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It’s so funny the way summer works here in the South Bay. One day it’ll be cold and foggy and in the low 60’s, or what we call June Gloom. Then the next day, usually right around the official start of summer, it’ll be sunny and hot, like in the 90’s hot. When it gets that hot it’s time to cook outside, and that means grilling.

I love grilling all kinds of things from steak to vegetables to fruit to chicken. Everything is better on the grill. No matter what you’re cooking, you get a nice smokey flavor, a great char and if it’s fruit or vegetables, that fire brings out the produce’s natural sugars making them just a little sweeter. This recipe gives you all that and more thanks to a moist, smokey chicken breast and some seriously sweet strawberries.

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I know it’s common practice to serve proteins with vegetables but I love serving them with fruit because you get a savory meal with a burst of sweet flavor. Those sweet/salty flavor combos are some of my favorites. That combination is the reason I tend to add a little more salt to my desserts, why I cook pasta with peaches and tuna with plums. It’s precisely why when I saw this recipe in Fine Cooking, I jumped at the chance to make it.

But the flavors aren’t the only reason I love making this dish. It’s the fact that it takes under 30 minutes. That’s right, less than 30. As a matter of fact it’s waiting for the charcoal and the grill to heat up that takes the longest amount of time. After the grill’s ready to go, the chicken and strawberries take mere minutes.  Once they’re cooked, plate ’em up, drizzle with the syrup and serve. Oh, that syrup. I almost forgot about that syrup. It really ties the whole dish together by adding some seriously rich notes that highlight those sweet and salty flavors I mentioned earlier. Those flavors that remind you summer is here and it’s time to get grillin’!

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Grilled Chicken and Strawberries with Balsamic Syrup

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 20 strawberries
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Boil the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced by half, about 2 minutes, and set aside.
  2. While the vinegar boils, preheat the grill to 400°F.
  3. Thread 5 strawberries onto 4 different skewers.
  4. Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound until about an inch thick. Brush the breasts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill the chicken and strawberries until the chicken is cooked through, about 6 minutes, and the strawberries have slight grill marks, about 2 minutes. Drizzle with balsamic syrup and serve.

Vesper Cocktail

Posted by Jenn. Comment (0).

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Did you know that Monday is National Martini Day? Since I’m such a big fan of the classic cocktail, of course I’m going to celebrate and I want you to celebrate with me. Unfortunately I already have a martini on the blog, so I searched for alternatives.

There’s the Gibson which is pretty much a martini with an onion instead of an olive. Then there’s the Gimlet which is a martini with lime juice and a wedge of lime. Both are great alternatives but both are also already on the blog. I was running out of classic options, and I certainly wasn’t going to make an Appletini, because while popular, that drink dates all the way back to the late 90’s, and I’m sorry, but that’s just not vintage enough for me. So, I kept digging and I eventually found the Vesper. I always thought the Vesper was just another name for the martini. But it turns out it’s actually a completely different cocktail.

I’m a huge vodka martini fan. Then there are those who believe a martini just isn’t a martini unless it has gin. But if you can’t decide, the Vesper is the perfect martini for you because it has both. As a matter of fact, it’s such a great alternative to the classic we all know and love, a certain English spy prefers it. Who’s the spy? Why James Bond, of course. But wait, James Bond drinks martinis. That’s not exactly true. The film Bond drinks martinis. But in Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, he asks for “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?” According to the novel, Bond never has “more than one drink before dinner. But (he likes) that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.” All of which the Vesper is.

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You’ll notice that Bond orders the cocktail shaken, not stirred, and while you could order it that way, if you look up the recipe, you’ll discover it suggests stirring instead. See, if you shake the cocktail you run the risk of getting a watered down drink. No one explains this better than the fictional President Bartlet who tells his assistant, Charlie, “what’s messed up about James Bond. … Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.” While I don’t believe Bond could ever be snooty, I completely agree with the cocktail being weak. But if you stir it up, you’re going to get that “very strong, very cold” drink Bond prefers.

