spice-rubbed picnic chicken

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Family vacations require a careful balance of time together and time apart. Originally, my family found that cruises worked well – everyone does their own thing during the day and we meet up for dinner. The last few years, we’ve started renting a house on the beach for a week. We still make sure to have dinner together every evening, but now we have to cook it ourselves.

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Despite my love for spending time in the kitchen, I have a greater love of sitting on the beach drinking margaritas. No one in my family is willing to cook dinner for the group every night. Instead, we take turns. On one trip, I made pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, salad, and crostini topped with white beans and with tuna. Last year, everyone built and then grilled their own pizza. Fajitas and chicken gyros are also crowd-pleasers.

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Between shredding cheese, preparing toppings, and stretching out ten rounds of dough, last year’s pizza extravaganza was ambitious. This year, I wanted something easier. This baked chicken is perfect because it’s actually meant to be cooked in advance, which means I can do it whenever I need a quick break from the sun.

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I mixed up the spices at home, so all I need to do on vacation is rub them on the raw chicken the day before it’s my turn to cook and store the meat in the refrigerator overnight. The chicken soaks up spice and salt, which also helps it retain moisture as it bakes. It ends up tasting like barbecued chicken that’s been smoking all day on the grill, but it’s completely undemanding. Undemanding is what vacation is all about.

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One year ago: Green Goddess Salad
Two years ago: Lemon Meringue Cake
Three years ago: Tuscan-Style Couscous Salad

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Spice-Rubbed Picnic Chicken (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8

If you have space to store 5 pounds of chicken pieces in your refrigerator all lined up on a baking sheet, you are lucky to be so rich in fridge space. I just pile the spiced chicken in a bowl with a cover.

As you can see from the pictures, I did not cut the breasts into smaller pieces. Obviously it took longer to cook, but it worked fine.

5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, or a mix with breasts cut into 3 pieces or halved if small), trimmed of excess fat and skin
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Use a sharp knife to make 2 or 3 short slashes in the skin of each piece of chicken, taking care not to cut into meat. Combine the salt, sugar, and spices in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Coat the chicken pieces with the spices, gently lifting the skin to distribute the spice rub underneath but leaving it attached to chicken. Transfer the chicken skin side up to wire rack set over rimmed foil-lined baking sheet, lightly tent with foil, and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours.

2. Secure the skin of each breast piece with 2 or 3 toothpicks placed near the edges of the skin.

3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast the chicken until the thickest part of smallest piece registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees and continue roasting until the chicken is browned and crisp and the thickest parts of the breast pieces register 160 degrees, 5 to 8 minutes longer, removing pieces from the oven and transferring to a clean wire rack as they finish cooking. Continue to roast the thighs and/or drumsticks, if using, until the thickest part of the meat registers 170 to 175 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from the oven; transfer the chicken to a rack and let it cool completely before refrigerating or serving.

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pesto

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Pesto is super simple, right? Just dump some ingredients into the food processor, and thirty seconds later, you have pesto. And while that’s true, with a few extra simple steps, you can ensure that your pesto will live up to its maximum potential every single time.

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Traditionally, pesto was made in a mortar and pestle, which smashes the ingredients into each other instead of cutting them like the food processor does. It sounds horribly tedious. You don’t want to do that.

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However, it is important to do more than slice basil with the food processor blade. Consider that when you want to smell an herb, what do you do? You rub it between your fingers, not tear it in half, because bruising the leaves is what produces flavor. So to maximize the flavor of your basil, you need to bruise the leaves before cutting them.

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You can do this with almost no extra effort using a trick I picked up from Jamie Oliver – just put the basil in the food processor, but with the plastic dough blade instead of the knife blade. It takes only a few seconds longer and produces just one more small utensil to clean, but it makes a big difference in flavor. Before I started using this trick, sometimes my pesto would taste grassy, but now it always tastes basil-y.

