple} date, goat cheese and proscuitto bites.

Panzanella

Zucchini & Rice and Panzanella

Spicy Roast Chicken

I went for a version of something that has popped up on our table all summer — spicy spatchcocked chicken with salsa verde and heirloom panzanella.  But to ‘catch’ the wine that was likely to be accompanying dinner, we needed something else warm (plus – it was chilly come Friday evening) and a bit hearty too.

Earlier in the week, in honor of Julia Child’s what-would-be 100th birthday, I spied a zucchini tian on Food 52 that seemed perfect.  Two of the ladies are gluten-free, so the rice component was ideal (no fear – they had a separate, and equally delicious panzanella).  And since it was primarily zucchini, even the liquid added for the rice to cook was drained zucchini juice, it was also much lighter and healthier than it seemed.

Girls-Night

Girls-Night Dinner at home

Dessert was truthfully more wine, plus a summer favorite of grilled peaches and vanilla ice cream.  We topped it with a little dusting of coconut sugar and smoked salt for fun, but it needs nothing else.  I just can’t help adding some flaky salt to dessert.

Such a fun evening catching up with old friends…nights like these are the reason I like to cook!

Grilled Peaches

For the recipe for the zucchini & rice dish

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Chicken, Salsa Verde & Heirloom Panzanella

It is no  secret that I think roast chicken is just about the best dinner – simple, hands-free, delicious, and (for us) with built in leftovers. And while I don’t believe in messing with a good thing, a few change ups now and then never hurt.

This spatchcocked version is still done in the oven, but could easily translate to the grill … it would just require a bit more attention, which isn’t necessarily bad, if that means hanging outside, with a beverage, perhaps.  I used the recipe from Amateur Gourmet (which in turn was from the NYT Magazine recipe, Butterflied Chicken with Cracked Spices) and was crazy about the spice rub from the start!

Spatchcock-Chicken-and-Salsa-Verde

The rub is a mixture of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds, dry toasted with a few peppercorns, then ground (in a spice mill or mortar and pestle), and mixed with salt and smoked paprika.  I need to triple the batch next time and always have it on hand!

As for ‘spatchcock’ – it just refers to removing the backbone and the cooking the chicken flat.

The salsa verde was another component that made this seem more vibrant than my standard swipe with a bit of mustard version.  This is not the tomatillo salsa verde of enchiladas and chile verde, but rather the parsley based classic green sauce of Italy.  It can be made in a food processor, but becomes a bit homogenous that way … I highly recommend a mortar and pestle if you have it.

This one starts with a bit of garlic, capers and anchovies, ground to a paste, then met with some mustard, wine vinegar and lemon juice, filled out with a generous handful or two of parsley and mint, and finished with a slow drizzle of olive oil.  The finished product comes together fully, but still retains each of the individual components. (Note, you can change the mint for an herb of your choice, as everything goes well with parsley).

Chicken, Salsa Verde & Heirloom Panzanella

Heirloom Panzanella

Seeing that we know that bread salad is such a great match for roast chicken, it seemed obvious that a panzanella was in order.

Panzanella is an Italian bread salad with day-old bread, which is brought to life from the juices of the tomatoes and a perky vinaigrette.  I often make croutons, but if you have stale bread on hand, this is absolutely the place for it.  From there, just add in an assortment of your favorite summer vegetables.  I keep it easy with just cucumbers and bell pepper in with the tomatoes (and some thinly sliced red onion when I remember), and of course with a generous handful of torn basil.  As for the vinaigrette, I like a garlicky one, but without balsamic — instead one made puckery with lemon juice and red wine vinegar.  Keeps is bright!

I may have thrown in a little bit of fresh mozzarella at the end, but that is strictly optional.

We enjoyed this at the table and caught up on our days, but I think a dinner like this is best enjoyed outside, just before the sun goes down with a nice glass of rose.  Hmmm, may need to repeat tonight…

Chicken-&-Panzanella

Do you adapt your favorite meals to the seasons?

