It’s the end of August and hot and will be hot for probably another month. Have I told you yet that I live in Texas? Oh, well I do and it’s pretty much hot hot hot from late June though late September. The temperature slowly climbs each week, until it’s been 100° or more for a few days straight and you begin to long for those balmy days of 90°. You sit inside in the cold cold cold air conditioning at work, look out the window and see the sun shining through the fluffy white clouds in the big Texas sky – the trees swaying a little in the wind – and you say, screw it, I’m going outside, it looks so nice! Only when you do, you are confronted by a gust of hot air not much different from the rush of heat you’re hit with when opening a hot oven. You think, Ok, it’ll be Ok, I’ll just go to the pool. It will be lovely and refreshing. Only it’s not. Going in a pool in the middle of the summer in Texas is like going to the public baths. The water and air temperature are not far off from each other. I’ll stop here because you get the idea. Summers in Texas Do. Not. Make. Sense. But the weirdest thing is that you start to get used to it. It’s not natural, but then again how natural are the sub zero winter temperatures in the Adirondacks in upstate New York? It’s all relative. You start to notice that 75° is when you throw on a sweater and that wearing jeans when its 88° is totally normal. You realize that the tank tops and flip flops that you packed for your trip home to Long Island in late September was a mistake and you find yourself thinking why does fall start so early up north, it’s not natural…
You either know what I’m talking about because you’ve lived in a place like this, or you don’t and you think I’m crazy - either way, its time to talk about food. You’d think a place as hot as this would shun heavy food in the summer. That fruit and salads would reign supreme. But people love their meat down here – year round. They love it pulled, bbq’d, smoked, slow roasted, deep fried and jerkied. They love it pretty much anyway you could imagine and it all tastes pretty much amazing.
So in honor of Texas and meat and the hot summers here, I decided to have a little dinner party the other day. I was really going for it – everything cooked on the grill…outside. I was hankering for some Flank steak and grilled vegetables. I know by now that it doesn’t really cool down at night here and that the mosquitos come out to play at dusk, but I wanted to grill. So I bombed my back yard with [organic] mosquito repellent, covered myself in bug spray and went for it. It was great. I was hot of course, but amazingly my dear friends joined me outside as I grilled and we all stayed cool with homemade grapefruit cocktails and icy beer. So I may have dropped a few slices of squash into the grill or charred a few potatoes but the meat was perfect.
Dry Rubbed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce PRINT RECIPE
[Prep: 20 minutes / Grilling: 10-12 / TOTAL: about 30 minutes active, try to season meat up to 1 hour before]
[Serves 6 dinner sized portions]
Grilled Summer Vegetables
[Prep: 10 minutes / Grilling: about 15/ TOTAL: about 25 minutes]
[You can pick any sort of summer vegetables that you like to go with the meat. In Texas the yellow summer squash is super sweet and fresh and russet potatoes work great on a grill – so these were two easy choices for me and just a suggestion for you.]
Flank comes as a long wide strip of meat, because of its length it usually packed folded or rolled. Since it is a tougher cut of meat I like to either marinade it first or put a dry rub on it and serve it with a sauce. The marinade would help break down the meat a little and the dry rub would help lock in some of the juices. Either way you can’t go wrong. This dry rub with chimichurri sauce is one of my favorites and it has always been a crowd pleaser. For this recipe I used two smaller steaks about 1.3 pounds each, when cooked the steaks will shrink up significantly.
Ideally about an hour before you’re ready to start grilling you should prep the meat with the dry rub [its ok if you only really have a half hour]. Start by mixing the garlic powder, cayenne, salt, dried oregano, ground cumin and sugar together – I like to measure the ingredients out before and put them into a small bowl since I will be handling raw meat and wont want to be touching a lot of things in the kitchen. To get the meat ready lay it out on a large platter and pat it dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle half of the seasoning over the steaks and massage it in with your fingers, there should be enough to create a thin layer. Flip them over and repeat with the rest of the seasoning. [Make sure to wash your hands!] Meat tenderizes – breaks down – more quickly at room temperature can leave it out until you’re ready to grill it. The meat should never be cold when you put it on the grill.
Now you can forget about the meat for a little and start making the chimichurri sauce! The way this sauce comes together is pretty amazing and always delicious. It really is the proverbial icing on the cake. Start by chopping up the washed and de-stemmed parsley. When I’m cutting up a large quantity of parsley like this recipe calls for I like to pack it into a tall water glass, take a pair of kitchen scissors, angle them into the glass and start cutting! Its speeds up the process and keeps the parsley contained. Take the drained capers and chop them finely and mince the peeled garlic. This is really the extent of the prep. Now you can combine the parsley, capers, garlic, salt, cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar and lemon juice in a medium sized bowl. I like to squeeze the lemon over my fingers – the juice slips through and I can catch any seeds in my hands – it’s a little messy but its quick and makes less clean up. Mix it all together and drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil while stirring. Feel free to taste it now – it should taste very bright – tart, garlicky and a little briny from the capers. The flavor will get better the longer it sits. You can leave it out until you are ready to serve it. The sauce will keep up to one week in the fridge, but it probably won’t last that long...
