- Jalapeno Pickle Brined Fried Chicken (with ranch. duh, this is America)
- Blue Cheese Potato Salad w/ Bacon and Scallion
- Beergarita Popsicles with Smoky Chile Salt
- Tomato and Peach salad with Basil and Red Onion
- Strawberry Icebox Cake
Yes. Fall has technically started. But that doesn’t mean our CSA has stopped bringing us the goods. On a spiritual level, we’re totally ready for everything roasted, braised, and spiked with nutmeg, but we’ve still have lots of beautiful late-Summer produce on-hand. Our favorite way to deal with this bounty (so we can make room for the on-coming pumpkins and pommes) is to eat it. All together. All at once.
Zucchini noodles (which we refuse to call “zoodles,” because we’re not fucking toddlers) will never be as heavenly as wheat noodles, but they are a solid compromise between carb coma and salad. They are neutral enough to stand up to your zingiest sauces, but still sturdy enough to pile on the toppings, and they don’t expand in your stomach– which means you’ll have plenty of room for dessert.
We paired our zucchini noodles with Chimichurri, an Argentinean sauce similar to pesto that doesn’t fuck around. Full of lemon, parsley, and garlic, it brings huge, bright flavor that’s as good on a pile of greens as it is on a slab of grilled meat. This recipe is a keeper. Literally. Freeze a little jar and break it out for a hit of Summer in February.
Haul out your cast iron skillet: Green Tomato season is upon us.
Growing up in the Midwest, the offspring of vaguely-Southern expatriates, Fried Green Tomatoes were always a part of summer time family dinners. As grown ups who have even further abandoned the dish’s rural roots, frying them makes us feel connected to the family members who did this long before Southern food was trendy….
As fellow neurotic, over-achieving, Midwestern perfectionists, there is no character on TV closer to our hearts than Leslie Knope. She’s the plucky, hyper-organized basket case we someday hope to be, and she is our dream dinner party guest. When scheming to come up with a recipe inspired by her (and the rest of the cast at Parks and Rec) there was only one answer:
BBQ Season is officially upon us. Our plan is to exclusively eat grilled and smoked meat and meat products from now until July 4th. While Hamburgers and Hot Dogs are completely sufficient, nothing– and I do mean nothing– is more delicious than Pulled Pork.
Pork shoulder is dirt cheap and, when handled correctly, the most delicious thing you will ever eat, ever. It’s full of collagen, which is a special type of protein that binds muscle fibers together. Collagen, on its own, is a lot like rubber; it’s chewy and bouncy and not a whole lot of fun. But if you heat it up, it melts into pools of meaty wonder. When this is done properly, it transforms the toughest, gnarliest cuts of meat into tender, juicy, finger lickingly sticky piles of delicious….
We would be such assholes if we gave you instructions on the perfect Grilled Cheese, but didn’t talk about tomato soup.
The perfect tomato soup is velvety smooth, without being creamy or rich, and sweet-savory, without tasting like a bowl of marinara. It’s comforting, intensely tomato-y, and refreshing. The secret to turning fresh, late-harvest tomatoes into a fucking yummy lunch that makes you say ridiculous words like “yummy” and “tummy” and makes you feel like your stomach is wearing its favorite sweater is roasting the tomatoes before they go into the pot, adding a touch of dry vermouth, and using a pinch of baking soda to give you control over the acidity.
What’s special about this soup is that it doesn’t have any dairy, so it freezes, cans, and stores really well. We’re big on feeding friends, especially if they need a little extra help, and this is a great recipe to make for folks who don’t have the time, ability, or resources to make dinner in their own kitchen. It’s comforting, easy to heat up, and can be adapted to suit a wide range of dietary needs and restrictions.
We are really into Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. They’re unapologetic, unpretentious carb and cheese parties that are wholesome and comforting. They’re as much sandwich as they are delivery mechanisms for soup into your face, and eating them is like having your stomach hugged with bacon and caramelized onions.
