Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Summer is almost over. Sigh. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to hang on to days of Summer just a little longer. So for this last weekend, before all the kids are back in school and life gets back to normal, let’s celebrate in one of our favorite ways: with some margaritas!! We recently catered a “end-of-summer” party where we served these and they were a hit! You should know that we take our margaritas pretty seriously. This is not Jose-Cuervo-Spring-Break margarita. These are all about 100% agave tequila, agave syrup, fresh lime juice and plenty of ice on the rim. These are grown-up margaritas.

My favorite basic margarita recipes comes from Joanne Weir, our friend/chef/cookbook author/teacher who just opened Copita, a tequila bar and eatery in Northern California. Her recipe is a basic mix of pure ingredients — just enough sweetness from agave and tang from fresh lime juice balanced with good ol’ fashioned water makes  a better “margarita mix” than you could ever buy.

Lately I’ve upped the ante by infusing the agave syrup and adding other citrus. After a little tinkering and some testing (yep, I have a pretty great job!!), I came up with a recipe that balances the flavors of orange, lemon and lime to make one very delicious updated margarita. It starts with plenty of fresh citrus. Then we make an infused agave syrup by combining big strips of orange zest with agave, heating it just briefly and letting it sit overnight. In the end, we have a drink that’s perfect for toasting the end of summer. Cheers!


1 orange, zested in large strips
7.5 oz agave
15 oz 100% agave silver tequila
6 oz key lime juice
7.5 oz water
4 oz fresh lemon juice
sliced oranges, lemons & limes, for garnish
salt for rim

Combine the agave and orange zest in a pot over medium heat and cook until just warm. Set aside till cool. Let sit overnight. Strain and discard the zest.

In a large pitcher, combine the orange agave, tequila, lime juice, lemon juice and water. Stir and taste — adjust sweetness as needed.

Shake over lots of ice and serve in a salt-rimmed glass with a few citrus slices in each glass.


Read Full Post »

To me, there is nothing better to do with summer fruit that fold it up into a delicious pastry crust. While the pie from my past post was pretty spectacular, it does take some time to make. The chilling of the dough and chilling of the pie are key parts to the success. So when patience is not on my side and I have an abundance of fruit in the house and I’m craving that perfect summer dessert, I turn to pie’s less-fussy, easier cousin, the galette. These free-form, open-faced tarts can be filled with nearly anything — some fruit with a bit of sugar, some cheese bound with a bit of egg.

I’ve made galettes with a variety of different doughs and was excited to try this week’s Tuesdays with Dorrie’s baking assignment. The recipe called for a mix of flour and cornmeal (a nice addition for a bit of texture) and a mix of butter and yogurt (another nice addition for a bit of tang). The biggest difference between a pie dough and a galette dough is the way it’s handled. Pie dough should have big steaks of butter/shortening in it and should not be overworked — this ensures a flaky crust, the hallmark of any good pie. Galette dough, on the other hand, should have the fat worked completely into the flour(s), creating a more sturdy dough with a crumbly instead of a flaky texture. This is good news for the speedy baker — it means making galette dough in a food processor is a great choice….your dough will be ready in minutes!

We stayed true to the recipe and filled this one with a mix of seasonal berries, added just a bit of sugar and honey, folded up the edges and in a short 35 minutes we had this lovely, golden galette.


This week I got a hug batch of plums in my Farm Box. I think a feel a plum and almond paste galette coming on….

Visit this week’s hosts for the full recipe: The Kitchen Lioness and Tomato Thymes.

Read Full Post »

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am no pastry chef….and, in fact, I can hardly be called a baker. I think this has less to do with lack of schooling and more to do with lack of confidence. While I’ve cooked professionally for over a decade and can easily make delicious food for any size party, it takes nothing more than the simplest baking task to throw me (see: The Genoise Disaster). It’s worth clarifying that I have never been to a cooking class, never trained to be a culinary professional. But what I’m lacking in schooling I’ve made up for with my own earnest study of all things food related, a deep love of cooking/eating and an unfettered confidence (it’s just food, right?). While all of these things have seen me through my culinary career, they fail me when it comes time to bake. Maybe it’s because baking takes a precision that challenges my impatient nature. Maybe it’s because baking requires getting it right from the start and cooking allows you to fix and tinker as you go. Regardless, I tend to enter each TWD assignment with a little trepidation. But lately things have begun to to turn around….and this week’s Blueberry Nectarine Pie is a stunning example.

