Wednesday, July 28, 2010

summer supper on the fly

On Thursday night, I got a voicemail from my friend Anne saying that she and her fiance Colin were going to be in our neighborhood tomorrow night, and would I want to cook dinner for everyone, and please don't fuss and only use what you have in your fridge. Hmm.

Before you accuse Anne of being a pushy dinner guest, you should know that I extended an open-ended dinner party invitation to them a few weeks ago. We have the cozy sort of friendship where you can just add another box of pasta to the pot, or throw another steak on the grill.

She also proposed that we all go out for dinner, but you know I wasn't going to do that.

As for only using what we had in the fridge, I wasn't about to serve them eggs and coleslaw mix. Instead, I would make what Dan and I would eat on a normal Friday night and jazz it up with a few extras.
There is a chicken recipe in the latest issue of Bon Appetit that I've become hooked on. In one pan, you saute chicken breasts with shallots, then remove them and add green beans, butter, and lots of lemon juice to make a surprisingly complex sauce. I also like adding cherry tomatoes to the mix for extra color and flavor. The first few times I made this recipe, Dan kept asking, "What is in this? It's so good." Nothing special is in it at all--it's magically delicious.

Served up with a side of couscous, some pre-dinner snacks, and plenty of Brooklyn Brewery summer ale, this was a perfect Friday night supper. So good that everyone happily sweated through each course, dabbing at their foreheads with paper napkins, talking and laughing well into the night.
Summer supper
Deviled eggs
Peach, goat cheese, and basil crostinis
Chicken with green beans, tomatoes, and lemon butter
Framboise ice cream floats

Chicken with green beans, tomatoes, and lemon butter

A tweaked version of this recipe from Bon Appetit.
(Serves 4 people)

4 boneless chicken breast halves (with or without skin)
All purpose flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 shallots, peeled, chopped roughly (or 1 medium red onion, chopped roughly)
2 Tbsp. (1/4 stick) butter
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 lb. green beans, trimmed (or haricots verts)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2 Tbsp. minced chives (or parsley)

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper; lightly dust with flour to coat. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and shallots; sauté until chicken is golden and just cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate.

Melt butter in skillet with shallots over medium heat. Add lemon juice and lemon peel, then green beans and tomatoes; toss. Cover and cook until beans are crisp-tender and shallots are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Return chicken and any juices to skillet; sprinkle with chives. Simmer until sauce thickens enough to coat, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer chicken and vegetables to platter, drizzle the sauce, and serve.

Monday, July 26, 2010

what's for dinner, adam perry lang?

Just as summer barbecue season is in full swing, we have a Q&A with grill master Adam Perry Lang. In addition to being the chef-owner of Daisy May's BBQ  in New York, he is also the author of Serious Barbecue and the more recent BBQ 25: The World's Most Flavorful Recipes Now Made Foolproof. He is now based in London half of the year, working on a grill-centric restaurant called Barbecoa with Jamie Oliver. Here, he talks desserts, prepared foods, and why he likes people to help in the kitchen. Thanks, Adam!

Name, occupation, and city

Adam Perry Lang, chef, London and New York

When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

Just two weeks ago, my wife and I had four friends over, and we made roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in my new, true English fashion.

What is the best menu you've ever made for company?

I don't really think about the best meals I've cooked, I think about some of the amazing evenings I've experienced. One that stands out for me is a New Year's Eve where I made my wife caviar blinis and baba rhum and we drank Champagne all night.

What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
I work to bluegrass, but for a dinner party I prefer to chill out to classical music.

Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?

Whatever looks good at the store closest to my house. I usually just run out to my local Panzer's (in London) and grab some great veg, make a quick stop at the butcher down the block and come home and whip something up. Start to finish, it never takes more than an hour.


Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
I always let others help. I enjoy it. You never know what you can learn from someone else, and I also love to teach.

Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

I love getting prepared foods from ethnic places, like hummus and smoked salmon and marinated veggie and things, but wherever I buy them from I make sure they care about what they are doing.

What do you like to serve for dessert?

My wife's chocolate cake.

If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

My grandfather, Papa Perry. I never got to cook for him.

