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Archive for the ‘Warm Weather Meals’ Category

 

And  birthday month continues! In the interest of full disclosure, it’s actually over–I’m just a little backlogged. There is still one more cake installment coming for sure, and it’s chocolately and delicious. But to matters at hand: ice cream cake! I usually start planning the cakes for birthday month around the time school gets out. It’s not so much an organizational thing as one part excitement and one part fear I’ll only be able to come up with something lame and generic and fail as a birthday cake maker. When I make a cake for someone, I really try my hardest to capture their essence in sugar form. I’m highly disappointed when I can’t. 

This cake definitely screamed Chandler. Both my sisters work at a local ice cream shop over the summer, but whereas Chelsea kind of stumbled into the job, working at this particular shop was Chandler’s life goal from about age five. Needless to say, she’s enthusiastic about ice cream. What makes this cake so Chandler, however, are the flavors: cookie dough and Oreo. And, regardless, it’s just a fun combination, excellent for indulging your inner child. The decorations are piped buttercream. It’s a little hard to get things to stick, as they freeze instantly, yet seem to repel the actual cake (see uneven boarder piping!), but it all came out in the end. With a little work (very little, actually, if you opt to use softened store-bought ice cream in place of your own)you can have your own ice cream cake that kicks Carvel and Friendly’s or any other chain’s ice cream cake’s butts. I promise it is worth it. 

 

Homemade Ice Cream Cake

  1. In your ice cream maker, make the first flavor ice cream you wish to use in your cake (this will be the bottom layer). When ice cream is finished, pour into 10″ springform pan and cover with crushed Oreo cookies or prefered “crunch” layer. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze
  2. Re-freeze bowl of ice cream maker and make your second flavor. Pour on top of first layer, replace plastic wrap, and return to freezer for at least two hours, or until both layers are rock solid.
  3. Carefully remove sides of springform pan, running a little hot water along the edge if cake threatens to crack or otherwise has trouble separating from the metal. Decorate quickly using whipped cream, buttercream, sprinkles, or any other decorations of your choice. Freeze until serving time.

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 A month ago, my boyfriend and I went out to dinner at a restaurant called Bin 100 here in Milford. Bin 100 is an interesting sort of fusion between Asian, Italian, and everything else. It sounds weird, but it’s really good. My main dish was a pork tenderloin with peppers, balsamic vinegar reduction, salty shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a side of baked cheese polenta, which was buttery and fantastic. It was a terrific meal. Steve got some sort of sausage and orichette dish, which he said was also really good. All in all, a tasty experience.

The amuse bouche that night was a cold chickpea salad on some sort of crispy little square. I was mildly terrified when the waiter placed it before us–chickpeas scare me–but I made myself try it, reminding myself that I could always make Steve eat it if it was gross. Well, it wasn’t gross–it was delicious. And ever since then I’ve had it in my head that I wanted to try and replicate the chickpea salad on a side dish scale.

It’s been a while so I can’t remember exactly how accurate my attempt is, but I do know that it is delicious. The raw garlic adds a zesty spiciness. The lemon and parsley add a bright, fresh tone to the dish. The bell peppers and onions are crunchy and refreshing, and the chickpeas themselves lend a filling and substantial body. The chicken, too, is moist and delicious. Serve with some grilled pita brushed with oil and sprinkled with oregano and you have a really great Mediterranean meal that’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require heating up your oven.

  

  

  

Lemon Garlic Grilled Chicken

  •  1 pound chicken tenders
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 C olive, canola, or vegetable oil
  •  1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a large ziplock bag, combine chicken, oil, juice and zest of one lemon, oregano, and garlic, finely grated or minced. Massage the marinade into the chicken and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
  2. Remove chicken, shaking off excess marinade. Season with salt and pepper and grill approximately 4 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through. Let sit for 10 minutes and serve.

  Chickpea Salad  

  • 2 14-oz cans of chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely zested
  • Zest of one lemon, juice of 2
  • 1/3 C olive, canola, or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C parsley, chopped
  • 1 very small yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  1. Rinse, drain, and lightly dry chickpeas and place in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Let sit or serve immediately.

