Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

There’s still a little time left for some summer fun! We’ve been compiling recipes and ideas for a few years now, and we figure it’s the perfect time to share the summer fun with you.

Adult or kid (or kid at heart!), there’s something for everyone in this summer fun roundup!

First and foremost, get a batch of Boozy Poptails in the freezer right away. These adults-only frozen pops will surely get you through the last few weeks of summer!

Poptails Done

If that booze gets you feeling nostalgic, come share your childhood summer fun memories with us here.

Doing any camping this summer? Or attending a bonfire? Sarah’s fire pies are a definite must!

Campfire Pies summer fun

Another fun way to eat outdoors is having a build-your-own kabob party! Everyone gets exactly what they want all grilled to perfection!

If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, Claire’s grilled salad brings the best of summer onto your plate.

Grilled Salad

Or if the heat is just too unbearable, stick with something delicious that you don’t even have to cook! Ceviche tacos make for the perfect dish on a hot day – no grill required!

The very best way to finish off summer is with the most refreshingly delicious dessert: homemade mint ice cream. Can you think of anything better? I sure can’t!

Mint Ice Cream

What are your go-to meals and activities for summer fun? Share with us!

 

 

Lighten Up with Grilled Salad

Lighten Up with Grilled Salad

This grilled salad is killing me. I want to eat it right now, exactly as Claire has made it. I can’t even come up with words for how perfect this looks, so I’m just going to pass the tongs to Claire now so that you all can join me in drooling. Fire it up, Claire!

Like most people, I love cooking out on the grill. I don’t have a great grill, but I do have a little fire table with a grilling surface, and it does the job just fine for my postage-stamp of a back yard. Right now, my town is experiencing prime grilling weather. It’s summery enough that I’ve been thinking a lot about hamburgers lately, but it’s not so hot yet that I’m sweating through my shirt as soon as I step outside. I’ve been smelling BBQ smells in the neighborhood, and it’s got me primed. I’m pretty excited for this summer’s inaugural meal off the grill, but I think I’d like to keep it on the lighter side. My husband has been a little sick, so I’ve been ladling chicken soup down his throat for the last five days, and it seems a little extreme to go right from broth to burgers. Besides, I really need some roughage in my diet after soup week, if you know what I mean. Anyhoo…

A couple of years ago, my best friend took me out to dinner at this super swanky restaurant for my birthday. There were so many things on the menu we wanted to try, we decided to just order them all and split them, tapas style. We must have tried a dozen different things, but try as I might, I can’t recall a single one of them except the grilled salad. It was a full romaine heart, halved lengthwise and grilled. They topped it with some kind of balsamic and little crunchy things. We were so surprised by the grilled lettuce; it seemed so novel to us! In retrospect, it seems so obvious. I mean, grilled veggies are sort of notorious for being awesome. So are grilled fruits, and grilled everything else, for that matter, which brings me to this week’s recipe.

A grilled salad is the perfect transition into summer fare.

Grilled Salad

The best thing about grilling out is that the food gets so much flavor from the grill, there is barely any prep involved. The flip side of that is, because you’re not doing much to dress it up, the quality of the food you start with will be reflected in the meal you end with, so start with the good stuff. When I got to the store, I already knew I wanted to do a grilled salad, but I believe in letting the groceries direct the meal, so I also got some shrimp and apricots. It’s still a little early for stone fruit, but I caught a whiff of these as I was walking past the display, and they just really called to me.

Grilled Salad

For the salad’s base, simply slice the lettuce lengthwise, drizzle or brush a little olive oil on the sliced side, and place them on the grill. Repeat with the apricots, slicing from top to bottom and removing the pits. With the produce, you’re not trying to cook the food through. You just want to get a light char and imbue it with that good smoky flavor.

Grilled Salad For the shrimp, skewer them, drizzle them with olive oil, and then give them a good hit of salt and pepper. Don’t put too many shrimp on a single skewer, and don’t crowd them, or they won’t cook evenly. With a high heat cooking source like an open grill, they will cook quickly, so probably no more than 30 seconds per side. You want them just barely opaque.

