Dispatches From Memorial Day Weekend

Guys, where has the time gone? It’s already (unofficially) summer! To celebrate the start of my favorite season (and also a very special 27th birthday), a group of friends and I rented a house on Long Island this weekend. It was the rare weekend that was busy but relaxing, and we spent most of it in a wine- and sun-soaked haze.

cedar beach

In between beach outings and winery visits and rounds of Taboo, we managed to do quite a bit of cooking. Saturday night, we put togehter a big feast. The stars of the show were two beer-can chickens, using this Sam Sifton recipe from the New York Times. I’ve always wanted to make beer-can chicken, and when I found out our house had a grill, I insisted we try it. (Thankfully, my friends don’t mind indulging my whims.)

beer can chicken

We grilled two small chickens for the seven of us, applying a pre-mixed Cajun spice rub on the chickens and sticking cans of Negro Modelo up their butts. It’s a little awkward (and endlessly amusing to a juvenile mind like my own), and we had some issues getting the chickens to stay upright on the grill. But the end result was an incredibly juicy, flavorful chicken. The skin wasn’t as crispy as when I’ve roasted chickens in the oven, but there was considerably less fat involved with this chicken, which is always a plus during swimsuit season.

leek bread pudding

That night we also prepped our breakfast for the next morning: leek bread pudding, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Though we kept the ingredients the same, we made some serious tweaks to the process of this recipe in order to streamline it, and I will definitely be making this again soon. It was hearty enough to keep us going during multiple winery visits, but didn’t feel overly heavy. Topped with a fried egg and accompanied by slices of crispy bacon (and a mimosa, of course [#treatyoself]), it was the perfect birthday brunch for Nila. Continue reading

Slow-Cooker Tacos Al Pastor

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Let’s not talk about how long ago I made this recipe (pre-Cinco de Mayo) or what I’ve cooked since then (nothing). Instead, let’s focus on what I’ve been doing in the meantime: celebrating The Huffington Post’s 10th anniversary (and also Mother’s Day), hanging out with my new BFF Chopped judge Alex Guarnaschelli, running the Brooklyn Half, hitting up ’90s hip-hop dance parties and mourning the end of Mad Men. (And yes, I could’ve actually written about all of those things instead of just linking to Instagram, but I’m crazy lazy today a picture is worth a thousand words.)

Tacos al pastor have an interesting history: traditionally, the pork is marinated with pineapple, dried chiles and other spices, and then cooked on a rotating vertical spit, similar to shawarma or doner kebab. It was likely brought to central Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, who fled there after the fall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. (Although shawarma is usually made with lamb or chicken, pork reigns supreme in Mexico.) I first had al pastor tacos during my trip to Los Cabos, and the spicy-sweet combo of pineapple, chili and perfectly crisp but melty pork stuck with me.

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That it’s taken me weeks to write about these slow-cooker tacos al pastor in no way reflects how delicious they are. To be clear: they’re bomb. I enjoyed them immensely on Cinco de Mayo, and for days afterward, since the recipe creates a ton of meat. And I used the leftover pork to make nachos and scrambles and a weird but good mash of meat and tortilla and avocado and salsa — a shoddy attempt at chilaquiles, perhaps? As with all slow-cooker situations, the pork is super easy, though I cooked it on the stove for a few to get it seared and a bit crispy. That’s totally optional, and if you prefer your tacos saucy, I’d skip it.

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We’re finally in the best part of the year: picnic / BBQ / outdoor party season, where easy, transportable, fresh meals are de rigeur and any excuse to make margs is in high demand. So what I’m really saying is … You’re welcome. Continue reading

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars*

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I tried and tried to think of a “peg” for this recipe (you know, tying it to seasonality or recent holidays or something going on in my life … ). But then I realized: chocolate chip cookies need no peg.

There should never be a reason to bake chocolate chip cookies, just like there should never be a reason to pop bottles of cava or eat cake for dinner or have leftover Chinese for breakfast. Sometimes, “Monday” is a reason, or “Tuesday” or “Wednesday” or … you get my drift. I don’t need an explanation for why I’m talking about chocolate chip cookies today, and you should never need an explanation for why you’re eating chocolate chip cookies.

ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY’RE THIS GOOD.

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And yes, that all-caps is deserved. I fell in love with this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, as I do with everything on her site. But it was hardly a fair fight. Chunks of deep dark chocolate, barely encased by a dough of three sugars, a smidge of flour, a whole lotta butter and a fair amount of salt? Who could resist?

In my infinite laziness, I made these into chocolate chip cookie bars, since the dough was a bit difficult to deal with. Plus, I didn’t want to bother with rolling out two dozen cookies when I could just dump the dough into a pan and then slice afterwards. Needless to say, this worked out deliciously.

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I waited three days to make these, which means I lived three whole days without them in my belly. Don’t make that mistake. They are everything you’ve always wanted from a chocolate chip cookie, but better because they’re neat little squares, all warm and puddly and soft and perfect … ok fine, I’ll pull myself together now. But only long enough to make another batch.

*I know, technically these are blondies. But chocolate chip cookie bars sounds so much more exciting! And I already have the perfect blondie recipe. Indulge me. Continue reading

Minty Pea Pesto Pasta

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We’ve finally reached the fun part of half-marathon training: the taper. As I’ve mentioned before, experts recommend that in the last two weeks before a big race, you take it easy and eat lots of carbs. Well, if you insist …

Beyond the occasional weekly french fry-binge, I don’t eat a ton of carbs when I’m not training. So it’s hard to think of recipes that are more exciting than spaghetti with red sauce. Large amounts of cheese make my stomach hurt (I know. It’s a rough life I lead.) so mac and cheese is out. Somehow, despite being Indian, I have yet to cook a pot of rice properly in my lifetime, so that’s out too. And there’s only so many sandwiches a girl can take, especially when if she doesn’t like basic lunch meats or American cheese.

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Early spring produce lends itself wonderfully to fresh, bright pasta dishes. Think penne with asparagus, spaghetti with grilled artichokes,  spinach and goat cheese mac. I was drawn, as I always am, to Smitten Kitchen, and Deb’s verdant linguine with pea pesto. It was easy, and took advantage of in-season ingredients — two of my favorite things.

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Of course, being the royal PITA that I am, I had to make some changes. I saw some mint at the store and love the combo of mint and peas, so in that went. Forgot to buy pine nuts, so #deucesI had planned to crumble some browned pancetta into the pasta, but I caught a case of the Sunday lazies and didn’t want to have to fry anything up. So this version is vegetarian, but would be equally delicious, as all things are, with a bit of crispy salty pork.

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The end result is more akin to a pasta salad than the heavy baked pastas of winter. It’s a lighter carbo-load, one that can keep me going on Mile 12 but can also be your favorite dinner this season, since it pairs perfectly with a deck, a sunset and an ice-cold Chardonnay.  Continue reading

Meyer Lemon Tea Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Obviously there can be no Game of Thrones-inspired dinner party without Sansa’s beloved lemon cakes. But don’t worry, I’m not going to expend another 750 words on Game of Thrones again.

Instead, let’s talk about how, for the second time in a few weeks, I’m obsessed with a lemon dessert. In the past, I haven’t been a huge fan, since sour things make my mouth pucker and my teeth hurt, but as it turns out, adding sugar dulls that tart bite. (Who knew?) And as I discovered long ago, Meyer lemons are sweeter than their traditional supermarket counterpoints, so they provide all of that fresh, bright lemon flavor without the tooth-numbing acid punch.

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Meyer lemons shine in these tea cakes, providing just enough of a kick to lighten up an otherwise dense poundcake-like cake. Adding cream cheese to the cake batter provides a nice richness to the cakes, but I’ll be honest — it’s a good thing they’re small, since the cake would be very heavy in large slices. The original recipe called for a glaze, but I used the leftover cream cheese to make a quick lemony frosting.

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The cake is a one-bowl affair, the frosting requires one step and the result is delicious. So what I’m really saying is: here is your perfect Mother’s Day / bridal shower / spring brunch / summer potluck dessert, a make-ahead crowd-pleaser that you’ll gladly make over and over and over again. Continue reading