So, I guess you don’t need to be a real live mixologist to create a drink. Classics can come from fictional characters as well, and this one is great! Although National Martini Day does fall on Monday this year, there’s no reason you can’t stir up a Vesper to enjoy before dinner. I mean, we have Taco Tuesdays why not Martini Mondays?

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Vesper

Ingredients:

  • 3 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Lillet

Directions:

  1. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled.
  2. Strain into a coupe glass, drop in a large twist of lemon and serve.

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As you know I’ve been on a bit of a cherry kick lately. That’s because cherry season is only a few short weeks and I just love those little red orbs. They’re so sweet and tart and absolutely delicious. It’s because of the quick season that I’m bringing you yet another cherry recipe, but this time there’s chocolate and browned butter involved.

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Since one of my favorite flavors are chocolate covered cherries, I knew I had to make something with both those flavors before cherries disappear for another year. A few years ago I made Black Forest Brownies, but this time I wanted something a little nutty. Something that still had chocolate but was more cookie than brownie. I love blondies, so I thought why not? I mean if cherries are great with chocolate who’s to say they won’t be good with cookie dough? Or better yet browned butter cookie dough.

I’m so happy I took the leap. I still got that great chocolate-cherry flavor, but now I had that delicious browned butter cookie dough surrounding it. What makes these blondies really awesome though, are the fact that they’re the perfect finger food. I’ve made them twice now for meetings and get-togethers and everyone gobbled them up. Since you can just pick them up and nibble, they are the perfect dessert for parties or barbecues. As a matter of fact, both times I made them they were gone before the night was over, which means there were none to take home. While I was bummed, my husband was really upset. See, he wanted one (or two) for himself.

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So, now that I’ve made and tasted them twice, there’s no doubt I’m addicted. I actually bought another pint of cherries yesterday just so I could make them one more time before the season ends. Yes, I’ll have to pit those cherries and I’ll have to brown the butter, but the end result is sooooo worth it. While you could use frozen cherries in these bars, there’s no comparison to using fresh; and that means you have about 2 weeks to grab a basket and make these babies. Trust me, after one bite you’ll be dashing back to the farmers market hoping there are enough cherries around to make one more batch.

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Browned Butter Chocolate Cherry Blondies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup cherries, stemmed and pitted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8×8 pan and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, swirling the whole time until it turns a golden brown and develops a nutty smell. (Make sure you watch it, otherwise your brown butter will turn to burned butter and we don’t want that.)
  3. Pour the butter into a mixing bowl. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed until combined. Add the egg and continue to mix. Add the vanilla and beat for another minute.
  4. Sift together the flour and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually add it to the sugar mixture until just combined. Don’t overmix.
  5. Fold in the chocolate and cherries.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 -35 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean (as long as you don’t hit any chocolate or cherries.) Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, slice and serve.

Lucien Gaudin Cocktail

Posted by Jenn. Comment (0).

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We’re right in the middle of Negroni Week. Don’t know what Negroni Week is? It’s where bars all over the world make and sell Negronis and either all or a portion of the proceeds from each drink go to the charity of the bar’s choice. It’s a great cause created by Imbibe Magazine and Campari. While I’m not a fan of the Negroni, I do love a worthy cause. Combine that worthy cause with alcohol, and I’m definitely in. So, to celebrate, I’m bringing you a classic variation on the Negroni. It’s called the Lucien Gaudin.

Launched in 2013 as a celebration of one of the world’s great cocktails, Negroni Week has grown from roughly 100 venues to 6,000, and they’ve collectively raised nearly $900,000 for various charitable causes from helping the homeless to cancer research and beyond. The week-long event may end tomorrow, but there’s still time to participate. Just find your favorite bar, order a negroni (or some variation) and enjoy. Then at the end of the week, the people behind the event tally up how much was raised collectively by all the participating bars and restaurants. Sounds like fun, right?

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While I don’t work at a bar or restaurant, I wanted to acknowledge the event, because it is so important and so many people out there like Negronis and Campari, the liquor with which it’s made. I’ve made a Negroni before and as I said, I’m not a fan. The Campari is just too bitter for me. While I don’t necessarily like my drinks sweet, I can’t do bitter, and believe me I’ve tried. Campari, which was created in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, is made with a variety of spices and herbs and tastes more like Orange Bitters than Cointreau. It definitely takes some getting used to (I still haven’t). So, why do I still make cocktails using the bitter liquor? Hubs loves them!