[Photo: David Loftus]

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

baked & bottled

This blog is about cooking for people, but even I don't always make every little thing from scratch when I entertain. Sometimes you don't have the time, or need a little help. And today I'd like to give a friendly plug to a new business by my friend (and fellow food blogger) Casey

Casey is the type of cook who really does take pride in making everything herself, and through Baked & Bottled, she and her partner Natalie are now making delicious things for other people's gatherings.

Items include freezable appetizers (Asian dumplings, gougeres, hand-rolled meatballs), condiments and dips (ranch dressing, roasted red pepper-feta dip), fresh pasta and sauces (pesto, marinara), bread (pretzel rolls, scones, ciabatta), and desserts (lemon-olive oil tart, chocolate chip cookies, custom cakes). Seasonal specials like ricotta will be available as well. Everything is affordable and homemade. Some dishes are family recipes, and others are dishes they have made so often they have become standbys.

Even better, they will deliver their goods right to your door if you live in New York City or northern New Jersey. If you need a little dinner party help, or want to send someone a special edible gift, or are in need of a last-minute dish to bring to a potluck, they've got you covered.  

Monday, July 19, 2010

a dessert made for summer

Drumroll please. Introducing my go-to dessert this summer: the framboise ice cream float.

Not only is it virtually fool-proof to make, it contains just two ingredients: vanilla ice cream, and framboise, a Belgian-style beer that is fermented with raspberries. You can find framboise at most grocery or liquor stores. Maybe you drank a lot of it in college, like me. Or someone I knew.

When I served the float to Sarah at our little beat-the-heat supper, she admitted she had some bad memories of framboise--it tastes more like a sweet soda than beer. But all it took was one spoonful and she changed her tune. Framboise makes a pretty perfect float. Creamy, fruity, a little tart, a little boozy. Not to mention a dreamy shade of pink. 

Lindeman's, the company that makes Framboise, makes other lambic beers and I can't wait to try this out with their peach, cassis, or kriek (black cherry) flavors. Luckily, there are many more sweltering days of summer to go.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Today's links are all about summertime grilling, from appetizers, to main dishes, to dessert.

Grilled oysters
with bacon and cayenne butter [via Bon Appetit] 

Ideal for a crowd, grilled beef tenderloin with ancho-jalapeno butter [via Food & Wine
Fresh takes on the kebab [via Martha Stewart]
Grilled wild salmon with preserved lemon relish [via Saveur]
A nice collection of  grilled fruits and vegetables [via Cooking Light]
And the exhaustive 101 recipes for fast grilling by Mark Bittman [via NYT]

PS: If you haven't noticed already, I added a page with some of my favorite menus. There have been a lot of them over the years, but these dishes are worth serving again and again. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

a heat-free dinner

My friend Sarah has fed me many times and I hadn't returned the favor in a long while, so a dinner was in order. We agreed on a date and all seemed fine, but then a heat wave overtook the city and it was suddenly 100 degrees outside. Because our top-floor apartment turns into a furnace in the summer, it was about 100 degrees inside as well. Not only was I sweating through my clothes, my appetite had evaporated. All I wanted was watermelon and cold beer, and that's not really a meal. Right?

Instead of moving our date to an air-conditioned restaurant like a sane person, I decided to tough it out. I would make a cool, refreshing meal and wouldn't even look at the stove. No grilling, no boiling, no baking. Now, what to make?

Chilled shrimp always comes to mind when I think about hot-weather food for some reason. Maybe because I have happy memories of eating it poolside? Being on a post-vacation budget, I wasn't willing to shell out (heh) for a pound of the pricey little suckers. But I could afford a can of salmon, which makes a tasty little salad atop crackers, or if you're me, Triscuits. I thought about making a salmon crostini, but that would require toasting bread. Triscuits it would be.
We ate our crackers with the salmon spread and some guacamole, plus cold deviled eggs straight from the refrigerator (I broke my own rule and boiled the eggs the night before), handfuls of cherries, and radishes and snap peas with tarragon butter. Sarah kindly brought a bottle of cold rosé, which we drank like water. Dessert was framboise ice cream floats. (More on those later.) It was a tasty but slightly odd combination of things; I think my lack of appetite threw me off a bit.