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You probably also know that toasting nuts brings out their flavor, and it isn’t hard to do on the stovetop. I also like to toast the garlic, because I am not a fan of the tongue-stinging sharpness of raw garlic. Toasting the unpeeled cloves in a dry skillet tames garlic’s bite with very little effort. And that’s it – you’ve maximized the potential of every ingredient in pesto, ensuring dependably outstanding pesto, and it only took an extra minute or two.

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One year ago: Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs
Two years ago: Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas, and Leeks
Three years ago: Summer Rolls

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Pesto

2 ounces pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
Salt
1 large bunch (6 ounces) basil leaves, washed and dried
1-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ ounce (¼ cup) freshly grated parmesan

1. Heat a small empty not-nonstick skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until they’re golden brown and fragrant. Pour the nuts into a food processor bowl fitted with the knife attachment. Add the garlic to the skillet and toast, without stirring, for about 1 minute. When the first side is dark brown, turn the garlic cloves onto another flat side and continue toasting for another minute. Peel the garlic and transfer it to the food processor with the pine nuts.

2. Add ¼ teaspoon salt to the garlic and pine nuts. Process until the nuts and garlic are finely ground, 10-15 seconds. Replace the knife attachment with the plastic dough blade. Add the basil to the food processor and pulse until the basil is bruised and fragrant, about ten 1-second pulses. Remove the dough blade from the bowl and return the knife attachment. Process until basil is finely chopped, a few seconds.

3. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil into the feed tube. Scrape the sides of the bowl; process until evenly mixed. Stir in the parmesan. Serve, refrigerate for a few days, or freeze for months.

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peaches and cream scones

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Scones are just an excuse to eat dessert for breakfast. It’s a better disguised excuse then chocolate muffins, I will grant you, but in the end, equally bad for you. I think I might sound like I’m complaining. I’m not complaining.

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Cream scones are one of my favorite weekend morning accompaniments to coffee. The cream makes them so tender, and when they’re only lightly sweetened, like these, they’re perfect either topped with jam or baked with fresh fruit. A sweet biscuit, peaches, and cream – you can’t tell me that doesn’t sound like one heck of a dessert.

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Lynne chose the cream scones for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I left out the currants and added one peach, peeled, chopped, and frozen, to the dough after the liquids were partially mixed in.

One year ago: Brrrownies
Two years ago: Brioche Plum Tart
Three years ago: Chocolate Pudding (comparison of 2 recipes)

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baked eggs in mushrooms with zucchini ragout

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When Cara asked me to guest post and offered the suggestion of focusing on a vacation that I’m excited about, I jumped at the chance to chatter to a new audience about my upcoming trip to Italy. Italy! Venice! The Cinque Terre! Tuscany! Rome! And then there’s the stuff that I’m really excited about – wine and espresso and cheese and pesto and bread and seafood. Also wine. Check out Cara’s blog to read about the Baked Eggs in Mushrooms with Zucchini Ragout I made, which involves no wine or espresso or pesto or bread or seafood. At least there’s cheese.

summer berry pie

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Dave enjoys and then forgets the vast majority of what I give him to eat. And how not to? I make so many different things that even I’m surprised sometimes when I scan through old unused pictures (two types of cucumber salad? orange-glazed tofu? raspberry muffins? The pictures prove I made these things, but I don’t remember any of it).

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But once in a while, I make something that stands out to Dave enough to not only remember it, but request it again and again, even years later. I hadn’t made this pie in two years, but once berries start to come into season, Dave starts asking about it.

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Often, fresh fruit pies are associated with the gel-shellacked versions you get in buffet lines. This pie replaces that gel with the barest coating of fruit jelly, which gives the fruit a beautiful shine without adding any flavorless goo. Instead, a layer of fruit puree holds the filling together while intensifying the bright berry flavor. With ripe sweet berries and a dollop of freshly whipped cream, it’s no wonder this dessert is so memorable.