Grilled Salad

To dress your grilled salad, you can go premade, but I like to pull out my food processor and whip something up. In this case, I’m going with basically an eggless Caesar dressing. A spoonful of Dijon mustard, a generous pour of sherry, a couple glugs of extra virgin olive oil, two or three cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a good heap of Parmesan, a few grinds of pepper, and five anchovy fillets. Whir it all together until it’s smooth, lightly dress the lettuce, and top with your favorite salad fixings. Serve it with a good bottle of chilled white wine, and dig in. This grilled salad is a joyful herald of a season of good eating and I can’t wait to get down to it!

Grilled Salad

Fall Soup – Cozying Up with Clam Chowder

Fall Soup – Cozying Up with Clam Chowder

There is just nothing quite like a hot bowl of soup on a cold day, and clam chowder is easily in my top three favorites. Oddly enough, I have never made it! Clam chowder has always seemed like one of those soups that will take a ton of time to make; it’s a restaurant meal, not an at-home dish. Well, as usual, Claire Hoenke is blowing my mind. Turns out clam chowder is actually not hard to make at all. I’ll give it a try if you will, too. Claire, teach us your chowdery ways.

Last month, I told you all about my undying love for autumn. For part two of my love song, I have set my sights on dinner. By now, the weather around here has actually started to turn ever so slightly cool. I have switched my air conditioning off, and in the mornings, I wake up and pull my blankets tighter around my chin against the cold night air. By the time I’m ready to leave the house for work, I’m already thinking about soul-warming comfort foods.

But it’s a work day! There’s no time to braise short ribs or a brisket. I need to come up with something I can make inside of an hour; over the course of the morning, my mind has zeroed in on soup. Stews, chowders, and broths start rippling through my brain, and already the thought of a steaming bowl of soup has my mouth watering. I run a mental checklist of recipe components against my pantry’s current inventory, and after work, I make a brief stop at the grocery store.

It’s going to be clam chowder tonight, and I could not be happier.

My clam chowder is adapted from the Culinary Institute of America’s recipe, and both my husband and I count it among our favorite things to eat; at this point I have made it so many times, I can basically do it in my sleep. I also have a tendency to keep bottles of clam juice in the house, just in case of a clam chowder emergency, and tonight is just such an emergency! I pick up some bread and cream and rush home to pull out the rest of my ingredients. Less than an hour later, I am sitting down at the table with my husband and a hot bowl of soup, and we both float off on a chowdery cloud. This recipe is so easy, and so luxuriously comforting, I have decided that I just have to share it.

Clam Chowder

  • 1 to 1 ½ pound canned or frozen baby clams, juices reserved
  • 2 8oz. bottles clam juice
  • 2 or 3 bacon slices, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, diced
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons dry sherry, or to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Hot sauce (such as Tabasco), to taste
  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste
  • Optional loaf of bread or soup crackers

Start out by draining the juices from the clams. In my case, I did have one 10 oz can of clams, but that’s not really enough, so I also pulled a bag of Trader Joe’s cooked frozen langostino tails out of my freezer and let them thaw in the sink for a few minutes. Really, any seafood will do in a pinch, and if you’re lucky enough to live close to a Trader Joe’s, you can usually find some fun options in their frozen section. Add the bottled clam juice together with the drained juices, and it should equal at least 3 cups. Mince the clams and set them aside for now. At this point in the cooking process in my house, the cats have moved into the kitchen with me and are swirling around my ankles begging for bits of whatever is producing that delightful smell. I do not give in to their demands.

Fall Soup Clam Chowder

Chop up the raw bacon and throw it into a 6 or 8 quart soup pot set over medium heat. You want to let the bacon bits render slowly, for about 8 minutes until they are almost crispy. While the bacon is cooking, chop up the onion. When the bacon is ready, add the onion and cook it, stirring occasionally, until it is translucent. Add in the flour and turn the heat down to low, stirring with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes. Then, slowly add in the clam juice. Use your spoon or a whisk to get all the crispy bits up off the bottom of the pan, and then cook the juice at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

While the juices simmer and thicken, peel and dice your potatoes. I like my soup to be super chunky, so I use 4 medium to large sized Yukon golds. When the clam juice is about the thickness of heavy cream, add the potatoes to your pot, along with the chopped thyme and the bay leaf. Cook the potatoes until they are tender, which should be about 15 minutes, depending on the size of your dice.