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Confession: I am a self-professed pizza junkie. As much as I always want to claim something highbrow and extravagant for my favorite food, I am always forced to admit that there is little on this earth that makes me happier than a good pizza. Key word being “good”; I also am a self-professed pizza snob. The one single complaint I had about my four fantastic years at Ithaca College was how mediocre the pizza up in central New York was. While I won’t turn down pizza in any way, shape, or form, I will moan bitterly about the inferiority of less-than-stellar pizza to anyone who is indulgent enough to listen to me.

I know grilled pizza is kind of an “in” thing at the moment, but I feel obligated to tell you that I actually started it. Ok, so I wasn’t literally the first person to ever grill a pizza (far from it), but I did start grilling pizzas way before there was any bandwagon to jump onto. Got it? Good.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I will give you one piece of advice regarding grilled pizzas: go make one. Right now. While I generally eschew trends, this is one worth following. If you already love pizza in the oven, pizza on the grill will blow you away. I blame my pizza-snobbery entirely on being raised in close proximity to New Haven, CT, home of the original Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napolitana, aka the best pizza in the entire universe. Pepe’s pizza has thin, crispy, chewy crust, simple sauce, the perfect amount of cheese, and deliciously burnt edges (known by true fans as “char”). I’ve been trying to replicate it for years and grilling my pizza is the closest I’ve gotten. It is that good.

The use of the red onions and roasted peppers arose entirely out of a vegetable crisper scavenger hunt (i.e. What in here isn’t bad or going bad?). The sauce on the pizza is just a can of crushed tomatoes run through a fine mesh sieve and mixed with a pinch of salt. Roast the peppers by grilling on one side until the skin is charred and blistering and turning until all four sides are cooked, removing the skin, and chopping as desired. The crust, as you will see below, is a mixture of bread and whole wheat flours. The onions are raw. It was definitely missing a little something (an herb, I think–basil would have been nice), but it was a pretty delicious combination nonetheless.

For your own pizzas, feel free to get creative. One of the most enjoyable parts about making grilled pizzas, since they are individual sized, is customizing your pizza to your own personal tastes. The possibilities are endless. Have fun and enjoy!

 

Grilled Pizza

  • 1 batch of homemade dough (see below) or 1-2 balls of store-bought pizza dough
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes, strained
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
  • Oil or cooking spray for the grill
  1. Preheat grill, setting on medium high heat.
  2. Divide dough into equal parts approximately the size of your fist. Re-roll and shape into flat, round discs, either using your hands or a rolling pin.
  3. Oil grill and place pizzas over hottest points. When bottom is cooked and showing dark, defined grill marks, (about 3 mins.) remove to a greased cookie sheet, cooked side up.
  4. Top pizzas with sauce, mozzarella, and your favorite toppings
  5. Return pizzas to grill, topping side up, and cook until bottom is done and cheese is melted. (Note: Be sure to check frequently to make sure bottoms of pizzas are not burning too badly, but leave lid down whenever you are not checking or the cheese will never melt!)

Wheat Pizza Dough (adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 packet rapid rise yeast
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (see yeast packet for exact temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon oil or cooking spray
  1. In a large bowl, combine bread and wheat flours, yeast, and salt.
  2. Stir in water (I strongly, strongly advise using a candy or fry thermometer to check your water temperature to avoid yeast inactivation and crushing pizza heartbreak) until dough just comes together.
  3. Turn dough out onto lightly dusted surface and knead 7-10 minutes, or until dough is smooth, pliable, and not sticky in the least.
  4. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, which should take about 2 hours. (Fun fact: I usually turn on the oven and leave the door open to help dough rise, but I didn’t want to heat up the house on this 90 degree day, so I left the dough in the garage. It worked like a charm.)

(Makes 3 medium pizzas or 4-5 generously portioned individual pizzas)

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The first time I ever encountered pesto was back in high school, during choir rehearsal. We had been preparing for our holiday concert all day and we were allowed a brief dinner break before our warm-up. Victoria Robinson (who possessed a pretty sophisticated palate for her age, in retrospect) was eating this weird looking green paste out of a Tupperware container. She said it was called pesto and that she had made it herself. She offered me a taste, saying it was really good, and I declined, in a manner that I can only pray could be described as polite, despite my deep panic that I would not be able to get away without tasting it.

At the time, I had an overwhelming fear of tasting something and disliking it. While I’d downgrade my fear to a reluctance these days, when I was sixteen, it verged on a legitimate phobia. Coupled with my strong then-aversion anything green, there was no way I was going to taste that stuff. It’s really a shame, because I had no clue what I was missing.

