With the last days of summer right around the corner, there have been dinners on the patio after dinners on the patio. Friends, neighbors, just us. It’s been lovely. Truly. A balm for the soul. Summers are a bit harder on me than any times of the year. Summer is the time when we have entire months back home devoted to vacationing. Just that. It’s another mind set. Another way of doing things. And while I knew my family was gathering at our chalet in the Alps or just moving about France, I worked straight through the summer.
Every morning this summer, I would sit on the patio here in Alabma and listen to the sound of cicadas, a light breeze brushing my cheeks. A tease really, often quickly replaced with smoldering heat and humidity. I’d often close my eyes and I could almost feel home. I could almost hear my nieces running around in the garden, jumping off into the pool, laughing wildly with their friends, and the cicadas. Always a sign of being home.
And warm evenings with lots of grilling involved.
One thing I try not to do all summer long is turning the oven on. Where we are now, it basically heats up the whole dining and living area, bringing the smoldering heat inside for hours. So off to the back deck we go! Lots and lots of fish, meats and vegetables did end up being grilled, charred, slow roasted and smoked. Finger licking good stuff.
One thing I grew up eating were steamed artichokes and vinaigrette. While vegetable soup was a staple starter in our house, my mom would often make steamed artichokes during the summer. As well as her proscuitto and melon salad. But that’s for another time… With nostalgia tugging at me these past few months, I took it upon me to take familiar dishes that reminded me of time spent with loved ones and gave them a more current flair. Current to the temperatures, our way of living in the heat and our tastes at this moment.
Grilled baby artichokes with chimichurri sauce became an easy side our starter to many a dinner, shared with friends or just the two of us. They require a bit of prep and maybe a bit messy if eaten with a fork and knife which in my opinion is a plus… Just grill, grab and dip… They make a great snack too when watching a movie on a lazy Sunday evening or during any sport related weekend.
Due to many requests and emails, Clare and I have decided to open two more spots to our Gulf Shores Food Photography & Styling Workshop, April 25th-29th. It sold out fast but we have room and plenty of brain power to accommodate and teach two more people. For more info, click HERE.
Cooking for one can be challenging. Not because recipes are often written for 4 or 6. For me they are a fast realization that I can’t share my favorite things with my mate. During the week, I live of big pots of soups filled with lots of root vegetables, plenty of herbs and a bit of protein I cook and add separately. It’s nothing glamorous but it’s good and it fills the house with familiar flavors. I also make big batches of ratatouille that I simply top with shavings of parmesan and a poached egg. Any leftover anything is greatly highlighted with an egg on top, in my opinion.
Week like this week, could prove challenging to get something nutritious on the table if I were neither a bit organized nor desiring to feed my body right. Let’s face it, and you know it, everyday can turn form nice and mellow to high pressured and brain frying. It’s always nice to come home to something one can reheat or fix in a flash. While I try to get a big pot of soup on during the weekend so I can have some ready to eat when I get home, sometimes, I find myself in the mood for something else altogether.
Composed salad are always my second best choice. Lots of greens, roasted vegetables, flavorful grains and a protein of some sort. Kale, roasted beets, quinoa, wild rice, salmon, soft boiled eggs, grilled steak. Everything makes its way into a salad. Or a soup. Small batches of Pho, oxtail stew, salmon chowder. It’s micro cooking all over again. And if you like preparing food, shopping, chopping, dicing, sauteing, mixing, well, you still like cooking for one. Even if it means, a quiet evening, one bowl and some leftovers.
Sometimes, I just get a bit more fancy with my time, especially when I get home a bit earlier than anticipated and take a few minutes to marinate, assemble and grill. And still have leftovers to come home to.
The latest issue of Donna Hay had the most tempting marinated zucchini salad and while inspired by the dish, I did not follow the recipe to a T. I paired it with some simple chili oil (from the roasted okra in this post) and blood orange marinated shrimp that I thread on fresh sugar cane sticks. They add a bit of sweet contrast to the oil in the marinade and pair perfectly well with the mint and pepper of the marinated zucchini salad.
Dining for one may be a bit of drab at times, unless with meals such as this one when something is good and you don’t necessarily want to share…
Came back from Utah last night and it’s been a day of catching up. Running around. Grocery shopping. Laundry doing. And of course playing with Bill and snuggling with the pups…Wait! Sorry. It’s the other way around! Yep, today feels completely discombobulated.
I have had to jump right into work mode this morning and just cannot wait to cozy up on the couch tonight and look through all the pics I took this past week in Utah during the Plate To Pixel Book Tour Workshop and the three days spent at Evo in Park City. I miss everything about last week already, including the lack of humidity and the mild temperatures.