Fall Soup Clam Chowder

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, combine the cream with the minced clams and simmer them together for about 5 minutes to cook the clams. If you have bread to go with the soup, this is the time to put it into the oven to warm up in time for dinner. If you are using any pre-cooked seafood items, chop them to bite size and add them to the soup pot in the last minute or so of the clams’ cooking time.

When the potatoes are tender and the clams are cooked, add the cream mixture to the soup pot and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the sherry, and season to taste with Worcestershire, salt and pepper, and a good couple shakes of your favorite hot sauce. Take the bread out of the oven and get ready to feast. I guess a side salad would be good here, if only to round out the meal, but I just can’t be fussed to bother with it on soup night. Luckily, this recipe yields about 2 quarts, so there is enough for seconds!

Fall Soup Clam Chowder

I think it’s pretty important to have a couple of can’t-fail recipes in your back pocket, and this is one of my favorites. It combines all good things into an even better thing, and it cooks up quickly without much fuss. It’s perfect for a chilly evening, and we’re fixing to get quite a few of those in the near future. Do yourself a favor and just add clam juice and canned clams to your next grocery list and you’ll be a believer too!

Printer friendly recipe: Clam Chowder

Summer Seafood – Ceviche Tacos

Summer Seafood – Ceviche Tacos

Summer seafood dishes are pretty much the saving grace of this dreadful time of year. Because I am landlocked, I just don’t have the access to fresh fish that I would prefer, but I do have lovely friends on both coasts who are happy to indulge me when I visit. I told you I’ll be heading up to visit Claire soon and I cannot even begin to describe to you how excited I am to let her stuff my face with seafood, particularly the dish she is sharing with us today (also breakfast, becasue holy cow, Claire is a breakfast goddess). Claire lives in a place that allows her to take summer seafood seriously and these ceviche tacos are just what I need to help me make it through to the cooler days ahead. Claire, give our readers a little taste!

Man, it is hot out. It is so hot, I cannot for a second entertain the idea of standing in front of a hot stove, and let’s not even joke about standing outside in the heat and cooking over a grill. The summer issues of all of my favorite food magazines have been making their way to my mailbox, and I’ve been surprised to learn this simple truth: Magazine summer dinner recipes are like the “natural look” makeover; it seems like they’re going to be totally easy to pull off, but it turns out that it takes a lot of work to look so low-maintenance. After one too many nights of throwing my hands up and settling for a salad, I started to ask myself in exasperation, “Can’t I just cook some meat for dinner without working up a sweat?”

Luckily, this is not a new problem. Since the invention of cooking meat over a fire, I assume, people have been trying to figure out how to have meat without cooking it over a fire. Creative methods come from all over the world, but I think it makes the most sense to look to the tropics for a good summer seafood meal. My favorite method to beat the heat comes from Peru, and it’s a double-whammy, for reasons I’ll get into in a minute.

Ceviche is arguably one of the easiest summer seafood dishes to make in the whole world, but done properly, it can also be one of the most impressive things to come out of your kitchen.

Summer Seafood Ceviche

If you’re not familiar, ceviche is slices or pieces of fish cooked by the application of an acidic marinade, usually citrus juices. The citric acid from the juice causes the proteins in the meat to denature, which gives it the opaque look and texture of fish cooked with heat. Because you are not using heat, the fish you use for this dish must be exceedingly fresh. The best way to get really fresh fish is to catch it yourself, of course, but the next best option is a reputable, dedicated fishmonger. You want a clean and busy place where the staff can tell you when and where every fish in their shop was caught and by what method, as well as the name of the boat and fisherman who brought it in. The fish in the shop should be stored on top of ice at temperatures just above freezing. The flesh should be firm, bouncing back from a good poke rather than being left with a dent, and it should have no fishy smell. In most cases, you can tell you’re in the right place if the fishmonger’s shop is removed from the touristy part of town and buried among the fishing boats. I’m lucky enough to live just a 15-minute drive from the Pacific coast, so I can make the side trip into Morro Bay and visit my fishmonger there.

