Monday, September 20, 2010

As Fun as it Gets

Blue Cheese, Green Beans & Tomatoes

Last Friday night’s dinner party was about as fun as it gets. We had over a super cool couple, Becky and Jim.  Becky’s one of my little sister’s oldest friends. I’ve known her since she was basically a baby, and I have about a million memories of her as a little kid.  Almost all of them make my laugh out loud – She was always so fun and cute and funny.  And as I found out this weekend, none of that has changed.  It’d been ages since I’d last seen Becky, I don’t even know how long.  But the moment she and Jim walked through our door, it felt like no time at all had passed.  She was as fun and adorable and hilarious as she ever was.  So while Ben and Jim got in a little male bonding out on the deck, the two of us had a ton of fun catching up in the kitchen.  

Zucchini-Bacon Fritters with Basil Aioli
Grilled NY Strip Steaks
Salad of Green Beans, Tomatoes, Arugula & Blue Cheese
Twice Baked Red Skinned Potatoes with Chives
Blackberry Cobbler

So now let me fill you in a bit on the happenings in the kitchen.  Along with all our laughs and reminiscing, there was quite a bit more a’ brewing. To start, these all too tasty zucchini fritters: 

Zucchini Fritters with Basil Aioli

I’ve been going crazy with zucchini lately, eating it around the clock, serving it with everything and in every which way, just savoring it completely while it’s still at the height of its seasonal, summery goodness.  Luckily, it’s overall a pretty healthy infatuation.  But not tonight.  On such a fun night as this, healthy zucchini just seemed like a drag.  And so, combined with bits of crumbled bacon, a smattering of sliced chives and a hot kick of minced jalapeño, then folded into a smooth and creamy batter, and plopped spoonful by spoonful into a hot pan of bubbling oil, this wholesome vegetable got the chance to show off a deep-fried naughty side.  These hot, delicious fritters were a perfect late-summer indulgence.  A crisp and beautifully golden crust yielded to a tender, puffy inside generously studded with bits and pieces of tasty goodness.  With a quick sprinkling of salt, this starting snack was near perfect.  But when dipped into the huge flavors and cool creaminess of basil aioli, well that’s when true perfection was reached.

Deep Frying Fritters!

And now onto the main course - steak.  Charcoal grilled, salt and pepper rubbed, New York strip steak to be exact.  Man oh man, how good is grilled steak?!  It’d been ages since we’d last cooked up some big ol’ steaks, so we figured it was high time to do it again, and this time with a summery grilled twist.

Gorgeous NY Strip Steaks

Dinner Spread

It’s hard to put into words just how much I adore the extraordinary combination of steak and blue cheese.  They’re an unbelievable pair.  The steak - with its seared, blackened crust and its lush, pink interior, so tender and incredibly juicy, so perfectly medium-rare – and the blue cheese – its creamy white crumbles streaked with blue ribbons of enormous flavor, sharp and pungent and intensely delicious.  Wow oh wow, nothing could be better! 

Big Dinner!

This perfect pairing served as a strong inspiration for a first side dish.  I combined huge hunks of blue cheese with bright green spears of tenderly cooked green beans, juicy wedges of heirloom tomatoes (jade- and emerald-striped Green Zebras and a rosy-golden variety I’ve always nicknamed ‘Sunset’ tomatoes) peppery leaves of arugula and a sweet balsamic vinaigrette.  The blue cheese was certainly the principal player in this dish, but the rest of the ingredients came together beautifully, serving as a gorgeous backdrop.  A cool, crisp, bright and flavorful salad, it was a great match for our hot-off-the-grill streaks.  

Some of Summer's Last Heirloom Tomatoes

I felt from the beginning that this was going to be a meat & potatoes sort of night.  And these twice-baked beauties are one of my favorite ways of cooking (or eating) potatoes.  Rather than going with the all too typical, all too large and ugly russet potatoes, I like to use cute little red-skinned potatoes.  A bit more delicate (their thin, waxy skins aren’t quite so tough as russets’ dusty jackets, and so you must be a bit careful when scooping out the insides), but way more charming.  And if you ask me, way more delicious too.  With regular twice-baked potatoes, the rough leathery skins seem pretty pointless – who wants to eat those?  I always end up eating just the insides and leaving the skin behind.  But with these potatoes, the skins are tender and prettily pink, just as lovely as their pillowy, creamy, chive-speckled centers.  And on top of that, they’re just so cute, which if you ask me, is reason enough to abandon the russet. 