Grilled Cheese is one of those things that is less of a recipe and more of a formula, sort of like vinaigrettes. There are basic structural components essential to the form and some steps you can take in the cooking process to ensure it’s perfectly crisp-on-the-outside-gooey-in-the-middle. However, for the most part, you can do whatever the hell you want.
The foundation of a grilled cheese is, shockingly, not the cheese; the right bread is the real key to this perfect sandwich. Commercially prepared sandwich loafs (think pre-sliced and plastic bagged) will certainly facilitate cramming melted cheese into your mouth, but they won’t deliver the best texture or flavor. Part of what makes a grilled cheese SO good is a chemical process called the Malliard Reaction. It’s how fancy bitches say “getting brown and toasty” and is what makes carbohydrates the most delicious stuff on the planet. In the Malliard Reaction, amino acids (which are the building blocks of proteins) sort of… melt when exposed to heat, and this gives them the opportunity to combine in new ways. The byproducts of these changes are malty, sweet, nutty flavors, and the strong aromas we associate with stuff that’s toasty. Because commercially produced breads lack a properly formed gluten (aka: wheat protein) and are often made with inexpensive, over-processed, low-protein starches, they can never get brown, crispy, and toasty like an artisan loaf. So start with something from the bakery section, or a local bakery (Chicago locals: head to Logan Square’s La Boulangerie) and pick a loaf with a well-developed crust. Sourdoughs, French Bread, and Ciabatta, are all great foundations for your sandwich.
As fundamental as bread is to this sandwich, cheese selection is obviously not something to take lightly. The perfect grilled cheese is gooey and stringy, and has plenty of assertive, cheesy tang. We like to use two different cheeses in our Grilled Cheese, because there aren’t many that both melt into pools of goopy wonder and can keep their flavor profiles together while being heated. Try using one soft, squishy cheese (Brie, Chevre, Merkts and Alouette cheese spreads) that makes everything melty and wonderful, and another with an assertive flavor (Cheddar, Blue, Aged Gruyere) that makes it taste more memorable.
Cooking a Grilled Cheese can be hard. Like, seriously, actually hard to do. Bread toasts a lot faster than cheese melts when you’re cooking over a direct heat source; if you cook until your cheese is optimally melted on the stove top, you will, without a doubt, have a burnt crust. So we like to treat our sandwiches like steaks. Sear them quickly (after a good coat in unsalted butter) in a heavy bottomed pan, until nicely browned and transfer to a 375 degree oven, on a cookie sheet, until the cheese is oozy and perfect. You will have a flawlessly crispy, evenly browned, heart-breakingly-melty Grilled Cheese every time, with no sad, sweaty, unmelted slices of cheese in the middle.
With those three central tenants of Grilled Cheese in mind (good bread, two cheeses, cooked like a steak), you can do pretty much whatever you want. We love stuffing them with our favorite flavors (tomatoes, avocados, bacon, ham, the list goes on) being careful to not overload the toppings and preventing the cheeses from fusing the bread together. We’ve got our two all-time favorite formulas for you below and are really excited to hear about what combinations y’all can come up with on your own!
Tomatoes are everywhere and we can’t stop cooking with them. Chicago’s weird, shitty summer created the ideal environment for the fruit, generating a bumper crop of particularly kick-ass quality. We’ve been putting them in everything, mostly directly into our mouths, but we’re really infatuated with fresh summer tomato pastas.
Perfectly cooked pasta, made slippery with good olive oil, and loaded juicy tomatoes, aromatics, and our favorite cheeses are the perfect no-brainer dinner. They aren’t the rich, hearty, long-simmered sauces of fall; these simple dishes can be thrown together in about 15 minutes and are substantially satisfying without losing the delicacy of tomatoes. They stick to your ribs without making your head get sweaty.
