I hope you all are enjoying your summer!  I know I am!  We have had some fantastic weather here in Boston this summer, so I have been out and about, and spending less time in the kitchen.  Brad and I also are completely spoiled by having a grill right out our front door, so I would say we grill anywhere from 3-5 nights a week.  It’s fantastic, if you ask me.

One thing that I have been playing around with a lot this summer is finding good summer salads.  We eat dinner with our neighbors quite a bit (we live in a fantastic loft community and have made some great friends here), and one night they brought over this salad from Whole Foods that I decided to try to recreate.  It was super simple, but full of great summer flavors, like cucumbers (my favorite!), olives (again a favorite), cubed feta, tomatoes, and onions.  And it was all in Italian dressing, so you can’t get much easier than that.  Not only is it easy, but it’s a huge hit, and also makes a big batch, with lots for leftovers.

When we go on our somewhat annual trip to Charleston later this summer (I know I’m asking for it, going in August), I hope to hit up their fantastic farmer’s market and make lots of salads to have with dinner.  No one wants to spend their entire beach vacation cooking (unless that is what you really like to do on vacation) in the kitchen.

As usual I know I have dropped off the face of the earth, but I have been busy with my new job, playing tons of tennis around the Metrowest area, and just trying to relax and do as much as I can before I start school in the fall.  I also happen to have a new toy, just in time for my birthday…

In a completely out of left field move, Brad surprised me with an Addams Family pinball machine for my birthday, which happened to be last week.  Now let me just say that we don’t do surprises at all, so this one was HUGE.  Not only have I a) wanted a pinball machine for AGES, and b) wanted this particular one for at least 5 years, but c) I am impossible to surprise, since I am the eternal planning queen.  So I was completely surprised when two weekends ago I was told to “make myself decent” because something or someone was coming to our house.  When the truck pulled up I was NOT expecting what was inside.

All I have to say is that I love it, it’s all I ever wanted, and I currently have our all time high score of something like 132 million points.  Which was no small feat.  I’m afraid we might end up with a collection someday…which isn’t really a bad thing, when you think about it.

I am hoping to not disappear so much in the coming weeks, but can’t promise anything (big work event in a few), but I do have another summer salad (watermelon and feta!) and some amazing s’mores cupcakes coming soon(ish).

Cucumber, Tomato, Feta and Olive Salad

2-3 cucumbers, skin on and sliced however you prefer
1 good size jar of pitted kalamata olives, rinsed
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
2-3 tomatoes, sliced however you prefer
1 package of feta that isn’t crumbled, cut into 1 in. cubes
1 whole bottle of your favorite Italian dressing (mine happens to be Newman’s family recipe)

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.  Let sit for a few hours before serving.  You can drain the dressing for serving, or just use a slotted spoon (which is what I happen to do).  Enjoy!

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I know I have sort of dropped off the face of the earth.  I promise, I am still alive, I started my new job a few weeks ago, and am still getting used to my new commute, coworkers, job and routine.  I do have to say that working in downtown Boston is quite fabulous, even if I am tempted by countless stores and restaurants.  I’m trying to be good and continue to bring my own tea and lunch everyday.

Summer has also finally arrived here (both officially and in terms of weather)!  We had a slow start to June, which was unfortunate, considering that May was gorgeous.  We never have nice springs here in New England, and this year seemed to be the best one I can remember in a long time.  Let’s hope that we can continue the momentum and have a fantastic summer.  I’m looking forward to random beach days!

This recipe for chocolate whiskey pots de creme comes from Tartelette, who happens to be a woman named Helen, who lives in Charleston (my favorite!) by way of France.  If you don’t know her site, you should, as her pictures are to die for.  Mine does her recipe no justice, but she seems to have an amazing array of serving pieces.

The recipe is actually quite easy, and amazingly delicious.  I had to borrow some whiskey from some neighbors of ours, as I am not generally a brown liquor kind of girl (I am trying to expand my horizons).  The result was not overpowering at all, and the chocolate wasn’t too rich or sweet.  I definitely recommend this recipe, and I am pretty sure I used the whites to make either meringues or angel food cake.  Since I don’t have an ice cream maker I always end up wasting yolks when I make angel food cake, so now I can actually use all of the egg when making something that requires egg whites!

