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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

Read the rest of this entry »

Croquet

I have a serious competitive streak, but since I am not in the least bit sporty or athletic, it often only comes out in cards, board games and other strange occasions.  I think that is why I love the Olympics so — I can get into the competition, without having to participate (and then lose).

This is also why I love lawn games – athleticism is not a requirement for bocce or croquet, and bonus – they can be done drink in hand.

As we head up to Tahoe with some friends this weekend, I think a little lawn decathlon heptathlon is in order.

Lawn Games

Bocce
Badminton
Horseshoes
Ladder Toss
Croquet
Cornhole
Putting

Anything else we should add?

Finger’s crossed I win — I may need to add a rosé drinking element, just to ensure I get at least one W by my name.

Cornflowers

When I spied these cornflowers at the market, I couldn’t help but throw a bunch in the cart. The bright blue flowers with the wild stems seem like the perfect embodiement of the overgrowth of summer.

I’m not usually too matchy-matchy, but I particularly love them in this blue and white vase … they were made for each other!

Blue Cornflowers and Blue Vase

Vase: Spode Blue Italian 8″ Square Vase

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?

napa

As I mentioned, we were in Napa this past weekend with some friends at their gorgeous home … and I am kicking myself that I am back at home/work. The weather was perfect, if a bit hot, which necessitated lounging in the pool for hours at a time. In addition to the copious amount of both vino and good stories, no surprise there was lots of food.  We all enjoy some time in the kitchen, which makes things so fun and easy when meals are a group effort.

Friday night we went a bit Greek, which seemed perfect for a hot summer night.

Slicing Roast Lamb

Greek Feast

Roast Lamb
We stuck to something that worked (the version from a Spring dinner), simply studding bits of herbs, lemon zest, garlic and anchovies around the leg, and then roasting until just medium-rare.  A hit every time.

with lots of dips and sides

Hummus
store-bought, but jazzed up with some lemon juice and olive oil, topped with paprika and toasted pinenuts.

Tzatziki
I make mine with greek yogurt and both diced and grated cucumbers – that way you get bits to bite, but it also melds completely with the yogurt. Of course a bit of garlic, lemon and olive oil are needed too.

Red Pepper Aioli
which was added last minute for some heat — whisking of egg yolk, lemon juice and oil (homemade mayo) with some garlic and a potent hot-pepper spread we found in the fridge…any hot sauce would work here depending on the direction you want.

Mint Sauce
because growing up, lamb meant mint jelly, but this one was a bit more current and definitely more fresh… really a mint pesto if you will.

and to balance it out, 

Watermelon Salad, of course
Arugula Salad
and some Grilled Pita

Greek Feast

The feasting didn’t stop Saturday, with a late brunch, afternoon snacks, and another Mediterranean dinner, this one Spanish.

Summer Frittata

Brunch was fairly simple, just a

Summer Fritatta
this one was loaded with onions, sliced potatoes, sliced summer squash, and fresh corn and topped with goat cheese (which I may have forgotten to add earlier).

Bacon
which, if you haven’t discovered the key to divine bacon, is buy the good thick-cut kind at the meat counter and then roast it in a hot oven on a sheet pan (or even better, a cooling rack placed over a sheet pan)– stays flat, is the perfect crisp/chewy ratio, and no one has to stand there frying bacon.

Yogurt and Berries
While for weekday breakfasts, I keep the yogurt as is, for brunch, I add a bit of orange juice and zest and a tiny swirl of honey.

Napa

After brunch we went for pool time, margaritas, snacks in multiple rounds (first chips, salsa, guac and leftover tzatziki, then cheese and charcuterie), wine and finally a Spanish dinner.

-

Paella Night

Jamón y Melón

Gazpacho
which I try to make by bucket-loads during tomato season.

Paella
The traditional version is made over an open flame in a paella pan, but I find this Cook’s Illustrated version to be the perfect adaptation for home.  I use this pan (which to me still feels more paella-ish tableside, but I happened to own long before I started making this), and make a few slight changes, including adding Pimentón, or smoked Spanish paprika, which I find to be non-negoitable and homemade chicken stock.  As for the meats and seafood, it is pretty adaptable.  Sometimes I add clams as well, or spicy turkey sausage instead of chorizo for some guests – you can see here the mussels didn’t make it, as turned out the fridge wasn’t cold enough to keep them alive, and we forgot to keep them on ice.

Now if only I could spend the rest of the summer this way.  This whole work thing really gets in the way of things. :)

Gazpacho, Crab Cake and Salad

While weeknight dinners in general should be pretty quick and easy, summer versions should be even more so.  Which is why gazpacho is the perfect antidote to the heat (not that we get too much of that here in SF, but I can pretend).  Just as the sun heats up, tomatoes peak – making them the perfect dinner.

The gazpacho that I keep in rotation year after year is from Jose Andrés, a fabulous Spanish chef {with equally great restaurants from D.C. to L.A.), so have seen no reason to deviate.  Sometimes I get a little fancy with the garnish, sometimes I just chop up what ever didn’t make it in the blender.

What’s great is a large batch keeps for a few days, so lunch and tomorrow’s dinner are ready at once, with nary a stove in sight.

Gazpacho & Crabcakes

But seeing that I am not a gal who can be filled on cold tomato soup alone, I need a little something else too.

On a weekend and with friends, paella often fits that bill, but during the week, quick garlic shrimp more often make it to the plate.  Which was the plan here, except when I went to buy some shrimp on my way home Tuesday night, I spied these cute little crab cakes ready to go.  I don’t often buy pre-made items in the butcher/fish case, but I may be rethinking that plan.  A quick little fry (in a non-stick skillet, to reduce the oil) plus a basic green salad added at the end, and my ideal summer dinner was ready in minutes.