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One year ago: Triple Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Two years ago: Strawberries and Cream Pie
Three years ago: Croque Madame

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Summer Berry Pie (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8 to 10

Currant jelly is smooth and bright red, so very attractive in this pie. However, I didn’t want to buy it because I don’t use it for anything else. I used raspberry jam, which I probably should have strained but didn’t.

Crust:
5 ounces graham crackers, broken into rough pieces (9-11 full crackers)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and warm

Filling:
2 cups (about 9 ounces) fresh raspberries
2 cups (about 11 ounces) fresh blackberries
2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh blueberries
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons red currant jelly

Whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, process the graham crackers until evenly fine, about 30 seconds. You should have one cup of crumbs. Add the sugar; pulse to combine. Continue to pulse while adding the warm melted butter in a steady stream; pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie plate; use the bottom of a ramekin or measuring cup to press the crumbs evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 15 to 18 minutes; transfer to wire rack and cool completely while making the filling.

2. FOR THE FILLING: Combine the berries in a large colander and gently rinse; spread the berries on towel-lined rimmed baking sheet and gently pat dry with additional towels.

3. In a food processor, puree 2½ cups of the mixed berries until smooth and fully pureed, about 1 minute. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer into small nonreactive saucepan, scraping and pressing on seeds to extract as much puree as possible (you should have 1¼ to 1½ cups). Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl to combine, then whisk the mixture into the puree. Bring the puree to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon; when the mixture reaches a boil and is thickened to consistency of pudding, remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool slightly.

4. While the puree is cooling, place the remaining berries in a medium bowl. Heat the jelly in a second small saucepan over low heat until fully melted; drizzle the melted jelly over the berries and gently toss them together until the berries are glazed. Pour the slightly cooled puree into the cooled pie shell and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Distribute the glazed berries evenly over the puree and gently press into the surface. Loosely cover pie with plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled and the puree has set, about 3 hours (or up to 1 day).

5. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Add the cream, sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until the cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 seconds for soft peaks or about 30 seconds for stiff peaks. If necessary, finish beating by hand to adjust the consistency.

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brown sugar blueberry plain cake

Dave and I have fun during the winter teasing his family in Ohio about how while they’re bundling up and shoveling snow, we’re sitting outside drinking margaritas. They curse us, and then I try to temper this obnoxiousness by claiming that we’ll pay the price in the summer.

But I’m not sure we will. We have a good system for dealing with the heat. It involves a kiddie pool full of water to dip our feet in, frequent breaks to come inside and cool off (the perfect time to prep dinner), and, of course, margaritas.

I suspect that summer in the desert will be particularly awesome, and not just because of the heat that we love. There are also tomatoes, corn on the cob, and blueberries so cheap the stores are almost giving them away. Mostly I’ve been eating them straight, as the best snack you could ever ask for, but I’m never against adding my favorite fruits into dessert either. But as soon as the cake is baked, I’m heading back outside with my margarita.

Cindy chose this cake for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I doubled the salt and used a 9×9-inch pan instead of 7×11-inch. I originally had some ideas of things I might tweak for next time, but to be honest, as good as this cake was, I’ve had other blueberry cakes that I like more.

One year ago: Raisin Swirl Bread
Two years ago: Parisian Strawberry Tartlets
Three years ago: La Palette’s Strawberry Tart

barbecued pulled pork

The best part of barbecuing a whole pork shoulder on the grill is that you are forced to spend all day outside tending the grill. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday. We started the grill before breakfast, then spent the rest of the day in the backyard.  First we drank coffee, then some water because you have to to survive, even on weekends, and then it was time for afternoon margaritas, and then we capped it off with beer, because what else are you going to drink with pulled pork?

The truth is that while you do need to keep a constant-ish eye on the grill, you don’t need to spend much time actually doing anything with it. Once the pork is cooking, it takes just a couple of seconds every hour or so to add a handful of fresh coals. A thermometer is key to monitor the temperature, although a cheap oven thermometer – which is what I used – will work just fine.  And if you do find the temperature varying widely, it won’t ruin your pork; just let it slowly come down to the right temperature range or add more coals to bring it up and continue cooking. Cooking a whole pork shoulder on the grill is a simple and forgiving process, even if it does take a long time.