Slicing Zucchini

Not much to say.  It is too nice to be writing or typing or reading.  Blue summer skies are for doing and being. (Hopefully outside).

But occasionally we need to eat.

Fast. Fresh. Cool. Easy.

raw zucchini slices

And since summer provides an abundance of zucchini, this simple salad is {another} one of my favorites.  It embodies fast, fresh, cool, easy.

Thinly slice raw zucchini (use a mandoline if you have one to get tissue-paper-thin cuts, otherwise slice as thinly as possible with a razor-sharp knife).  You can also add other summer squashes to the mix if you’d like. Salt and let sit for a few minutes.  Drain.

Toss with lemon juice & zest and herbs of your choice (I particularly love basil and/or mint). Drizzle in a touch (or more) of olive oil.

Add a bit of cheese – goat, ricotta salata, shavings of parmigano (this version had creamy and mild but tangy farmers cheese), whatever you love {or have on hand}.

Raw zucchini slivers, lemon and herbs

Enjoy.  Quickly. Or slowly. Standing in the kitchen as a quick snack.  At the dining room table as part of a lazy summer feast.  Outside with good friends and cold drink.  Or however you like to taken in the season.

All seasons.

Enjoy.

raw zucchini salad

farro salad with tomatoes and brown butter corn

I don’t think I could ever tire of tomato season.  Or corn.  Seriously.  Corn has always been one of my favorites, but growing up, me no likey tomatoes.  And I tried, I tried just about every kind in every manner – I didn’t like not liking things.  But nothing worked – I think it’s a texture thing.  And a kid thing. Tomatoes were the one thing on most kids’ lists of things they did not like to eat.  Except Jennifer, who would bring tomatoes to school with a little ziploc of salt and pepper and eat it like and apple dipped in caramel.  I still can’t do that one – bite in directly – whew, the mess alone…

Corn and Tomatoes

But thankfully I outgrew my childlike aversion to tomatoes and as soon as they come in season, I devour them as often as possible. And why not?  For the other nine/ten months of the year, all I get are the canned version with a few cherry ones thrown in for good measure.

And the combination of tomatoes and corn is so obvious and that it borders on cliché, but it is just too wonderful to change. I decided to spruce up my standard version with some farro – as I love to have grain salads on hand for lunch, dinner, snacks, you name it.

Summer tomatoes for Farro Salad

Aside from the vegetable pairing, I decided to switch the rest of it up a bit.

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herbed flatbread

You may have noticed that lately there has been talk of making pizza, but no new pizza posts have surfaced. It is because I haven’t loved them.  The crusts have all been meh.  At best.

And I have tried lots of crust recipes.  From chefs and cookbooks and bloggers that I trust.  Really trust (although I am not saying who, for it is too embarrassing). And I really don’t know where things are going wrong.  I’ve tried all kinds of options – hand kneading and mixer; baking sheet, pizza stone, bake, bake and broil; hand forming, tossing, rolling, pulling … and the outcome is always (about) the same.

They have just all been a bit doughy.  And not in a good way. Dry too.  And almost dense. Doughy, dry and dense.  No thanks.

flatbread-ingredients

But after the last bust, I was determined to make something good with a basic dough.  And when I remembered that I had recently seen perfectly golden herbed flatbreads on the (beautiful new) Sunday Suppers website, I figured that was a good place to start.

making-flatbread-dough

Master the bubbly crispy cracker like base I was longing for, and then learn and adapt from there.

Thankfully we had success.

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cantaloupe-strawberry-salad

This salad has no story, expect that it is delicious.  That’s it – well, pretty much.

The other day I went for a nice long walk along the Hudson (it was freezing, but at least the sun was out, so I was happy) and on my way home I stopped at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange in Chelsea Market. I needed to pick up some dried cranberries for this, and thought that detour would be more fun than my regular stops.  The little market was teeming with spring goodies, the asparagus and English peas that I have been dreaming of and an abundance of fresh fava beans.