We should get started on the veggies. You’ll see in the ingredients above that I didn’t specify any measurement for the oil or seasoning. Basically you’ll just want to toss the veggies each in a separate bowl, coat with olive oil, about 1-2 table spoons for each, a few grinds of black pepper for each and about 1 teaspoon of salt for each, and a dash of the chili powder on the potatoes. Now get your hands in there and mix until all the veggies are coated. That’s it. It’s not an exact science; you’re just lightly seasoning because you still want the flavors of the squash and potatoes to come through.
Ok so now you’re ready to get grillin, before you turn it on make sure to clean it off a little with the grill brush. I have a small gas grill that takes about 5 minutes to heat up, so put it on high and cover it. I do the potatoes first because they can sit in the oven on 175 and stay warm once you take them off. Right before you put the potatoes on turn down the grill to medium – you don’t want the flames to be too high and burn them. Put the cover down and check them in about 3 minutes. Depending on the way the heat is dispersed around the grill some may be ready to flip before others so keep an eye on them. They should need about another 3 minutes after they’ve been flipped. Have an ovenproof plate ready to too them onto as they are ready. The meat comes next.
The meat should only take about 5 minutes each side – the thickest part will be medium-rare. Throw on the steaks and cover. Flip it and leave for another 5 minutes. You really don’t want to poke or prod the meat, you can peak at the underside before you flip it and make sure there’s a nice brown crust. After about 5-6 minutes per side take it off and cut into the thickest part a little to see how it’s cooked. If you like it medium-rare there should still be red in the middle. Remember once the meat is taken off it will keep cooking for a little. Also it’s easy to reheat the grill and cook it a little more – but you can’t fix overcooked meat!
Cover the meat with foil and leave to sit for a few minutes so the juices can settle. The squash really only needs about 4-5 minutes on the grill, that is about 2 minutes per side. I painstakingly placed each one the grill they looked great, but it is easier if you just popped them onto a metal skewer before putting them on the grill.
Pull those potatoes out of the oven, toss the squash onto the same plate and slice up the meat – against the grain – into ½ inch slices and top off with the chimichurri sauce.
This recipe is a version of one my mother used to cook in the summertime. It’s meant to be eaten outside with family in the fading sun, back then with a glass of milk, now with friends and a glass of chilled white wine. This dish was full of summer’s bounty – freshly picked parsley, fragrant cherry tomatoes, garlic from the nearby farm and local littleneck clams. I remember the clammy briny flavor and the sweetness of the tomatoes. I loved the taste but couldn’t stand the texture of the clams – to my mother’s dismay I would eat around them. Garlic too, I adored the smell but couldn’t stand getting a chunk of it in my pasta. I wanted it smashed, mashed, pressed just not chopped or sliced. And the parsley…my mother would say “What’s wrong with Parsley?!!” I didn’t have an answer, it was just too…too…something, it was too something and could you please add it to the pasta after I’ve served myself, please? I was a silly silly child. Too picky for my own good, a trait that I’ve mostly grown out of. If I could have all those uneaten clams now I would feast on them for days, I would eat a garlic clove whole, I would use all that parsley and make some pesto…
Today I live halfway across the country, but my parents still live in a coastal town in the Northeast. Nearly every time I go home I ask for clams – I am lucky enough to have a mother who takes requests. Clams grilled, clams raw in a half shell, baked clams, clams with linguine – with garlic and parsley. Every time I visit I look forward to when I can ask her “Can we go to the seafood store now?” She may tire of the menu, but thankfully she doesn’t tire of my enthusiasm. I’ve carefully watched her over the years to see how she makes her “linguine alle vongole” asking way too many questions and always standing next to her in the kitchen watching them cook, waiting to tap on them and willing them to open – because I was ready to eat!