I know the question everyone is asking: Is it really better than crockpot pulled pork? Well, of course it is. Crockpot pulled pork, especially using the same spice rub, is incredible – flavorful, tender, and easy easy easy. Barbecued pulled pork isn’t as moist and as a result, its flavor seems more concentrated. It’s still easy to pull, but it has more chew than crockpot pulled pork, which can get mushy if you’re not careful. The biggest difference were the outside bits of the roast, which were deeply browned and crisp. (This is not the same thing as the blackened top in the photo below, which is a thick layer of fat that I discarded.) Dave and I filled up on those while I was still shredding the roast. But the best part of making pulled pork on the grill as opposed to in the crockpot is that while one method frees you up to do chores and run errands all day, the other keeps you in the backyard with a book and a beer.

One year ago: Home Corned Beef and Corned Beef Hash
Two years ago: Orange Oatmeal Currant Cookies
Three years ago: Hash Browns with Sauteed Vegetables and Poached Eggs

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Barbecued Pulled Pork (spice rub from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves a lot

The least messy way I’ve found to add the spices to the meat is to line a rimmed baking sheet with a large piece of plastic wrap. Set the pork on the plastic wrap; add the spice rub, rotating the meat to rub all sides. Wrap the plastic wrap around the meat, then wrap another layer of plastic around in the opposite direction.

I use all of the spice rub on one roast, but if you think it’ll be too much, save half for another use. It’ll keep in the pantry for months.

Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork shoulder

1. Combine all of the ingredients in the spice rub. At least one day, and up to three days, before cooking the pork, rub the spice rub onto all sides of the pork (see note). Wrap the pork in a double layer of plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to three days.

2. About 10 hours before you plan to serve the pork, remove it from the refrigerator; let it set at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile, soak 4 wood chunks (or 4 cups of wood chips) in water for an hour.

3. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to grill, light about 30 charcoal briquettes (half a chimney starter). Once the coals are covered with a layer of ash, dump them into a pile on one side of the grill, then top with ¼ of the wood chunks or chips. Open the bottom vents completely. Place the meat, fat side up, on a double layer of aluminum foil with the edges folded up or in a 9×13-inch disposable aluminum baking pan. Place the meat on the side of the grill opposite the coals. Put the lid on the grill with the vents opposite the coals; adjust vents to be ¾ open.

4. Use a grill or oven thermometer to monitor the temperature of the grill, which should remain between 200 and 250 degrees. Add fresh coals, about 8 every hour, when the temperature drops. Add more wood chips an hour after you start cooking, then again at the 2- and 3-hour mark. (Don’t worry if the top of the meat blackens; you’ll discard that layer of fat anyway.)

5. After about 5 hours, when the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165 degrees, wrap it completely in foil. Continue cooking until the internal temperature of the pork is 195 degrees, another 2-3 hours.

6. Remove the pork from the grill and let it set at room temperature, covered, for one hour.

7. Place the pork on a large rimmed baking sheet. Remove and discard the thick layer of fat. Use your fingers or forks to shred the remaining meat. Serve.

peach upside-downer

I’ve struggled with September the last few years. I’m never ready to give up summer, but I can’t deny the signs of impending fall either. Tomatoes are just starting to come into their own in September, and there are still peaches, although the berries are gone and you can’t depend on corn anymore.

Down here in the desert, you actually can deny the signs of fall in September. Our high temperatures are still in the 90s. I won’t be making chili and cornbread for a while yet, and I certainly don’t think I’ll be able to find cranberries. The peaches, however, are ripe and fragrant.

You know what makes good peaches better? Cake. Especially cake with a little bit of cinnamon and whole lot of butter. This was good with late summer peaches, and, I think for once, I’m looking forward to the fall version of something, in this case with cranberries, even more.

Sabrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. You’ll need about two peaches, peeled and pitted, to replace the cranberries. Dorie recommends skipping the nuts for the peach version, but I enjoyed a few sliced almonds. Peaches are sweeter than cranberries; I recommend reducing the sugar in the glaze to 4 tablespoons if you make this substitution.

One year ago: Flaky Apple Turnovers
Two years ago: Chocolate Chunkers

grilled corn salad

It’s green chile season! My sister recently told me that, for her, fall in New Mexico means green chiles roasting, the state fair, and the Balloon Fiesta. Fall isn’t so bad out here, even without rolling hills of trees that turn brown, red, pink, maroon, orange, yellow. I will miss the crisp air, pumpkins, apples, and chill days of fall on the East coast, but when I was out there, I missed green chile. So I win either way.

The only problem is that I tend to get into a hoarding pattern with my annual green chile supply. I buy them every fall when they come into season, roast them, and freeze them to last until the following September. And then, aside from the occasional huevos rancheros, I mostly ignore them, because what if I run out? This is a mindset I’m determined to get out of. Not only is that not the kind of life I want to lead, but, as Jen warns, they seem to get hotter as they’re frozen for longer periods.

This corn salad doesn’t even call for green chile, but I had some leftover from the previous day’s burgers, so I went ahead and added them. They’ve been in the freezer for about a year, and maybe that’s why the dish ended up so, um, kind of painful to eat, actually. The heat was somewhat dulled by the dairy in the recipe, and once I smooshed the corn into a tortilla with some flank steak, it was downright edible. Not that the corn even needed extra flavor, what with having been grilled and mixed with chili powder, cilantro, lime juice and salty cotija. But I need to use up some of these chiles in my freezer to make room for the new crop!

One year ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Two years ago: Sausage and Red Pepper Hash

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Grilled Corn Salad (from Bobby Flay via Savory Spicy Sweet)

I used a not-nonstick skillet on the stove instead of a cast iron pan on the grill, and I substituted greek yogurt for the crème fraiche. And I added an ounce or two of very spicy diced Hatch green chiles, plus some diced red pepper and red onion.

8 ears fresh corn, silks removed, husk on, soaked in cold water 30 minutes
canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup creme fraiche
2 limes, juiced and 1 zested
1 tablespoons ancho chili powder
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup grated cotija cheese

1. Heat grill to high. Grill corn until charred on all sides, 10 or so minutes. Take off the grill and remove the kernels with a sharp knife. While you are cutting the corn, put a cast iron skillet on the grill to heat.

2. Add the corn and the remaining ingredients to the hot pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until creamy and heated through. Serve.

crunchy and custardy peach tart

It’s hot.  Usually at this time of year, I’m glaring at everyone who is eating chili and baking pumpkin treats and looking forward to fall, wondering how anyone could possibly want to move on from the sunny days of summer.  But now it’s too hot, and I just want a few days where the high temperatures are below 90 degrees.  Below 90…that’s all I ask.

On the other hand, I’m not ready to give up summer food!  I haven’t had anywhere near my fill of stone fruits, berries, and tomatoes.  I’m lucky that Rachel’s choice for Tuesdays with Dorie this week gave me a chance to use peaches.  You can’t go wrong with a good summer peach.

In this case, those summer peaches were sliced, spread over tart dough, covered in rich custard, and dotted with streusel.  All of those extra textures and flavors just enhanced the perfection of the peaches.  Unfortunately, it involved an hour and a half of oven time.  Delicious though it was, perhaps I wouldn’t need yet another cooling shower right now if we’d eaten the peaches plain…

Rachel has this recipe posted on her blog.  I think I undercooked mine.  It was still very juicy, and the streusel wasn’t browned.  On the other hand, the tart crust was getting too dark, and the custard seemed curdled.  I don’t know the answer, although perhaps one isn’t necessary, as we certainly weren’t complaining about the tart as it was.

One year ago: Lime Cream Meringue Pie
Two years ago: Chocolate Banded Ice Cream Torte