We’ve preached on the importance of seasonal, local tomatoes before, so we’ll spare you another lecture there. Other than star produce, the backbone of these dishes are a correctly cooked noodle. Food Network morons have coached us well enough to know that you need to use plenty of water when cooking pasta, but few people talk about how effing important it is to use cold water and why salt is important.
Boiling cold water may take a couple extra minutes, but it is well worth the wait. Hot water, in most homes, has been sitting in the hot water heater for several hours– maybe even days. It can take on funky metallic flavor that passes on to the pasta. Cold water from the tap (or, even better, filtered!) will make your pasta taste better, letting the pasta’s wheaty sweetness come through with hints of nutty malt.
No matter how much of what type of water you use, one thing you cannot skimp when cooking pasta is salt. First– when you’re cooking food that is already bland, like pasta which is not known for its particularly robust flavor profile, omitting salt makes it taste like wallpaper paste. Second– adding salt to water increases the temperature at which it boils by almost 40 °F/~3°C. That changes how quickly it penetrates and cooks the pasta, giving it a lighter, springier, all around better texture.
Harold McGee, who is our Oprah, says to use two teaspoon of salt and two quarts of water for every pound of pasta. We have to with roll a little bit more flexibility than that in our cramped Chicago kitchens. We suggest filling your biggest pot of water as full as you can safely, and put in enough salt to make it taste like the ocean.
Salads can be a bummer.
Too often, especially in Midwestern American culture, they are used as a boring food, arbitrarily assigned to be virtuous, which atones for the crime of being a woman with a body. They’re eaten out of obligation, because of their designation as healthy, where “healthy” has come to mean: gastronomic flagellation through the consumption of flavorless, pleasure-less gruel.
While that kind of thinking does a disservice to people eating the food– and we’ll talk about that another time– it also gives good food a bad rap. Once you stop looking at salads as punishment or duty, it finally becomes possible to see them for what they are: fucking delicious. And this salad is our new favorite.
Juicy tomatoes paired with equally juicy peaches, tipped to the savory side with the faintest sliver of red onion and a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Nothing is more appropriate for the season and we have yet to find a better accompaniment to grilled meat. Don’t get tied up with the absence of lettuce; salads are much more than that. And, very simply, a pile of delicious foods tossed together in a dressing.
The finely sliced red onion is really what holds this dish together. While you can achieve that effect with a good, sharp knife, we like to use a mandolin slicer. Mandolin slicers are an essential tool in our kitchen and we use them most days. Whether slicing potatoes for a breakfast skillet, or making garlic chips, they speed up our prep and cut down on mess. You can get your hands on an inexpensive model at most markets but we really like this one. Make sure that the blade stays sharp, and always, always use the hand guard.
We know that it’s vegan and mild and generally well tolerated by even the most allergic among us. We understand that it does a good (boring) job at filling the role of the inexpensive, easy party snack for busy hosts. We get that not all dips can be mayonnaise and caramelized onions; sometimes people need to eat things with food in them. But… hummus just isn’t fun. Like, Ooh, roasted garlic and aggressive amounts of cumin, I’m so fucking impressed, I’m sure.
Even worse than just being boring, hummus is not at all versatile. It’s dip, exclusively, and anyone who has thrown a party knows there is absolutely nothing you can do with the neigh untouched bucket of chickpea mush the next day.
We came up with three alternatives that are a little bit more interesting, and a lot more versatile. White Bean Spread with lemon, rosemary, and red pepper is hearty, protein rich, and can be made with stuff you probably already have laying around the house. Roasted Tomato Jam is a great candidate for canning and packs a powerful flavor profile that some how makes tomatoes taste tomato-ier. Avocado Pesto is creamy and zesty and our favorite. Once you start making it, you will keep it in your recipe heavy rotation for life.
All three of our patently NOT boring spreads are vegan, can be made for less than $8, and take less than 8 minutes of hands-on prep time. Try them with your standard crudités and crunchy chip things, and pay special attention to the end each recipe for some suggestions on how we like to re-purpose our leftovers.