Did we still sweat? Ladies glisten, they don't sweat. Oh, who am I kidding? I was shvitzing like a pig. But the cold food and good conversation was a wonderful distraction, at least.
Heat-free dinner
Salmon salad on Triscuits
Radishes with tarragon butter and salt
Framboise ice cream floats

Salmon salad
This spread is great for sandwiches too.
(Serves about 4 people)

2 6 oz. cans Alaskan salmon (in water), drained
1/3 cup mayo
1 handful dill, minced (tarragon, basil, parsley, or cilantro would be fine)
1/2 red bell pepper, finely minced
salt and pepper

Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, July 12, 2010

what's for dinner, faith durand?

Today we have a great Q&A with Faith Durand of the always-inspiring food site The Kitchn. Faith writes about all things food-related for the site, including dinner parties, which she says she throws at least twice a week--an impressive feat! Here, she talks about her love of Laurie Colwin, favorite Trader Joe's product, and her go-to dish when entertaining in a pinch. 

1. Name, occupation, and city
Faith Durand. Day job: Managing Editor of Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn. In between I do freelance recipe development and food writing. My first cookbook, Not Your Mother's Casseroles, will be out from Harvard Common Press in January. (No canned soups. I promise.) My husband Mike and I live in Columbus, Ohio, home of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams as well as many other wonderful artisans and farmers.  

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited? 
I cook for big groups of people at least twice a week. My husband is a professor at Ohio State, and we often have his work colleagues or other groups of friends over. The last dinner party was for a bunch of friends (10, I think) and we had grilled pork loin, olive oil fantail rolls, a salad from the garden, and maple baked beans. Loads of beer. (Our friends can really put it away; we sound like a bar when we put out our recycling.) For dessert there was cherry coconut ice cream and, in honor of Mike's birthday, lemon olive oil cake.  

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company? 
That is a hard question, since menus are so closely tied to the season and who is there. I think I have to go with the one I made for my parents and in-laws last August. We had a very simple meal of grilled steak, roasted herbed potatoes, and salad from the garden. My mother-in-law said it was the best meal she had ever had. It doesn't get much better than that!  

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails? 
All of them! Wine or beer for dinner, cocktails in the summertime, outside around the grill. I am drinking lots of boozed-up watermelon aguas frescas right now. This very minute, in fact.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack? 
In the summertime, folk and country, like Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller. In the winter, I love this improvisational medieval guitarist named Rolf Lislevand. Sounds arcane, but his music is just perfect for a candlelit supper. Floating, beautiful background music.  

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make? 
Homemade pasta, because it suddenly dawned on me (I must be the last person in the Western world to have realized this) that it is snap-easy and fast, and then everyone thinks you're a genius. Zucchini from our over-eager plants, green salad with good olive oil, a fruity pie or cobbler for dessert. Homemade ice cream, and white wine from Trader Joe's.  

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help? 
Well, my darling husband makes the coffee every single morning. He is the breakfast expert: eggs, pancakes, burritos. We love dinner parties; it's definitely a group effort. We also try, collectively, to keep a dinner party journal, although I forget half the time and serve the same thing three weeks in a row.  

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch? 
I do like to experiment and learn how to do something myself. My current obsession is tonic water - working on that. But after I learn how to do it I often get bored and just buy it thereafter! Butter, however, I do love to make myself. It's cheaper, and so easy. I like to buy good-quality things like prosciutto and canned tomatoes for quick, easy meals. I am also an unashamed fan of Trader Joe's frozen pie crusts. They're amazing.  

9. What do you like to serve for dessert? 
Fruit crumbles, quick yogurt cakes, and homemade ice cream. I am an ice cream junkie.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be? 
Laurie Colwin. She singlehandedly taught me about home cooking, and writing about cooking. I never had a big sister; I wish it could have been her. And she ate capers out of a jar with a spoon, and so do I. We would dine on boiled beef, lime pickle, capers, and damp gingerbread. It would be heavenly. 
[Photo: Faith Durand]

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

dinner in portland

So our summer vacation was really fun. San Francisco is a great city. It even smells wonderful, a combination of lavender and eucalyptus and the briny bay. But Portland has a special place in my heart.

Portland has rose gardens and breweries and a functional yet cheap light rail. The people are exceptionally nice. The weather, when you catch it on a good day, is lovely. There are forests within the city. Amazing farmer's markets. And almost every restaurant, from trendy spots to little joints around the corner, serves food that is so beyond my (admittedly high) expectations that all I can do is shake my head and smile.