I’ve been making my own version for a few years now. I use big slices of garlic, lots of parsley and more than enough clams – I’m always worried there won’t be enough. Often as I stand in my own kitchen and prepare this dish I think it’s funny how I’ve come to adore it and wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Summer Clam Pasta PRINT RECIPE
[Prep: 15 minutes / Cooking: 25 / TOTAL: 40 minutes]
[Serves 4 dinner sized portions]
The clams should be in the fridge - preferably just brought home from the store and sitting in a bowl. A few things to know about clams, they should come chip free and tightly closed. If you see any clams that are open you should try tapping them - if they close they are still alive and safe to cook, if they stay open, even just a little, you should throw them out. When you are in the supermarket or seafood store you can always ask if there's a fresher batch in the back - the person helping you should also be looking for cracked or open clams. When you are ready to start prepping the meal take the clams out and fill the bowl with cold fresh water. Let them sit for 20 minutes. This will cause them to spit out any sand or grit that they have inside their shells. Most clams won't come covered in barnacles so they just need a good rinse with a firm brush right before they're cooked.
While the water is heating up you should start prepping the other ingredients. Rinse the cherry tomatoes in a strainer and slice them lengthwise. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. If peeling the garlic is a little tricky try flipping the blade of your knife so that it’s plane is parallel to that of the cutting board, lay it on top of the unpeeled garlic and push down on the blade with the heel of your hand. The garlic should split and the peel will be easy to pull off. Pull off all of the parsley leaves [it’s a personal preference, I don’t like the taste of the stems] and roughly chop them up. Your prepping is done.
The water for the pasta should be boiling by this point [if not keep an eye out for it during the next steps]. Usually this recipe calls for linguine, but I had some fettuccine on hand. This type of pasta will take about 8 minutes to cook al dente. We want this pasta al dente [slightly undercooked so that it still has a bite to it] because we will be adding it to the sauce at the end where it will cook for a little while longer. Make sure to set the timer since it is easy to get distracted
Put a large skillet over medium-high heat [this should be at least 2 inches deep to accommodate all of the ingredients at the end]. Let it to heat up for about 1 minute and then add the 1/3 cup olive oil. Wait another minute and then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute or wait for the garlic to turn golden. [If you have any anchovies or clam juice on hand, this is when I would add it and cook for 1 minute.] Now add the ½ cup dry white wine and let it cook off for another minute – the sauce at this point should be at a rolling boil. Add the cherry tomatoes, the 1 teaspoon of salt and about 5 grinds of cracked black pepper [or about 1 teaspoon]. Adjust heat down to medium and let sit for about 2 minutes stirring once or twice. Then cover and let sit for 3 minutes – you don’t want too much of the tomato juice to cook off.
While you are waiting for the tomatoes to cook down a little, check on the pasta [if it’s ready see directions below] and finish cleaning the clams. Take them carefully out of the water – all of the sand or grit will have settled at the bottom and you don’t want to disturb it. You can lay the clams on a dishtowel next to the sink. Run cold water over them and scrub them with a coarse brush – if you don’t have one you can use another dishtowel. As soon as the clams are all clean add them to the sauce and cover. They should take about 5-8 minutes to open – you should check on them a few times and can encourage the clams to open by tapping on them.
The pasta should be done by now or nearly done. I recommend reserving a little bit of the pasta water for the sauce at the end. You can do this by taking a measuring cup – or any cup with a handle – and dipping it into the water carefully, until a about a 1/3 cup collects. You may what to use a potholder to protect your hand from the steam of the boiling water. You can test the pasta by carefully spooning out a noodle [make sure to blow on it!] and biting into it. It should have just a slight bite to it, and a small whitish dot in the center, that’s the part of the pasta that isn’t cooked yet. If it is ready, take the pot - be sure to use potholders since the water will let off a lot of hot steam - and slowly pour the contents into the colander in the sink. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon olive oil over the pasta and mix it around so it doesn’t become stuck together. The cooked pasta can sit like this for a few minutes while the sauce is finishing up.
The drained pasta should be added to the skillet after most of the clams are open. [If by this point there are still some clams that are not open, they should be discarded.] Add the chopped parsley, a splash of olive oil, a little bit of the reserved pasta water and make sure to mix everything well. Turn down the heat a little and let simmer for another 2 minutes. This dish can be served right out of the skillet. I like to add fresh parsley, a few grinds of pepper and some flakes of sea salt right before eating it. Make sure to put a big bowl on the table to catch all the empty shells.
Also, remember that white wine that I used early on in the recipe? - now is a good time to pour a glass and enjoy with dinner…and don’t forget to tear up some pieces of the baguette to help soak up some of the sauce.
Everyone has one of those family recipes that they know by heart; luckily mine happens to be simple, very simple.
Just six ingredients. It's one of those beautiful things in life, when butter, sugar, flour, and eggs come together and make nice. I've been eating my grandmother's apple cake for a longtime now, though I know it as Mormor's Äppelkaka. It's dense, chewy and tart with plenty of green apples on top. Although its origins are Swedish, there isn't really anything evocative of that culture in the recipe, except perhaps its minimalism and the name of course. Mormor means Mother's Mother. I had a Mormor and a Morfar. No Farmor or Farfar though- my dad's side of the family was more local, Italian Americans from Queens, NY. I remember quizzing my mom when I was younger, asking what her Great Grandfather on her mother's side would have been. “Well, I guess he would be my Mormorsfar". What about your father's Great Great...I could go on for a while. At first it seemed a bit confusing, but it was quite wonderfully simple, Mor and Far interchanging and doubling up.