This is also a great entertaining recipe, since you can make it well in advance and you really have to do nothing to serve them except for take them out of the fridge!

Chocolate Whiskey Pots de Creme

Source: Tartelette

6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup whole milk (I had 1% and it still worked fine)
1 cup heavy cream
6 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup Irish whiskey (I used the full 1/4 cup and didn’t think it was too overpowering)

Place 6 to 8 ramekins into a roasting pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F and position a rack in the center.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the honey for 2-3 minutes.

In the meantime, bring the milk and cream to a simmer in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the mixture. Slowly whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. (return over low heat if it needs a bit more heat to dissolve). Slowly pour the chocolate mixture over the egg yolks and honey, whisking constantly until both mixtures come together. Add the whiskey and stir briefly.

Divide the chocolate batter evenly among the ramekins. Pour hot water into the roasting pan so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the cream appears just set. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before eating.

I know I have been severely lacking on the posts lately, and really I have no excuse, seeing as I am not currently employed.  Well until next Monday.  I have been painting a TON (14 foot high walls means lots and lots of paint, tape, and trips to the Home Depot, which is conveniently down the street), and have sort of been neglecting other parts of my life.  The good news is that my main living room wall is done, and looks great.  I’m still working on the magnetic chalkboard wall in the kitchen, which requires a million coats of paint.  I will be sure to share it when it’s done, as it will be quite the achievement.

Now that summer is officially here (well, not really, but it sure feels like it), I have a great summer party recipe for you.  One day Brad and I were waiting for some friends who we were going to dinner with, and we needed a snack, but had nothing to eat.  We discovered that we had a ton of corn tortillas leftover from another meal, and he set out to find out how to make them into chips.  Well I am really glad he did, because homemade tortilla chips are so delicious and way less bad for you (we bake them), and actually pretty easy to make.  So no more store-bought bags for us.  I’ll be requesting he make them all the time this summer.

We recently had a LOST finale viewing party (although only one of the guests actually stayed to watch LOST) and I figured a great starter would be these chips paired with an easy and delicious black bean and corn salsa that my mom had shared with me a few years ago.  It involves both canned corn and beans, and fresh veggies like onions, peppers, and cilantro.  The two together are great, and I definitely plan to make this combo many times over the course of the summer.  It’s also super easy to double, and everyone generally loves it.  So go out and make it for your next party, I promise it will be a hit!

Homemade Tortilla Chips

Corn tortillas
Olive oil
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400.  Brush tortillas with small amount of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.  Stack a few in a pile and cut into sixths (depending on size of tortillas, we use smaller ones).  Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for anywhere between 5-10 minutes.  We don’t set the oven, just kind of watch them to make sure they brown properly but don’t burn.  If they are slightly brown they will be crispier, which I prefer.  Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container.

Black Bean Corn Salsa

16 ounces canned black beans
16 ounces canned corn
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped scallion
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped orange pepper
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
3 TB olive oil
1 TB ground cumin
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped tomato

In large bowl, combine beans, corn, cilantro, scallion, red onion, orange pepper, lime juice, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and chill at least two hours, up to overnight.  Just before serving, stir in tomatoes.

I know what you’re thinking.  Chocolate beet cake?  I dismissed the idea as soon as it was presented to me.  As you probably know by now, I am not a big fan of vegetables.  But I decided to take a second look, and I am glad I did.  Because the cake was not as weird as I thought it was going to be.

This cake was made for the always wonderful Cake Day, which you might remember from last year.  Last year the fabulous Kelley and I made this beauty, which was wildly popular, so we knew it would be hard to follow up this year.  So we decided to go off the beaten path, and went with the chocolate beet cake that Kelley discovered online.  It was simple, but had rave reviews, and seemed completely appropriate for a Cake Day celebration.

We also got bonus points for the fact that we made the cake during the hottest weekend of the year so far, and in the middle of a boil water order for the Greater Boston area.  We made do, and still made this lovely cake.  People were a bit hesitant to eat it at the celebration, which I can understand, especially since it did not have any special decorations, or even any frosting.  Besides, Linden had made pop rocks cupcakes, what can possibly beat that?