And finally dessert – a blackberry-apple cobbler.  A fitting blend of summer (blackberry) and fall (apple).  I’ve found myself in an interesting predicament lately – most of the time aching for autumn, but still savoring those last lingering hints of summer whenever I enter the market.  As excited as I am for the coziness of sweater weather, I’m pretty bummed to say goodbye to such gorgeous stuff as tomatoes and corn and blackberries.  Ah well, soon enough I’ll be properly excited for other gorgeous stuff like butternut squash and apples and pumpkins.  For a while though, I’ll wean myself into fall by following the pattern of this delicious crumble, blending summer’s last bounty with the beginnings of autumn’s harvest. 

Cobbler Filling

Hot Out of the Oven


Zucchini-Bacon Fritters
Adapted from 
Makes about 40 fritters, enough for about 6 people
Don’t worry (like I did) if your batter seems too thin.  It should be of about the same consistency as pancake batter. 
Zucchini Fritters
8 slices bacon
about 48 fl oz frying oil, such as vegetable or canola
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 pound small zucchini, chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 Tbl chopped chives
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
basil aioli, for dipping
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, about 2 minutes.  Add the bacon and cook until the bottom sides are crispy, then flip and continue cooking until thoroughly crisp.  Drain the bacon on paper towels.  Finely chop the bacon, then set aside.
Zucchini Chopping
Fill a medium saucepot with about 3-5 inches of frying oil (making sure to leave at least another 3-5 inches of room at the top, so that it won’t boil over when you add the fritter batter). Place over medium-high heat.  Using a candy thermometer to measure the temperature, bring the oil to 350°F.
Meanwhile, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder and cayenne in a large mixing bowl.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir to combine the zucchini, jalapeño, chives, salt and pepper.  Add the egg, milk and bacon to the zucchini mixture and stir to combine.  Add the zucchini mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
Drop small spoonfuls of the batter into the oil, working in batches of about six to eight at a time.  Turn and flip the fritters occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 3-4 minutes.  Continue to keep an eye on the temperature and keep adjusting the heat to maintain the 350°F.  Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon and place on a bed of paper towels.  Sprinkle immediately with kosher salt.  Return the oil to 350°F between batches. 
Serve immediately, with basil aioli for dipping. 
While best fresh out of the oil, if you’d like do most of the work ahead of time, I’ve found that just a quick re-dipping in the oil crisps them up quite nicely at the very last minute.
Also, if you’d like to save any left-over batter for a day or two, you can.  But make sure to stir in another 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder into the batter before frying. 
Zucchini-Bacon Fritters
Basil Aioli
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.
Grilled NY Strip Steaks
Serves  4
Grilled NY Strip Steak
4 well-marbled NY strip steaks, about 12-16 oz each
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
vegetable oil, for preparing the grill
For a charcoal grill:  Turn all the burners on high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, about 20 minutes. Here’s a way to tell if your grill is hot enough: Hold your hand right over the grill rack.  If you you can keep it there for five seconds, it’s not hot enough.  If you can’t hold it there for even half a second, it's too hot.  When the grill is hot, scrape the rack clean with a grill brush.  Then soak a clean rag or a bunch of paper towels with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, and using tongs, rub it over the grill rack.  Leave one burner on high, but turn the rest to medium.
For a gas grill: Light 6 quarts (about 100 briquettes) of charcoal and allow to burn until the coals are fully ignited and covered with a thin ash layer, about 20-30 minutes.  Build a two-level fire by arranging most of the coals on one side of the grill for a hot fire, and the rest of the coals in a single layer on the other side of the grill for a low fire.  Set the grill rack in place, cover with the lid, and heat the grill for about 5 minutes.  When the grill is hot, scrape the rack clean with a grill brush.  Then soak a clean rag or a bunch of paper towels with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, and using tongs, rub it over the grill rack. 