This apple cake recipe became sort of sacred to me, I pictured my grandmother making it and her mother before her and so on. That is until one day my mom told me, “You know Moster Olga made this cake differently”. Moster [meaning Aunt] Olga, was my grandmother’s sister. Why would she make the cake differently? “Well,” my mom said, “she was the real baker in the family, you should have seen what she could do with marzipan.” So my vision of a family recipe being passed down was shattered and now I pictured two sisters battling in the kitchen, each bringing their own versions to family gatherings. [There is no evidence to support that they actually did this]. When I asked what Moster Olga had done different, my mom laughed and said, “Well she preferred pears, used two eggs instead of one and added water. To be honest I think Mormor just forgot to add the water, and in the end she liked the new recipe better.” It’s funny how it can be as simple as that…forgetting a single ingredient. Luckily in my grandmother’s case it wasn’t an essential one and she liked the results.
I’ve whipped up Mormor’s apple version a few times for friends over the years and often I’ve gotten the same comment, “You don’t add any liquid?” No, I say, this is how it’s supposed to be. Her cake is thin, dense, and dark brown around the edges and throughout the bottom, almost caramelized. The double layer of tart apples on the top still have a nice bite to them. You can cut a slice, pick it up with your hands; it’ll keep its shape. Take a bite and marvel at its chewy texture and almost almondy flavor. So of course I am biased since I have eaten this version my whole life and attached a trail of memories onto it, however let us not forget Moster Olga's Päronkaka.
Mormor's Äppelkaka PRINT RECIPE
[Prep: 15 minutes / Baking: 45 minutes / TOTAL: 1 hour]
Pre heat oven to 350º
Take the butter out so it can reach room temp.
Lightly coat a 9-inch round baking pan with butter and then flour, bottom and sides. [For this step you could also use unseasoned breadcrumbs]. I like to put a small pad of butter onto a paper towel [or I just use my fingers] and smear it all over the pan. Then I add the flour [over the sink] and gently shake the pan from side to side as I tilt it in circles. The flour will stick to the butter. If there’s any excess flip the pan upside down over the sink and pat the baking pan on the bottom. This process will prevent the cake from sticking.
I like to use Granny Smith apples for this recipe because they are tart and hold up nicely when baked. I peel, core and slice them, as thin as possible, with a sharp knife. You could also you a peeler to skin the apples. [For the pears any kind will work but you want them to be quite ripe. These don't have to be peeled and I like to slice them lengthwise to preserve the pretty pear shape.]
Now I would check on the butter. Put it into a microwaveable bowl. If its soft it will only take 25 seconds or so to melt it. If its still quite hard, cut it up into smaller pieces and microwave it in 20 second increments, you don't want it to splatter all over the microwave. You could also slowly melt it on the stove top while you busy with the next step.
[For the pear recipe I would bring about a 1/2 cup water to boil in a kettle.]
Crack the egg [or 2 for the pear cake] into a medium mixing bowl and add the sugar. This should be beaten till white and fluffy[ish]. I use an old-fashioned hand held eggbeater so it takes a little more time to get the desired texture and color. When 2 eggs are added the mixture doesn't get as white. Here I switch to a wooden spoon. Add the flour and baking powder slowly in a few small batches, mixing each batch in gently. The batter will start to get very sticky. Now add melted butter, you can do it all at once, and continue to mix slowly and in one direction. [Add 1/4 cup of the hot water and mix just until all the ingredients are incorporated.] Spread batter into buttered and floured pan. [If you are making the pear cake it will pour.] It should settle in nicely, but since it is so thick you may need to even it out a little with the spoon. When I add them apple slices I like to tightly fan them out starting from the center. There should be enough to create two layers. [When layering the pears, they will start to sink into the batter, this is ok.] Lightly sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over the top and it's ready for the oven.
For both cakes bake at 350º for 45 minutes. I like to set the timer for about 20 minutes and check to see that everything looks good. The pear cake will rise up a lot more. You can use a toothpick to see if the cake is done – stick it in the center and if it comes out clean [mostly] it is done. Let sit for 5 minutes to cool. This dessert is great alone or served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream...or with coffee in the morning.
Moster Olga's Päronkaka
[Prep: 15 minutes / Baking: 45 minutes / TOTAL: 1 hour]
For prep and baking directions see Mormor's Äppelkaka.
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