Summer Seafood Ceviche Semi-firm white ocean fish is traditional for ceviche, but virtually any fish will work, and even some shellfish, so your choice should depend more on quality and sustainability, rather than tradition. Your best bet is to head to the fish market with an open mind, and opt for whatever is freshest. A responsible fishmonger will stock only sustainably caught product, but I think it’s a good idea to double check anyway. I like to use The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s free Seafood Watch smartphone app because it’s always up-to-date and it’s a simple and effective guide to making the most informed choices. I chose seabass for my ceviche, and I asked the clerk to skin it and pack it on ice for me for the drive home.

I decided to keep my recipe traditional and simple, which brings me back to that thing I said about ceviche being a beat-the-heat double-whammy. Obviously, the first whammy is the no-heat cooking method, but what is that second whammy? Ironically, it is heat! We want to go hot, not in temperature, but in flavor. There are real, scientific reasons that traditionally spicy foods come from the hottest climates. One of those reasons is that spicy foods raise the body’s internal temperature to match the temperature outside, diminishing the perceived extreme difference in temperatures. As blood circulation increases, it also causes facial perspiration, which in turn produces a cooling effect as it evaporates. Hot weather is also a natural appetite suppressant, and spicy foods naturally stimulate appetite and digestion, so without further ado, let’s get to the grub!

Spicy Ceviche Tacos

  • 1 pound of fresh fish Summer Seafood Ceviche
  • 1 small red onion or half of a large one, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, divided
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño or serrano peppers
  • ½ cup fresh citrus juice
  • 1 avocado
  • Fresh tomatoes
  • Small corn or flour tortillas
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Keep your fish on ice while you do the rest of your prep. The colder and fresher you can keep your fish, the better!

Start by juicing your fruit into a non-reactive bowl; I used all limes, but you can also add in sour orange, lemon, or passionfruit juice for a fun variation on tradition. Add your sliced red onions to the bowl. Pick the leaves off of about a third of your cilantro and set those aside to top your tacos. Coarsely chop the rest of the stems and leaves, and add them to the marinade. Mince the peppers and add them to the marinade. Most of their heat resides in the seeds and the ribs, so for less heat, remove them.

Slice your fish on a 45° angle into approximately quarter-inch-thick slices. Add the fish into the bowl with salt and pepper and allow it to marinate for at least 5 minutes, gently folding occasionally to make sure all of the slices are getting equal exposure to the juice. At this point, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your fish. Let it go too long, and the meat will completely break down, leaving you with dry, overcooked fish. For my taste, somewhere around the 10- to 12-minute mark is ideal, but it’s going to depend on how you sliced it. You want it nicely firm on the outside, but tender and translucent on the inside.

Summer Seafood Ceviche

While the fish is marinating, you can prep your taco toppings. Cut up the avocado and tomato, and coarsely chop the cilantro leaves you set aside earlier. When the fish is ready, assemble your tacos, using some of the onions from the marinade to round out your taco toppings, and serve them with your favorite refreshing beverages. Toast to the sea for providing you with the ultimate best summer seafood dinner.

Summer Seafood Ceviche

Celebrating Sustainable Seafood – Shrimp & Chorizo on Grits

Celebrating Sustainable Seafood – Shrimp & Chorizo on Grits

There is nothing quite like seafood in the summer — it’s so light and fresh, it just makes the heat a little more bearable! Chef J has some wise words on using sustainable seafood, and is also willing to share a wonderful recipe with us. As always — thanks, Chef J!

If you would like to jump into a contentious issue, as I always do, investigate the ins and outs of sustainable seafood. The effects of fishing have far-reaching implications, and unfortunately, here in my neck of the woods they are often neglected or unknown. My neck of the woods happens to be in the middle of the desert — so the only bodies of water out here are over-chlorinated swimming pools and smelly canals… But that’s no excuse for not knowing where one’s food comes from!