Portland is also home to one of my favorite friends. Joey was my first boyfriend, if you call holding hands and one chaste kiss on my parents' front steps a relationship. We met during our freshman year of high school and he was the nicest, cutest guy I had ever met. I thought my heart was going to burst. Unfortunately for me, he and his family moved to another city a few months later, leading to my first major heartbreak. I never thought I'd love again. Which lasted about a semester, at least.
I figured he forgot all about me during the rest of high school but to my surprise, he mailed me a letter a week after graduation. I still remember finding the envelope in my mailbox, reading and rereading the letter.

We made plans to meet up after I started college in Orlando. He lived in Tampa, and drove across the state to meet me at my dorm. Nothing had changed except now he could drive and play guitar. I was in love all over again. A semester later, he transferred to my university and we were inseparable for three years. We even lived together, making dinner and listening to records in our little apartment.

Obviously, the relationship didn't work out. While Joey is still one of the nicest, most pure-of-heart people I know, our timing wasn't right for something long-term. I had an internship to do, he had a band to tour with. But mostly we were really young. I think we both knew that breaking up was for the best but it was still rough, as these things tend to be. 

Somehow we've remained friends over the years and we always hang out when Dan and I are in Portland. On this trip, Joey and his girlfriend Grace invited us over for dinner at their apartment, along with a mutual friend and his girlfriend. Being in their home made me happy. There were cutesy photobooth pictures of them on their fridge, cards to one another on a table. They were making plans together, starting to build a life. It was easy to see they were in love. 
I also saw Joey's old wooden desk, where I used to sit and write papers in college. I spied a mixtape of Radiohead rarities listed in my handwriting. And I saw the one thing I was hoping to find--my grandfather's record player, which has special meaning now that he passed away. So many pieces of a life divided up and carted off to other cities, opposite coasts. If Joey ever came to our apartment, I know he'd recognize a piece of furniture or two.

But the past is the past. We were there to eat and have fun. Michael Jackson was on the stereo. Joey poured wine into jam jars and we watched their cat jump in and out of the open living room window. Then he set out a bountiful meal of homemade hummus and pita bread, quinoa and chopped vegetable salads, lentils and rice, thick yogurt, and beautiful cantaloupe and cherries.
We ate in silence at first, too absorbed in the full plates in our laps. Then everyone started commenting on how good everything was, asking how did you make this, or what's in that? Joey, ever humble, just smiled. After dinner we passed around a plate of chocolate chip-coconut macaroons. I was so impressed with the way his life was coming together, not to mention his cookie-baking skills.

It was one of the nicest meals during the entire trip. In spite of the awkwardness of breaking up, stupid things I did and said, and the passing of time, thankfully, there is still a place for me at his table.

Dinner at Joey and Grace's
Cherries and canteloupe
Hummus and pita bread
Lentils and rice
Quinoa and vegetable salad
Cucumber-yogurt sauce
Cucumber-tomato-feta salad 
Coconut-chocolate chip macaroons 

Monday, July 5, 2010

a taste of two cities

How does that song go? "Back to life...back to reality"? Vacation was fun while it lasted. We ate really, really, really well. Really well. While I get my act together blog-wise, here are a few photos from the trip.

The Saturday farmer's market in Portland is pretty much the best farmers market I've ever been to. Maybe not the biggest, or the most eclectic, but it had live music and hot biscuits and some of the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted.
We also went to my favorite restaurant and ate many tasty things including these chicken-fried chicken livers.
Some friends took us to an awesome little "roadside juice bar" that was a combination between a 1950s-era trailer and a shack. They made a fizzy ginger-lime-basil concoction that was quite refreshing.
In San Francisco, we gorged on perfectly ripe peaches from Frog Hollow Farm. And now my life feels incomplete every day I can't have one.
One day, we did a taste test of ice cream from Humphry Slocombe and Bi-Rite and I think Humphry's chocolate-malt flavor won by a hair. Sorry, we ate it too fast for photos.
We also hit up a little place called Chez Panisse Cafe. I love to rag on Alice Waters, but the restaurant really did live up to the hype. We had a beautiful salad, smoked salmon on toast, a morel mushroom pizza, pasta with lamb and peas, and strawberry sorbet for dessert. 

The meal reminded me that delicious food can be utterly simple. A good rule of thumb for dinner parties and eating in general.


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