This pie is glorious summer perfection tucked between the best crust you’ll ever have. Big promises, I know. But this pie lives up to it. This should really be the master recipe for anyone who wants to make pie and is a little scared — it’s not only easy but also has some fail-safe steps that ensure success. (See the complete recipe on this week’s hosts: That Skinny Chick Can Bake and Manchego’s Kitchen.)

First, there’s the dough. As per most good pie dough recipes, this one uses part butter and part shortening (the butter ensures good flavor and the shortening ensures a flaky crust). This recipe makes enough for two double-crust pies. I considered cutting the recipe in half but realized this was the kind of thing that has gotten me into trouble with baking recipes before so I put my head down and did as I was told. I made the full recipe and froze the dough for the second pie. I made the dough by hand and it was a bit softer and wetter than the doughs I usually make — turns out this is what makes it so easy to roll out. Genius!!

While the dough was resting and chilling, I made the filling. The method for this filling was another revelation. I cooked HALF of the berries and nectarines with sugar and lemon zest and a bit of flour until thick and bubbly and then folded in the raw fruit and let cool. The result was the perfect jammy-pie-filling consistency that still has nice chunks of fruit. After the filling chilled I was ready to build.

This is where I usually get a little nervous — will the dough break? Will it be too sticky? Not this dough — it was the EASIEST roll-out I’ve ever experienced. The dough was soft and supple but not sticky. Success!! After filling the dough with the chilled fruit mixture and topping it with dots of butter, I covered it with the other round of dough and chilled the whole pie for about 30 minutes. The old me would have considered skipping this second chilling step thanks to that lack of patience I mentioned. But the new, better-baker version of myself knew better. So I let the pie rest, baked it for 50 minutes and was greeted with a gorgeous, golden pie with fruit filling bubbling through the vents.

Oh, and it tasted amazing, too! In fact, it was so good and so quickly gobbled up by my book club friends that I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of a cut slice. Whoops! The best part? I still have pie dough in my freezer and I’ll be getting peaches in my Farm Box next week. Peach Pie, here I come!!

Read Full Post »

It seemed so simple starting out. I read through the recipe for French Strawberry Cake in Baking with Julia — this week’s assignment from TWD — and it was very straightforward. Bake a basic genoise cake, fill with berries and cream, frost with more cream and top with gorgeous whole strawberries. A grown up strawberry shortcake. I was all in. I reviewed the genoise cake recipe and got started — a simple cake leavened with eggs — how hard could it be? This is probably a good time to admit that even though I spend my days developing recipes and cooking for people  I am very much a hit-or-miss baker. And when it comes to cakes, it’s usually a miss. Maybe it’s the precision required in measuring the perfect cup of flour or maybe it’s the patience required in waiting for cakes to cool, but I’ve made very few successful cakes in my 18+ years of professional cooking. In fact I can count them on one hand. Despite these past failures, I went into this recipe full of optimism. Frankly, it just didn’t seem that hard.

So I sifted the flour, separated the eggs and whipped the mixture for the full 5 minutes until I had pretty lemon-yellow ribbons of batter. I folded in the butter, poured the mixture into a round cake pan and sent it off to the oven to bake. A mere 22 minutes later I had what seemed like a successful cake — the tester came out clean so I let it cool, wrapped it up and refrigerated it overnight.

But, to be honest, I knew something was amiss. Before refrigerating it, I noticed that the cake was awfully thin still — it had barely risen and was only an inch tall at best. The top of the cake was also very sticky. In my optimistic ignorance, I thought it would be fine after it cooled. Not so much. I decided to turn the cake into two rectangles to create some extra layers — I thought it would be fun to make a small rectangle cake instead of the expected round shape. To do this, I cut the round edges into straight lines, cut the cake into two even rectangles and that’s when I noticed something was very wrong.