But surprisingly, I passed over all those things I had been waiting for, and picked up a teeny cantaloupe that was so fragrant, it literally jumped out at me as I passed by.

cantaloupe-strawberries

When I got home, I paired it up with some strawberries, fresh mozzarella, basil and mint.  A drizzle of balsamic would be good here, but lo and behold when I went to grab it, we were out.  (Which seems odd because I don’t remember using it for eons, but then, some days my memory isn’t the best.  Now you know who you can tell your secrets!!)

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that this was a hit – strawberries and basil are a match; melon and mozzarella – obviously; melon and mint, another winner – but altogether … out of the park!  This salad should have yielded leftovers and didn’t.

I think if you are looking for something fresh to add to Easter brunch, look no further.

cantaloupe-strawberry-mozzarella

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green bean candle lit

Let’s be honest – the Thanksgiving table can often use a bit of color.  Some of the main components of the plate are a bit bland, in color, not taste! But between the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, that is more than a bit of brown and beige.

So bright colors are a fun and welcome addition, like the blue table here, or how great is this purple version?  But knowing that the food is the main event, there might not be much room for flowers this round. Why not spruce it up with more food?

These candles with green beans are a snap – literally!  Just fit any candle you want with a rubber band and then insert the green beans.  Once you have enough to cover the circumference of the candle, trim the ends so it stands evenly.  Lastly, tie it up and remove the rubber band.  I think a twine would look a bit better, but my trusty kitchen string filled in quite nicely.

green bean candle

In the spring, this also works great with asparagus!

Another way to bring color and light is with artichoke votives.

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Apple Pancetta Stuffing DInner

Stuffing is the best part of Thanksgiving.  Coming in very close second is the leftover turkey, cranberry sandwiches.  But I still put stuffing on those.

So why is something so great relegated to once a year?  I think we should bring it back!

Apples

And yes, this would be a great stuffing for turkey-day, but we didn’t sample it for that reason here.  It just sounded good.  I am sure the rain and cold and November-ness of the weekned did aid in that though.

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PizzaandSunshine

It’s not so much seasonal affect disorder around here as hourly-weather-affect-whatever.  Some people say that the seasons affect them, but I would gather that is true for everyone, hardly a unique disorder.   After continual gray and gloom, who wouldn’t be SAD.  My case is totally different, but I am no less affected by the weather and seasons. My disorder most definitely involves food.

If it is cold, I want soups, stews and anything roasted or braised. Cold weather drinks (whisky or rye for sure) are necessary too. When it’s warm rather, I want fresh, fresh, fresh – and tequila!

I am so dependent on the skies as a guide, I don’t even have a go-to drink (with the exception of bubbly – there is no wrong time for that!!). I place any order based on my mood, which is always related to the weather.

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aromatics

Is it cold where you are?  Fall is most definitely in effect here – and to be honest, for what I am used to, it’s down right winter.

It’s cold, and so all I want are warm, comforting, homey things, like that roasted chicken.  I also want soup, and lots of it.  And I will likely be eating soup every week until the last snow melts.  I have a feeling that comes from my mom.  She often had soup on the stove, and in fact her french onion soup and clam chowder where so legendary that the neighbor’s would specially request them.

Having my mom’s recipes and techniques definitely help my soups, but the real secret – the fail-safe thing to have on hand – the only way to make soup restaurant quality  - is homemade stock.  Think about it,  it’s the only way to have complete control.  Can you imagine The French Laundry using Swanson’s?

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ABOUT

Martha Stewart I am not -
I have no intention of
whittling my own table
and can handle a martini
like nobody's business -
but I do have lots of
great ideas on cooking,
entertaining, and living
that I want to share with you.

Together, perhaps we can find
ways to have a bit more fun!

Contact:
info{at}caitlindentino{dot}com

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