This summer has been…well, perhaps not great, weather-wise. I don’t mind the cooler weather at all, so I don’t take issue with that (well, except that we’re going on vacation next week and Lake Michigan will be FREEZING) but the rain. SO MUCH RAIN. Until the fourth of July weekend, we literally hadn’t had a 2-day rain-free period since before Memorial Day. It’s been crazy and definitely makes outdoor activities, like grilling, less frequent. Never mind the 80 bajillion mosquitos residing in our backyard, thanks largely to the swampland created by the rain. I will say, at least the rain is a good excuse for the days when it IS 90 degrees out and my husband wants to “open the windows and let in the breeze” instead of turn on the air. Dude. No.

At any rate, Tom was able to get out the past couple weekends and do some grilling, and I was thankful to catch a break from making dinner. I’ll admit that when he grills, chicken is almost never our protein of choice. I don’t know, it’s kind of like how I never order chicken at a restaurant. It seems like you should eat something more…worth it. But after a weekend visiting my family eating nothing but red meat, chicken it was.

This is a pretty standard chicken marinade in that it uses herbs, garlic, and lemon juice. The buttermilk is great because it not only keeps you from using too much oil, but makes the chicken incredibly moist and tender (always a good thing with breasts, especially, since they tend to dry out).  We all really liked these (although, Ian doesn’t care for zucchini) and my weirdo kids ate basically all the red onions themselves.

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There are times when writing blog posts comes very easily to me and I’m done in 5 minutes. Truth be told, that’s nearly every blog post because if I’m not feeling it, it doesn’t get written at that moment. Then there are days like today when I really want to share something with you, especially because it’s been a while, but I truly have nothing to write. It’s especially unfortunate because I seem to have all the time in the world being stuck on a delayed Metra train that’s making countless stops.  Random thoughts I’ve been having:

  • Why do Netflix original series have the longest theme songs ever?
  • Does everyone realize how funny Aziz Ansari is?
  • I don’t go to Starbucks often, and rarely get “fancy” stuff, so I’m still a little taken aback that I spent over $5 on a drink that doesn’t even have alcohol in it.
  • It’s even weirder when you see the old guy from your gym who makes sex faces outside the gym context.
  • E-books from the library are wonderful things.

Anyway, most of these things cannot be expanded upon (and I’m guessing you really wouldn’t want them to be) so let’s just talk about this pasta. This is another one-pot meal because if there’s anything you can count on in the blog these days it’s one pot meals or meatballs or maybe one pot meals featuring meatballs. And, like I said, I want to share it with you because you’re going to love it.

I changed the amounts a bit to suit our family/leftover situation, and I also didn’t use as much liquid as Tara. I’m not sure if I had thinner marinara or quicker cooking pasta, but either way, I started with less, thinking I could always add more, but didn’t need to. Also, while I have no qualms about using heavy cream (or half and half) what usually happens is I buy it for a recipe, forget to use the rest, and end up pitching it. To avoid the inevitable waste, I used Greek yogurt instead (bonus points, of course, for it being healthier), which worked great.  Finally, I wilted down some spinach into the pasta at the end.

Do I even need to say we all loved this? I mean, what is not to love about pasta, period? Let alone creamy pasta studded with sausage that can be cooked in one pot (okay, no one cared about that last part except for me).

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Even though I have long (LONG) been obsessed with fattoush, I was never a huge fan of tabouli growing up. I think maybe it was too much fresh parsley for me, which sounds silly considering there is a decent amount in fattoush and plenty in Greek cooking, but for some reason tabouli didn’t do it for me. Plus, I’ve only recently come around to mint in savory foods (and our mint plant is out of control, so I guess that’s  a good thing).

I’ve had it a few times as an adult and though it will never replace my beloved fattoush, I find that I enjoy it much, much more now. I love bulgur, but we were really low on it when I decided to make tabouli, so I used quinoa instead. It’s a great substitute but both are really healthy and good for you so this isn’t one of those times when quinoa necessarily adds a ton of added benefits (it does add slightly more protein and has fewer carbs). I of course increased the lemon juice/ratio to oil and did decrease the mint by a bit.

We had this one night with a pork tenderloin I marinated in my shawarma marinade and the roasted vegetables with za’atar and it was definitely one of my favorite recent meals (but I could eat Middle Eastern food every day so I guess  you’ll have to take that for what it’s worth). While Zachary was asking for more zucchini over and over, Ian kept asking for more quinoa, so things ended up working out perfectly. :)

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There are plenty of things I didn’t like or didn’t give a chance to when I was a kid, but the two that stick out most are beans and peppers. At a restaurant, everything ordered would need to have these omitted. Mexican food? Double rice and don’t even bother with anything but the meat for the fajitas. Sandwiches or pizza? Keep your peppers to yourself. And with anything at home, these would be pushed to the side or never added to my plate to begin with. I don’t even know that I tried these things. I just decided I didn’t like them.