Today, I love pesto. There’s something about the fruity olive oil, zesty garlic, and almost ginger-y basil, so simple, yet so close to culinary perfection. I don’t get to eat it often, but, each time I do, I wonder aloud why I don’t do it more often. Pesto really couldn’t be easier to make. It comes together in a matter of minutes and doesn’t even need to be heated–it’s every bit as delicious straight out of the blender and cold. 

The other great thing about pesto is that it is easily adjusted to your unique tastes. I kept the cheese at a minimum, for example, and left out the traditional pine nuts (you can also use walnuts). I also made my pesto excessively garlicky–and when I say excessively, I really and truly mean it. If you aren’t absolutely obsessed with garlic–like live and breathe for it and can eat it pretty much raw–I would strongly advise you to cut back by one clove. I thought I had ruined the pesto when I tasted it for seasoning, but it was spicy perfection when combined with the pasta, nothing a true garlic enthusiast couldn’t handle.

The gnocchi isn’t quite as easy as the pesto, but it’s not as scary as people make it out to be. If you can bake pastry, you can make gnocchi. It takes a while to get a feel for gnocchi making, but, once you do, it’s a piece of cake. I managed to get the pesto, the pasta, and the salad made in under an hour–not too steep a price for an impressive meal made entirely from scratch. The tomato and mozzarella salad (also know as “tomatoes and mootz” around here) showcases some great seasonal flavors  and couldn’t be easier. Add some hearty bread (like this beautiful organic wheat loaf I got from Amy’s Bread this afternoon) and you have a great summer-y meal that’s sure to please your inner Italian. 

Cute little gnocchi pillows waiting to be boiled

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

  • 2 medium sized russet potatoes
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 C all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  1. Clean, dry, and perforate potatoes. Microwave approximately 8 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through and insides are fork-tender. Slit, set aside, and let cool. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
  2. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop the insides into a medium bowl, careful to remove any errant bits of skin. Add egg, salt, and pepper and mix until combined.
  3. Stir in half the flour, adding more if needed. When mixture comes together into a soft dough, empty contents of bowl onto a well-floured surface. Knead until dough feels smooth, pliable, and has lost most of its stickiness, adding as much flour as needed to achieve desired consistency. Depending on the weather and the potatoes, you may not need the full cup or you may need more.
  4. Separate dough into 4 equal parts and dust work surface with more flour. Working with one lump at a time, use your fingertips to roll the dough into long, even snakes, approximately half an inch in diameter. Cut each snake into 1 inch pieces and set aside. You may also choose to shape gnocchi on a gnocchi board or the tines of a fork, but the little pillow shapes are infinitely easier.
  5. Add your cut gnocchi to the pot of water. When the gnocchi are cooked, they will rise right to the surface. Remove them with a spider or slotted spoon. Do not worry about getting them bone dry, as the starchy pasta water will heat your sauce and help it adhere to the gnocchi. Toss with butter or desired sauce and enjoy.

(Total cook and prep time: approximately 40 minutes. Serves 4)

Basil Pesto Sauce

  • 1 1/2 C fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons pecorino romano cheese
  • 1/2-3/4 C extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of kosher salt
  1. Combine basil, garlic, cheese, salt, and 1/4 C oil in blender or food processor. Pulse to combine. (A note about garlic: for more consistent flavor, roughly chop or grate garlic on a rasp grater before adding to blender or food processor)
  2. Remove lid and evaluate consistency. If you prefer a thicker consistency, add remaining 1/4 C of oil and pulse to combine. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add more oil as desired. Sauce, when finished, should be smooth and even textured.

(Total time: 15 minutes. Should be enough for a pound of pasta–a little bit goes a long way)

 

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

  • 3-4 ripe Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2-1 whole ball of fresh mozzarella
  • Handful of fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  1. Slice tomatoes into quarter-inch slices and arrange on serving platter.
  2. Slice mozzarella into similar sized and shaped pieces and place on top of tomatoes.
  3. Sprinkle with fresh basil, cut or torn into relatively small pieces, salt, and pepper.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil and, if desired, balsamic vinegar.

(Total time: 10 minutes. Serves: 4-6)

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