The cake was rubbery and had a thin, gummy layer in the middle. In fact, everything about the texture was wrong: the top was spongy and super sticky, the middle was gummy and the bottom might as well have been the bottom of a shoe. One taste dashed any hopes I had of saving this cake — it was utterly inedible. The worst part? I have no idea why! Clearly I did something wrong with the eggs since they were solely responsible for making this cake rise. Did I whip the too long or not long enough? And why did the cake separate like that?  I’m hoping the other more seasoned bakers of TWD can explain the error of my ways. Part of me wants to give it another go and get it right. Part of me is thinking “What’s so great about cakes anyway?” Either way, I need some answers to have closure. Help!

In the meantime I ate the pain of my failure with a bowl of whipped cream and strawberries — nearly enough to make me feel better. But seeing as I’m two days late with this post, I was clearly still working through some feelings of shame. Whipped cream and berries only have so much power after all. If you’d like to try making this cake yourself, go to this week’s hosts for the full recipe — Sophia’s Sweets and Think, Love, Sleep, Dine — if you do better than I did (and I can’t imagine anyone doing worse), tell us about your success — I need pictures of what I should aspire to 🙂

Read Full Post »

These shrimp are one of our most popular catering appetizers…and for good reason. They are the perfect, light starter for a summer dinner party. Most traditional recipes use shrimp that have been boiled or poached and a overly tangy cocktail sauce that masks the delicate essence of the shrimp. We like to intensify the shrimp and make it the star. Instead of cooking the shrimp the traditional way, which leaves all the shellfish flavor in the water, we decided to grill them to maximize the flavor. We toss the shrimp with a little rosemary and lemon, then throw the little guys on a hot grill to get that charred flavor. Grilling them with the tails on retains more of the natural shrimp flavor, as well as providing a natural place to grab and dip. Our cocktail sauce incorporates freshly roasted tomatoes and garlic which mellows the tang of the ketchup and horseradish. It is a modern spin on a traditional sauce that doesn’t compete with the succulent flavor of the shrimp. The best part is both the shrimp and the cocktail sauce can be made ahead since the shrimp is served cold, so you can kick back and enjoy your summer soiree!

Lemon-Rosemary Grilled Shrimp with Roasted Tomato Cocktail Sauce

makes 24 shrimp and 1 cup of sauce

24 tail-on shrimp (16-20 count), patted very dry

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

1 lemon, zested

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary

4 roma tomatoes, halved and seeded

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup horseradish

lemon juice, a splash

Preheat a grill or indoor grill pan to high. Toss the shrimp with the olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon zest and rosemary. Place shrimp on the grill and cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until curled slightly and bright pink.  Let cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile toss the tomatoes and garlic cloves with a drizzle of olive oil  and spread out on a roasting pan. Roast until softened and charred in spots about 20 minutes. In a food processor, combine the roasted tomatoes, garlic, ketchup and horseradish until smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to your liking. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve the sauce in a bowl for dipping. The shrimp are best served hot off the grill OR cold out of the fridge the next day.

Read Full Post »

These little fritters are always a hit at our catered event…there’s something about a crispy vegetable that is so appealing! We make many variations on this recipe, substituting the zucchini with shredded raw butternut squash, carrots, sweet potato, yellow squash. But these are my personal favorite — they are light and delicate on the inside and crispy on the outside, topped with a creamy dollop of ricotta. Just be sure to squeeze the shredded raw vegetables very dry before moving on with the recipe…otherwise you’ll have soggy fritters. Also, don’t skip topping the ricotta with plenty of cracked black pepper just before serving (or red chili flakes if you like some heat) — it’s that tasty final touch that puts these over the edge.

Zucchini Fritters with Ricotta & Mint

makes about 25 fritters

4 medium zucchini, coarsely grated (makes about 6-7 cups)

2 tbl finely chopped scallions

2 tbl finely chopped dil

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup crumbled feta

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

vegetable oil, for frying

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup chopped mint

Place the shredded zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Toss and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Rinse lightly and squeeze as much of the liquid out as possible and transfer to a bowl.
Add the scallions, dill, flour, baking soda, feta, egg, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil to a wide pan. Add heaping tablespoons of the batter to the pan and cook until golden. Flip and cook until golden and cooked through on the second side. Remove and place on a paper-towel-lined pan to remove excess oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt as soon as they come out of the oil.
Whisk the ricotta and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve the fritters hot topped with ricotta and some fresh mint and final sprinkle of cracked black pepper.

Read Full Post »