If you have the time or inclination to make your own crab cakes, here are two versions I want to try soon.  The ladies of Canal House have one that specifically calls for canned crab, which turns them into an anytime-pantry-basic, and this recipe from Food 52 forgoes the bread crumbs, keeping the emphasis rightly on the crab.

Gazpacho -- dinner on the couch

And in true weeknight fashion, it was enjoyed from the couch and coffee table, catching up on Sunday night’s Newsroom.

Jose Andres’s Gazpacho
Read the rest of this entry »

Watermelon Salad

This is hands down one of my favorite dishes in the summer – hand has easily been the thing most repeated around here in the last month or so.

You can dress it up as much or as little as you like, but I keep it pretty simple. Watermelon, cheese, herbs, and seasonings.  If you want, some cucumber and a bit of red onion are also nice additions, but I usually just stick to the basics.

Lamb Meatballs and Watermelon Salad

Lamb Meatballs-Watermelon Salad

Feta or queso fresco are the best bets for cheese in my book (usually only going the queso fresco route on taco night, when I am using it in multiples places), but make sure you buy the feta in a block (often times still submerged in whey) – so you can cut it up yourself.  The pre-crumbled kind is not nearly as good – and its not as though crumbling some cheese requires much work, no matter how simple you are keeping it.

Herbs – mint is my favorite here, but basil works too in a pinch – as would a combo of both.  To season, I like a sprinkle of red wine or sherry vinegar and then a light drizzle of olive oil (a finishing one, if you keep multiples around) … the oil feels funky at first, but adds the perfect amount of richness.

The finishing touch, which takes it from super basic to a constant summer request, is a little bit of good flakey salt just before serving (i.e. Maldon) … it really brings it all together.

Fish tacos and watermelon salad

It is great for lunch, dinner, picnics and barbecues, but I recommend making it as close to serving as possible … or at least dressing it then.  You want the melon to retain the water, not to have it become a soggy mess first in the bowl.

A few of the combos we have had it with so far:

Buttermilk Chicken and Watermelon Salad

 

It really is great with everything!  I have a feeling it will be on the menu again this week.

What are your summer favorites?

Summer BBQ dinner

A few weekends ago, we had a little backyard BBQ* with our friends Catie and Jimmy.  Played a few games – bocce, backgammon and badminton – sipped some rosé and grilled up a feast.  It was a super simple menu that will be on repeat around here all summer.  Starting with the 4th!

Tri-tip and fresh roasted salsa

Grilled Corn

Grilled Tri-tip with Roasted Tomato Salsa from the Bi-Rite Cookbook
Catie made it so I can’t totally tell you what all went in it, but the basics were red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a few types of hot peppers roasted in a HOT oven, then pureed with cilantro and seasoned to taste.  SO GOOD!

Grilled Corn with Harissa Aioli
The aioli was basically my homemade mayo, with a smidge of smashed garlic and a harissa spice blend (toasted first) added at the end.  A little lime juice squirted on at the end, and this may replace Café Habana’s version (i.e. Mexican street corn) of my favorite summer corn.

Spinach Salad with Apricots, Blueberries and Ricotta
I happen to love a little fruit in salads, and this was no exception.  I had never thought to add ricotta to salad, fearing it wouldn’t hold up, but it gives it a great richness.  And has been repeated many times since. 

Grilled peaches and ice cream

and the plan was to end with a peach cobbler of the sorts, but we ran out of steam (sun and wine’ll do that to a gal!) … the peaches were great the next night grilled and topped with vanilla ice cream.  And would also be the perfect ending to any day at the grill!

What are your favorite summer grilling menus?  Anything good on tap for Wednesday?

*in case you noticed this looks more indoor than out, San Francisco summers days, even when warm, do not necessarily translate to nice summer nights. ;)

tortilla espanola

Every year as the weather gets warmer and summer itches towards us, I get the fiercest craving for my favorite Spanish foods.  Paella, gazpacho, pan con tomate, the list goes on.  And just as often, I will jump the gun on at least one – when tomatoes start to pop up and look like the real thing, I can’t take it anymore.

And so here we were the Saturday of our little flower workshop.  It was decided we would need some sustenance before all that “work”, so I made a quick tortilla española, which then cooled a bit while we ran to the flower mart.

I used a combo of these recipes (here and here), keeping it simple, but did make a little pimenton sauce to have on the side.  It was the perfect little lunch with melon y jamon and {a wee bit early} pan con tomate.

This meal will definitely be in rotation all summer long – for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I’m afraid!

Making-tortilla-espanola

Spicy Pork Lettuce Wraps

If spring has sprung for you anything like it has in San Francisco, I would recommend calling up your friends and having an impromptu dinner party tonight!  And maybe have platters around for lettuce wraps.

This version is a simple adaptation of an old Gourmet recipe, Cellophane-Noodle Salad with Roast Pork.  I first made it a few years ago, and when ripe mangos popped up in the market here, I knew it needed to be on the menu again soon.

This time, I used brown rice noodles instead of the cellophane (or mung bean) and loved the change.  A mandoline makes quick work of all the chopping, but I have done it by hand as well, and it’s really not too bad.  Also, to fit the warm weather, I grilled the pork this time — and didn’t miss turning on the oven.

The sweet, spicy, crunchy and cool combo is just perfect – and the hands on makes for a fun presentation.  It also goes particualrly well with a few cold beers!

Hope you have a great weekend and there is some sunshine your way!

 

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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