If you knew the (good) fire burning in my guts right now about everything seen, accomplished, witnessed, made part of, shared with, taught, learned about. Projects set in motion, stories brought to fruition, friendships and connections created. Kuddos to Rachael and Jyl, the founders of Evo for another smashingly well executed conference. I can’t wait to share more of it with you later this week.
Part of all these good all around feelings started right before Utah when I cooked my first recipe out of my friend Matt Armendariz first and freshly released cookbook "On A Stick". I’d only had time to make a couple of recipes from it but took his book with me on the plane and read from first to last page. In the thick of Summer, his book could not have come out at a better time!
The weather sure did not get any milder while I was gone and tonight we got right back into our routine of grilling as much as possible instead of turning the stove or the oven on. We have come to grill everything, even fruits. Stone fruits specifically. Juicy, fragrant, perfectly textured for a little fire action.
I realized a few days before hopping on the plane last week that I had gone slightly overboard with the apricots and plums. To use them up, I served a bunch simply cut up with some fresh whipped cream. A little riff off the idea of peaches and cream. And while this was simple and satisfying, there was a little depth of flavor and texture missing.
This is when I went ahead and grilled a bunch, following Matt’s direction for Grilled Fruit Skewers and served some over vanilla ice cream. I pureed the rest until smooth and made these Apricot & Honey Panna Cotta. They are the perfect blend of smooth and creamy with a touch of refreshing fruity acidity from the apricots at the bottom.
A large handful of velvet apricots and plums found its fate much like a dish gets concocted at times. A pinch of this, a dash of that…I was adapting Matt Armendariz’s recipe for Chinese Five Spice Chicken Skewers from his book "On a Stick" to use with fresh tuna when the velvet apricot I was munching on flew out of my hand and landed on a little bit of five spice sprinkled inadvertently on the counter top. I wondered what the combination of fragrances would be like and fell in love at first bite.
Before I knew it, I was skewering pieces of five spice marinated tuna and velvet apricots and placing them over a hot grill. The resulting dish was the perfect light dinner bite we were craving with such hot weather. Sweet, sour and savory. Hints of anise, lemongrass, cumin, cinnamon bringing fish and fruit together perfectly.
I love how the book incorporates super simple to fancier recipes without being difficult or long in preparation. Recipes such as "Ground Shrimp on Sugarcane" and "S’Mores" are especially tempting to me. Others like the "Spaghetti and Meatballs" or "Cinnamon Rolls" on a stick may seem brilliant or crazy to some folks but they turned out to be quite the conversation piece at our latest neighborhood cookout. Always a plus if you ask me.
However, these are far and few between and if you look closely, you’ll see that Matt took known dishes and reworked them to work on skewers of all kinds. From appetizers to desserts, complete with dips and sauces. Fun. Unpretentious. Entertaining. Beautifully styled by Adam Pearson and photographed by Matt himself. Yes, I consider both of them my friends and mentors and that makes this book that much more fun for me to use.
I am seeing many more dinners and parties in our future incorporating recipes and ideas from Matt’s book. That makes me beam with pride. Matt is the single most positive person I have ever met in my life and I am constantly learning and inspired by him. This book is an clearly an extension of his fun and delicious side…!
Apricots & Honey Panna Cotta:
For the apricots:
For the panna cotta:
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin (2 sheets gelatin)
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup honey
1 cup full fat buttermilk
Directions: Prepare the apricots:
Cut the apricots in half and remove the pit. Brush lightly with olive oil and grill over hot coals until tender (about 3-4 minutes on each side). Let cool and puree until smooth in a food processor. Divide the mixture between 6 glasses.
Prepare the panna cotta:
Place the water in small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Reserve.
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan placed over medium heat, bring the heavy cream and honey to a simmer. When the cream is hot, remove from the heat and whisk in the reserved gelatin until it is completely dissolved. Add the buttermilk and whisk until well blended.
Divide the mixture on top of the apricot puree. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving to let the cream set properly.
Chinese Five Spice Tuna and Stone Fruit Skewers, adapted from Matt Armendariz’s On A Stick:
12 skewers (bamboo or metal)
1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon minced lemongrass
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh tuna, cut into large pieces
3 velvet apricots, quartered
3 plums, quartered
Combine all the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Place the tuna pieces and fruit quarters in a shallow dish and add the marinade. Make sure to coat all the pieces well with the marinade. Refrigerate for an hour, turning the tuna pieces halfway through the process.
Meanwhile soak the skewers if using bamboo ones so they don’t burn (I used metal) in water for at least 30 minutes. Heat the grill to medium high.
Remove the tuna and fruit from the refrigerator and thread onto the skewers, alternating pieces as much as possible. Grill, about 3-4 minutes per side for medium tuna or less for rare. Serve with fresh arugula if desired.