I feel like it has been a very long while since I last posted here, and although only a little over a week has passed I feel I owe an apology! Not that anyone hangs on my words here or anything, but I aim to keep up at least a two-posts-per-week rhythm. As you know, I’ve been moving into temporary housing (cough)myparentshouse(cough) and am bracing for a second move, into our new apartment, in three weeks. The stress of moving and of living out of cardboard boxes has been great – far greater than I imagined – but that did not prevent me from spending a wonderful time with my family over Memorial Day weekend (note the champagne!) or from getting in some bite-sized cooking for a baby shower this past Sunday.
Below I share some photos from these various events and the occasional short-hand recipe, for the summer is too wonderful and too fleeting to waste with your eyes glued to a cookbook. Summertime is the perfect season for impromptu cookouts and improvised menus, spontaneous salads and kitchen-sink side dishes. I cannot wait for the first call alerting us to fresh tuna on the dock, or the first bite of sweet August corn. In the meantime, enjoy the below and share your summer creations in the comments.
First up was our Memorial Day weekend cookout at my father-in-law’s house. He wrapped scallops in raw bacon and secured them with toothpicks (don’t forget to soak the toothpicks in water for a couple hours before so they don’t burn), then cooked them in a small disposable aluminum tray on the grill, just to render the fat, followed by a few minutes directly on the grill to get the charred marks and flavor. These were followed by kebabs of swordfish and beef tips with mixed vegetables.
For the baby shower I attended I brought three dishes: an appetizer of caramelized fennel and onion goat cheese tarts, an artichoke-spinach-leek quiche, and mini cheesecake bites.
For the appetizer I sliced a large fennel bulb and a large red onion very thinly. In a pan I melted 3/4 stick of butter over med-low heat and then added the fennel and onion as well as about a tsp. of kosher salt (or more to taste). Stirring occasionally, I let the vegetables soften then start to caramelize. When they reached the color brown I was looking for (about 45 minutes later), I stirred in a tsp. of herbes de provence and let that cook for a minute or two before taking the pan off of the heat. I did this part well ahead of time so that all I had to do on the day of the party was warm up the caramelized vegetables and assemble the tarts. To assemble, I placed two packages of Athens mini “fillo” shells on a baking sheet and put a teaspoon or so of goat cheese in each shell (supermarket brand Chevron, shaped like a pyramid, worked great since it is so soft). Then I topped each tartlette with the caramelized fennel/onion mixture and a couple of fresh thyme leaves and put them in the oven for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit. They came out perfectly and were a huge hit.
Those phyllo shells are also great for desserts. With an electric mixer, I blended one package of room-temperature cream cheese (I used low-fat but you don’t have to) with 1/4 cup sugar and a 1/4 tsp. of vanilla. Then I mixed in one egg. Fill the phyllo shells with the cheesecake batter then cook at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes or just until the filling sets. After they cool to room temperature, I top the mini cheesecakes with fresh berries, chocolate sauce, or individual cherries from a can of cherry pie filling (gimme a break, okay?). One warning – if these go into a refrigerator for any length of time the shells lose their crunchiness.
Finally the quiche. Again I used this recipe for both the pie crust and the leeks – it’s a winner. Then I mixed into the hot leeks about a 1/2 lb. of shredded baby spinach and a drained can of quartered artichoke hearts, stirring gently until the spinach had fully wilted. I let the vegetable mixture cool while I mixed 5 eggs and 1 cup of half and half in a big bowl, then added about a cup of shredded parmesan cheese, some salt and some pepper. I dumped the veggies into the egg mixture, making sure they were well blended, then poured it all into my prepared pie crust. I baked the quiche at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, slightly overcooking the quiche. To avoid this, I would recommend doing what I did with the remainder of the quiche batter that didn’t make it into the crust — cook your quiche (crust or no) for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees or until the quiche is only slightly jiggly in the middle.