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The Lucien Gaudin is a tribute to one of France’s fencing champions. He made his name in the early twentieth century, and then went on to become European and world champion. But that wasn’t enough. He won two gold medals in the 1924 Olympics, and two more in 1928. A couple more silver medals made him one of the most decorated French medalists in Olympic history. With a past like that, it’s only natural that a cocktail be named after him. While I can’t find anything about who created the drink, it first appeared in the tomb, Cocktails de Paris, in 1929, when Gaudin was at the height of his fencing career.

If the recipe sounds like a Negroni, that’s because the drink is pretty much just a French riff on the classic. It includes gin and Campari, but then substitutes dry vermouth and Cointreau for the original’s sweet vermouth. With a recipe like that, it’s surprising that this classic has fallen into obscurity. I mean, it’s really not that different from the much more popular Negroni. If anything, it’s slightly (and I do mean slightly) sweeter and definitely has more orange notes thanks to the Cointreau. But for some reason, the Lucien Gaudin has all but disappeared from the cocktail world. Well, thanks to Negroni Week (and the internet) hopefully it’ll make a comback. I mean if this week isn’t the perfect time to sample this Prohibition tipple, no time is.

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Lucien Gaudin

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce Campari
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Cointreau

Directions:

  1. Pour all the ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled.
  2. Strain into a coupe glass, garnish with a twist of orange and serve.

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I’ve never been a fan of bread pudding. It’s not a real sweet dessert and it’s usually super heavy. In the past when I’ve tried it, I get one, maybe two bites in and then I’m full. I keep trying it, though because I know it’s popular, and I guess I keep hoping that maybe something will change. Maybe it won’t be as heavy. Maybe the sauce it’s served with will make it sweeter. Maybe my palate will change. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.  Whatever the reason, whenever I see a new and interesting spin on the classic dessert I try it, which is why I finally found a version I really, really liked.

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What separated this bread pudding from all the others I’d tried before was the fact that it was made with croissants. Those croissants made all the difference. See, usually the bread that’s used in bread pudding is a thick, crusty French bread. But croissants are lighter since the dough has so much air in it and is so thin. Since the bread being used is lighter, the whole dessert feels lighter, even with the 7 eggs and cream mixed in.

But using a different bread isn’t the only plus in this bread pudding. The fact that it uses fresh fruit makes it even better. Now, I know there are plenty of bread puddings out there that use apples or raisins, but those are dried or winter fruits. This recipe calls for peaches and cherries which are summer fruits, so you can make this right now. While I used those amazing Tartarian cherries I love so much, Bings or Rainiers are just as good. But if cherries and peaches aren’t your thing, you could easily substitute apricots and raspberries or nectarines and blackberries.

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It’s because of those summer fruits and croissants that I originally thought this bread pudding was a breakfast dish. A sort of nicer dutch baby that could be served with coffee and bacon. And there’s no reason that you couldn’t do that. But since this dish does take about an hour to put together, and tastes amazing with vanilla ice cream, I’d save it for dessert. It’s actually the perfect dessert to bring to a summer barbecue or a nice dinner under the stars. As a matter of fact, I can’t wait to do just that. So, while I wasn’t a bread pudding fan, thanks to this croissant twist on a classic, I have become one. Maybe you will, too.

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Cherry Peach Croissant Bread Pudding (adapted from Southern Cast Iron)

Ingredients:

  • 6 large croissants, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large peaches, diced
  • 1 cup cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F, spray a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Arrange the croissant pieces on a baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Whisk together the milk, cream, 3/4 cup sugar, egg, yolks, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Add all but about 1 cup of the croissant pieces and stir until coated. Fold in the peaches and cherries. Then pour the mixture into the prepared skillet. Press the croissants down to cover with the milk mixture. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
  4. Whisk together the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Uncover the bread pudding and scatter the remaining croissant pieces on top. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top.  Bake for 55 – 60 minutes or until golden brown and a knife, when inserted, comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes and serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.