It’s funny because I love love LOVE these things now. I posted a picture of charred Anaheim and poblano pictures to Instagram recently and titled it “my BFFs” because they kind of are. I am pepper-obsessed, especially when it comes to green chiles. We started a small garden this year but you better believe it still contained poblanos and jalapeños.

Obviously, I adored these burgers. They reminded me a lot of my other potentially favorite (or at least top 3) burgers, these queso fundido ones. These use peppers that are a little spicier (Anaheim vs. poblano) and don’t have chorizo, but otherwise they’re very similar and both ridiculously delicious.

These are in a grilling cookbook, but you can definitely make them indoors. The chiles can be charred directly on the gas flame of your range, or under the broiler. I like to use a cast iron skillet when cooking burgers indoors. Illinois doesn’t actually want us to do much grilling out this year, as evidenced by the nonstop rain we’ve been receiving since Memorial Day, so contingency plans are key.

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I mentioned recently that Zachary’s new favorite vegetable, until it inevitably got knocked out of contention, were broad/fava beans. Well, goodbye broad beans; zucchini with zaatar vinaigrette is in town.

Z has always liked zucchini/summer squash well enough. Like most vegetables he prefers it roasted or grilled. He won’t eat the version they have at school, and I think that’s because it may be steamed. So, it wasn’t surprising that he liked this version, but it *was* a bit surprising that he ate 4 servings of it, and only stopped because there was none left.

I added some lemon juice to the vinaigrette because I just feel like it goes so well with zaatar. The sumac will add some tartness already, but lemon vinaigrettes are the bee’s knees for me. This was a great side dish and a nice change of pace both from dressed salads and plain cooked vegetables. There is a good chance I will be dressing 90% of things with zaatar vinaigrette from now on.

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Welcome to this year’s edition of Did Elly Successfully Make Tom’s Birthday Cake? Sure, sort of.

Tom’s birthday cakes and I have had a sordid past. There was the cake-turned-trifle incident. There was the didn’t-make-nearly-enough-frosting-and-ran-out-of-ingredients fiasco. There was the I’ve-tried-3-times-to-make-this-butterscotch-sauce-and-I-just-can’t-do-it-so-you-will-be-eating-your-cheesecake-plain problem. I’ve gotten better for the most part, though, so there’s that. I still can’t successfully frost a cake, but we’ll get there.

When Tom chose this cake I was both excited and nervous. Excited because caramel is clearly one of the most delicious things ever. Nervous because I don’t have the best track record with caramel. I asked Tom if I could decrease the recipe since it was just us eating it and it called for over 6 cups of sugar and a pound of butter. He said no. (I did end up decreasing the cake portion a bit; see notes in the recipe.)

The good (?) news is,  you get to beat the caramel with a wooden spoon for 20 minutes (I don’t even know how you “beat” something with a wooden spoon, btw) so you’ll get an arm workout and burn off approximately 1/10 of the slice of cake doing that.

The caramel takes forever to make. Luckily you don’t have to stand at the stove the entire time, only stirring it occasionally for the last hour and a half, but it takes time. Yes, I did say “the last hour and a half” (which actually took me more like 1h40m). The cake is a very straightforward recipe that yielded a very tasty and moist cake.

You will notice there are no pictures of the whole cake. That’s intentional. My cake looked nothing like the gorgeous picture on the original recipe. After I made the caramel I texted Tom and said, “Good news: I successfully made the caramel and didn’t burn down the house once! Bad news: Your cake is possibly the ugliest ever.

The cakes’ moisture led to them being a bit difficult to frost with the thickened caramel (crumbs and all of that). Plus the caramel color was not that pretty as it started to thicken. And, well, no matter how beautiful or easy to work with frosting is, it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know how to frost a cake, anyway.

BUT LISTEN. This cake is GOOD. I mean, how can this cake not be good? You are frosting it with caramel. Not caramel buttercream, not caramel sauce over regular frosting. STRAIGHT UP CARAMEL. It is possibly the richest thing I’ve ever made, and even I, who does not find things “too rich” pretty much ever could only eat a small slice (thank goodness, please remember aforementioned amount of sugar and butter). At a time, I mean. Obviously I ate this cake every night until it was gone.

 

tl;dr version: Great cake, amazingly delicious caramel “frosting,” ugly as sin, rich, fattening, worth it.

 

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You know how a lot of times you’re looking to add something to your menu/party, and often you go with “a green salad” because it’s lighter, and you don’t have to think about it, and it goes with pretty much everything? Well, nothing is more truly a green salad than this one.