The results of over-fishing can be felt all over the world; with prices skyrocketing, supplies dwindling, and ecosystems crumbling,  there has never been a more urgent time to look into ways to sustainably provide food while taking into account the fragility of the resources we use.

In other words: look before you eat. Just like with any kind of food, you should be aware of where it comes from and what it took to produce it. If you like tuna, pay attention to how it gets to you — because realistically, you probably won’t be eating it in 10 to 15 years.

There is a loud debate over farm raised versus wild caught aquatic cuisine; it’s not black and white, there is no unifying theory, and people can’t or won’t agree on a lot of the details. Such is life. But, you can look a bit deeper into the food that you purchase and consume, and that’s always a good thing. Here in Arizona we have access to lots of seafood; some good, more bad — but the options for eating sustainable seafood are available. I won’t go into details that I can’t properly explain and that you probably don’t want to hear, but if you care about the earth and stuff, you should take a look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

For this simple recipe, we are using farmed, U.S. shrimps.

Shrimp & Chorizo on Grits

  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup coarsely ground grits (white or yellow- whatever floats your boat)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 2 cups shredded Oaxaca cheese

Bring the milk to a simmer.
Stir in the grits and spices.
Let it cook until it’s done. That sounds vague, but depending on how coarse the grits are it could take anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. Go with the instructions on the bag.
When the grits are soft, remove them from the heat and stir in the butter, then cheese.
Season to taste.

  • 1 TBS butter
  • 6 oz. raw chorizo sausage, loose
  • 1 lb. raw shrimp
  • 6 scallions, sliced- separate the greens and whites
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 TBS chopped cilantro

Melt the butter in a sauté pan and add the chorizo and white part of scallions.
Cook for 5-6 minutes until the chorizo is done.
Add the shrimp and spices, cook for 2 minutes.
Add the lime juice and remove from heat. Stir vigorously to emulsify.
Pour the shrimp and chorizo over the grits and top with green scallions and cilantro.

Printer friendly recipe: Celebrating Sustainable Seafood

Cedar-planked Salmon – A simply delicious recipe!

Cedar-planked Salmon – A simply delicious recipe!

Today is “International Talk Like A Pirate Day”.  I guess I never knew there was such a day, but as I was browsing the internet I discovered it.  I’m not certain what this has to do with the  ButcherBlockCo Blog, but it did get me thinking about pirate lingo and “walking the plank”.  And then my thoughts led me to cedar-planked salmon!  Salmon is my favorite fish, and grilled cedar-planked salmon is one of my favorite ways to prepare it.  So this week’s blog is loosely dedicated to “Talk Like a Pirate Day” and is a simple, delicious recipe for grilled cedar-planked salmon.

A meal of cedar-planked salmon is high value, meaning little effort produces great results!

The cost is relatively inexpensive, the ingredients are readily available, the prep work is simple, and the taste is fabulous!  Basically you soak the planks, season the salmon, and grill.  That’s about it. We just made this last night and we served it with sautéed asparagus and a quinoa/brown rice blend.
Arrr!
Ingredients: cedar-planked-salmon-prep
  • Salmon fillets, skin on one side
  • Sea Salt
  • Granulated Garlic
  • Crushed Peppercorns
  • Dill seasoning
  • Fresh Tarragon leaves
  • Cedar planks
Avast, ye Mateys!
Directions
  1. Soak cedar planks in a shallow dish, completely submerged for 2 hours.  You can soak in water, or I have heard wine or cider works too.
  2. Place salmon fillet, skin side down on plank
  3. Sprinkle seasonings on top side of salmon
  4. Place plank on 350 degree preheated grill.  Cover and grill for 15 to 20 minutes.  Check after 15 minutes for doneness.  My family prefers salmon well cooked and more firm, so we go the full 20 minutes
  5. Spray water on any flare ups
  6. Remove from grill.  Salmon will separate from the skin nicely with a spatula. Garnish with fresh Tarragon.
cedar-planked-salmon-grilled Grilled Cedar-planked salmon.  Arrr!
Printer friendly recipe: Cedar-planked Salmon Recipe