*   *   *

Pat the steaks dry with paper towels, then season all over with a good dose of salt and pepper.  Grill the steaks, uncovered, directly over the hottest part of the grill until well-browned on one side, about 3 minutes.  Then flip the steaks over and grill until well-browned on the other side, another 3 minutes or so. 

Move the steaks to the cooler side of the grill.  Continue grilling until the desired doneness is reached, 120°F for rare (about 5-6 minutes), 125°F for medium-rare (about 6-7 minutes), 130-140°F for medium (about 8-9 minutes),  150°F for medium-well (about 10-11 minutes) and 160°F for well (about 12-14 minutes).   (It’s always best to go by temperature rather than time!!)

Remove the steaks from the grill and allow it to rest, covered with a loose layer of foil, for 10 minutes.  Serve hot. 

Salad of Green Beans, Tomatoes, Arugula & Blue Cheese
Serves  6
Salad of Green Beans, Tomatoes Arugula & Blue Cheese
For the vinaigrette:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar 
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 small clove garlic, peeled & finely minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
1 pound heirloom tomatoes, cored and sliced into 1-inch wedges
1/2 pound good-quality blue cheese, crumbled into large chunks
2 cups baby arugula, trimmed
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the vinaigrette: Combine the mustard, vinegar, thyme, garlic, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  The dressing can be made ahead and stored about five days, refrigerated in an airtight container.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil.  (Add enough salt so that the water tastes like the ocean.)  Add the trimmed green beans and boil until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Drain in a colander, then immediately plunge the beans into ice water.  Allow the beans to cool in the ice water, about 1 minute, then thoroughly drain. Slice cross-wise in halves or thirds.  Reserve.
Combine the green beans, sliced tomatoes, blue cheese and arugula in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top, just enough to evenly coat. (You definitely won’t not need to use it all – Save the rest for another salad.)  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.
Twice-Baked Red Skinned Potatoes with Chives
Serves  6
Twice Baked
6 medium-sized red skinned potatoes
1/2 stick (4 Tbl) butter, plus more for buttering the pan
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup plus 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped chives
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Wrap each potato in a separate sheet of tin foil, then place on a baking pan.  Bake until tender, about 1 hour or longer.  Then unwrap the potatoes and allow them to cool enough to handle.
Slice each potato in half.  Using a melon baller or a round teaspoon, scoop out the inner flesh from the potato and place it into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Make sure to scoop no closer than about 1/4-inch from the skin of the potato. 
Mash the scooped-out potato flesh either by hand or preferably with a potato ricer.  Add the butter, cream, grated cheddar, 1/4 cup parmesan and chives to the mashed potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. 
Grease the baking pan with butter.  Arrange the hollow potato halves across the pan.  Fill each potato half with a generous dollop of mashed potato mixture.  Then top evenly with the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  This can be prepared up to four hours ahead.  Let stand at room temperature.
Twice Baked Potatoes
Return to the oven and bake until the potatoes are hot throughout and the tops begin to turn golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Serve hot.
Blackberry-Apple Cobbler
Another recipe from my friend Ralph :)
Serves  up to 12
Blackberry Cobbler
4 pints blackberries
4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbl granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
good pinch of kosher salt
1 stick (8 Tbl) butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, room temp, plus more for buttering the pan
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbl heavy cream, divided
Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Generously butter a 9x13-inch casserole dish. 
In a large mixing bowl, toss the blackberries and sliced apples with 1/3 cup sugar.  Transfer to the buttered casserole dish.  Set aside. 
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder and pinch of salt.  Add the cubed, softened butter, and using a pastry blender, cut in into the flour mixture, working until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Add 3/4 cup cream and mix with a rubber spatula, to form a sticky dough.  Divide the dough into 12 egg-shaped balls. 
Arrange the dough balls evenly over the fruit in the casserole dish, in rows of 3 by 4.  Brush the surfaces of the dough with the remaining cream, then sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tbl sugar. 
Blackberry Cobbler, Just Before Going into the Oven
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is soft and juicy.  Let stand 15 minutes before serving.  Serve hot or at room temperature, preferably with vanilla ice cream.
Fresh Blackberries


  1. Oh Kate...this sounds delicious!!!! I really want to try the fritters!

  2. Hey Dana, Thanks! You should definitely try them! We loved 'em!