This simple salad is from my new BFF Yotam and it’s perfect for spring. We’re growing green beans and spinach (just harvested our first batch!) so it’s really perfect for us. All you do is blanch vegetables, make a dressing, and you’re done. I staggered my vegetables using a big pot so I wouldn’t have to keep pulling them out before adding new ones, and that worked just fine (I will always look out for you when it comes to doing less work. ;-))

You know that I like a more acidic dressing, so I did bring the lemon juice up a bit. Unfortunately my store didn’t carry nigella seeds, and I didn’t really feel like going on a hunt for them. This is the second recipe I’ve wanted to use them in, so I plan to just buy some online to make sure I have them on hand for the next time. This time around, I just omitted them.

In my son’s ever-changing list of “favorite vegetables” you can now put broad beans/fava at the top of the list – until next week when something replaces it, I’m sure.

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If you’ve ever eaten at a Greek-American diner in your day, you’ve likely seen this sauce. It often comes on top of rice, whether you order a chicken kabob or a gyro. It’s a thin tomato-based sauce that is really simple but strangely addictive. We never made this at home for some reason (at least, not on its own), and I never managed to really get much of a recipe from a family member (nor was/am I interested in attempting to scale down a recipe that serves a restaurant), so I’ve been making this myself and tweaking it here and there. I don’t know what it is about this stuff but I want to eat it all the time.

This is often served with rice that has been cooked in broth or bouillon. I like using brown rice most of the time, and I hate cooking it the “regular” way so what I do when I want brown rice to get some added flavor from broth without straying from my tried and true brown rice method is either to bake it or to boil it in a pot of water for about 15 minutes, and then put the drained rice in a saucepan with broth (at that point, roughly half of what you would have used had you made the rice according to package directions), and cook normally.

You could, of course, make this with fresh tomatoes, but they aren’t really that great here yet (and I made this a few weeks ago, anyway). Canned tomatoes work really well, so don’t fret. You don’t really use much sauce per serving, so this will make quite a few servings, but we just freeze extras in a few small freezer bags to use at another time (which is also why you are seeing two different pictures. :)) My favorite way to have this is over both rice and grilled chicken/kabobs. With feta on the side, obviously.

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Today is the first day of the kids’ “summer camp” and I sent them wearing jackets and jeans because it was in the 40s this morning. Happy June?

If you’re like us, you probably don’t have to worry *too much* at the moment about meals that don’t take too long to make and heat up the house, but even so, allow me to introduce to you my new obsession: protein + salsa/relish. I have a feeling that, like meatballs, you will be seeing approximately 30 versions of a similar dish in the coming months (okay, maybe not 30, I’ll try to keep it a little interesting around here). These dishes work so well because you can flavor the protein any which way you choose and change up the relish to anything that’s in season, anything that works with the dish, or really anything you feel like eating. We’ve already done a version of this particular salsa with rhubarb and tomorrow we’re potentially throwing a red pepper-hazelnut salsa into the summer rotation. The crisp, cool salsa is decidedly summery, even if the weather isn’t there yet.

You can cook the chicken on the grill or indoors and either way it won’t take long. A broiler will get the job done in 8 minutes or so and heats up quickly, so you don’t have to worry about a stifling hot kitchen. The salsa is easy enough to make that you can finish it in those 8 minutes (in the recipe below I’ve had you make it ahead but, let’s be real, I’m way more of a cook-as-I-go- than prep-ahead-kinda gal), which means that, depending on what else you decide to serve this with, you can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes.

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I feel like we eat a lot of meatballs. Or meatball-like things. This may be something that comes with the territory of having kids, I guess? Kids love meatballs, or at least mine do. I mean, if you look at the first page of this blog alone, there are 3 meatball or meatball-like recipes on it. Four if you count burgers, which are kind of like giant meatballs. OK, I’ve typed the word “meatball” enough for at least a week.

Anyway, I know I told you recently that I have a crush on Lidia Bastianich and I have to tell you that I’ve been two-timing her with Yotam Ottolenghi. Though I’ve only blogged one of his other recipes, I have made several and they’ve all been faaaaaaaaaabulous. This one is no different.

These meatball-like (damn, I did it again) bites are extremely similar to kafta, but with the added goodness of feta, pine nuts, and zucchini. These were a HUGE hit with the whole family and even offered a way for me to get feta into Ian (seriously, what is with that kid not liking most cheeses, especially FETA?!). Though I didn’t do it this time, these would also be great with some yogurt sauce or labneh alongside (with the tomato sauce, I love them both together).  I also imagine these can be made entirely on the grill, but I know next to nothing about grilling, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. :)

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