What I did on my summer vacation…

It seems like summer just started and I’m about to be faced with its far too premature ending.  In just two weeks I’m packing up, moving to Graham, North Carolina and throwing myself full-force into my grad program at Elon.

Even though the weeks following my return from China have been busy with preparation for the move and reunions or final goodbyes with friends,  I have found ample time for my favorite summertime  activity, cooking whatever the heck pops into my mind.  Here are some of the tasty treats which have popped up in my kitchen the past few weeks:

Zucchini Crostini

This zucchini crostini was inspired by the Smitten Kitchen, a fabulous food blogger.  I used the recipe as a basic idea and made several changes.  First, I spread homemade roasted garlic humus on my warm toasts (which in and of itself would have been really yummy).  My salad is composed of thin slices of zucchini, red bell pepper, red onion, feta, and doused in balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.  The end result is like an open-faced greek veggie sandwich and proved  very addictive.  I ate it for dinner, lunch the next day, then made more of just the salad when I ran out of french bread.

Bruscetta Chicken:

I had been seeing pictures and recipes on the internet of bruscetta chicken, so when I found grape tomatoes and fresh mozzarella at the farmers’ market, I knew they were destined for this entree.  I cut my tomatoes into eighths and marinated them in olive oil and Italian herbs while I made the rest of my dinner.  The chicken breast was rubbed with garlic, Italian herbs, and olive oil and then grilled it.

Bruscetta chicken with sautéed green beans

Once it was done, I put a big ‘ol slice of mozzarella on top and threw it under the broiler until bubby.  I put the marinated tomatoes on raw and like the contrast of cold tomatoes with warm chicken, but they would also be really good sliced in half, roasted, and then put on top of the cheese.  The other alternate preparation I would try is marinating the chicken in basil pesto to give it even more flavor.

Fish Tacos:

I have been getting my Mexican fix lately by making fish tacos for dinner.  I make them the authentic way- warm corn tortillas topped with just diced onion, cilantro, lime, and avocado or guacamole.  And I discovered a great shortcut for the fish.  The fried, breaded version is always yummy, but it’s not the healthiest or  lest messy way to cook fish.  So what I came up with is baking the fish (from frozen!) in a parchment paper papillote with butter for 15 minutes.  The fish is basically done, so then I can just pan-fry it quickly for a breaded exterior.  The melted butter left in the papillote acts as my wet dredge, then I roll the fish pieces in a mixture of Maseca (fine cornmeal), cumin, and cayenne pepper and pop them in skillet with hot olive oil for about a minute per side.  It’s super easy and SO satisfying.

Dessert Fixations:

Instead of a regular steam vent, I did the Ole Miss Lyceum!

Last summer I made a blueberry-blackberry pie, homemade crust and everything with ample guidance from Joy the Baker, another one of my favorite food bloggers.  It knocked my socks off.  The boyfriend and I polished off half of it in one sitting. I ate it for breakfast. It was nothing short of fantastic.  Why? Because it was my first homemade pie and because of the great farmers’ market produce that is only available during the summer.  So naturally, when berries and other fruits hit the farmers’ market this summer, the only thing I wanted to eat was pie.  This time I used frozen crust and didn’t feel any guilt, knowing I could make the real thing if I wanted.   The proportions I used will be my go-to filling: 1 pint of berries, 4 peaches, 1 cup sugar, .25 cups flour, the juice from half a lemon and its zest.  It was perfectly sticky and not too runny!  I followed suggestions from various cookbooks (Southern Living, Barefoot Contessa) about cooking times.

Close-up of the awesomeness

They recommend  starting the pie at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or so, then turning down the oven to around 300 degrees, covering the edges with foil, and leaving it in for the next 25 minutes.  If the crust needs a little more browning, the temp can be raised for an additional 5 or 10 minutes at the end of cooking.

Once I had unraveled the mystery of pie filling, I was pretty excited to experiment with other pie-like treats in my kitchen.  This afternoon during my lunch break I created a filo dough strudel that isn’t perfect, but is pretty yummy.  I made a half recipe of pie filling with a half pint of blackberries, a half pint of blueberries, 1/3 of a cup sugar, a couple of tablespoons of flour, lemon juice and zest.  I placed this on a rectangle of filo (about 6 sheets, alternating with melted butter) and folded it, like making a homemade pop tart.

Digging into the filo strudel

It went into the over at 375 degrees for 15 minutes and came out flaky and gooey!  The edges were a little too brown, but overall it’s a good start.  Next time I think I’ll make small triangles and cover them with foil while baking to prevent the browning.

These are just a few of the cooking adventures I’ve had.  There was also the recent acquisition of a cast iron frying pan which is going to completely change my cooking life.  And also a failed frittata which in the end still tasted good, even if it was more of a scramble than a frittata.  I don’t know what kind of free time I’ll have next year, but hopefully I’ll still be able to experiment in the kitchen and keep a record of my favorites and flops up here!