The consensus was that the cake was quite good.  A little lacking on the chocolate flavor, if you ask me, but then again by now you should know that I love my chocolate.  Brad liked it quite a bit, he tends to like more classic tasting cakes that aren’t so overpowering in flavor.  Although I would maybe like to top this with some sort of frosting, just to give it a bit more something extra.  But you definitely can not taste the beets, they just lend an earthy flavor and make the cake quite dense and moist.  It was fairly easy to make, although we apparently had monster beets, as we had enough to make at least two cakes.

Chocolate Beet Cake

Source: Straight From the Farm

1 C. margarine or butter, softened, divided
1 1/2 C. packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs at room temp
2-3 oz. dark chocolate
5 medium beets (2 C. pureed) *Our beets were giant, so we probably only needed 2-3
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
confectioners’ sugar for dusting

To make beet puree, trim stems and roots off beets and quarter them.  Place in heavy sauce pan filled with water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 50 mins or until the beets are tender.  Drain off remaining liquid and rinse beets in cold water as they’ll be too hot to handle otherwise.  Slide skins off and place beets in blender.  Process until a smooth puree forms.  Let cool slightly before using in cake.  I like to make the puree ahead and store it in the fridge, sometimes up to several days in advance.

In a mixing bowl, cream 3/4 cup margarine and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Melt chocolate with remaining butter in the microwave on high in 20 second intervals, stirring each time until smooth. Cool slightly. Blend chocolate mixture, beets and vanilla into the creamed mixture.  The batter will appear separated so don’t fret.

Combine flour, baking soda , salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured 10-in. spring form pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 60-70 minutes  or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.

I’m back!  And I have exciting news!  After a really long, sometimes heartbreaking, job search, I have finally found a new job.  I have been employed the entire time, which I am very thankful for, but after 5 years at my current job it is time to move on.  I’m really excited about the new opportunity, and I start at the beginning of June.  I’m taking a bit of time between jobs where I hope to paint some of my condo, and maybe start quilting again.  We’ll see.

Anyway, on to food.  Even though I have been pretty busy lately, it doesn’t mean that I have not been making fabulous new things.  In fact, I have quite a few recipes to share in the coming weeks.  This one is an instant favorite, and some friends of mine gave me the recipe.  It comes from Hannaford (as in the supermarket), and they have magazines with tons of delicious recipes in it.  He knew Brad and I like to grill (and we share our grill), and it had tons of burgers and grilled pizza (my new favorite way to make pizza).  We decided to try this one, and invite our friends over to see how it came out!

We all agreed it was really delicious, and it actually looked the same as the picture in the magazine.  It also happened to be during our boil water order, so grilling seemed an easy way to be able to cook without having to wash too many dishes with water that has been boiled.  In case you didn’t hear, the greater Boston area had to boil water for a few days because a pipe broke and we were being supplied with reserve water.  Not so fun, especially on the hottest weekend of the year thus far.

These burgers are super easy, and super delicious.  They are also enough for a meal on their own, you don’t really need any sides.  The magazine also had a recipe for blue cheese dressing, but I was lazy and used bottled stuff.  And it definitely didn’t disappoint.  I will be definitely making these all summer long.

Buffalo Chicken Burgers

Source: Hannaford

1 1/2 lbs. ground chicken (I used 2, and made 5 burgers)
5 Tb. Hot sauce (Frank’s!)
1/4 tsp. old bay seasoning
1/2 tsp. paprika
pinch cayenne pepper
4 whole wheat bulkie rolls, split
4 leaves lettuce
Chunky blue cheese dressing

Preheat grill to medium high.

In a large bowl, combine chicken, 1/4 cup of the hot sauce, old bay, paprika, and cayenne pepper.  Mix until evenly blended.  Form into 4 or 5 patties.

Place burgers on grill and cook undisturbed for 6-7 minutes until well-marked.  Flip burgers and cook for another 5-6 minutes until cooked through.  Brush the tops of the burgers with the remaining hot sauce.

To assemble, place a lettuce leaf on the bottom of each roll, top with a burger, and put blue cheese dressing on top, and top with the other half of the roll.  Serve immediately, with additional hot sauce on the side.

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