The August cover of any national food magazine will usually feature some sort grilled meat with a title about throwing the perfect summer party for a crowd.
That’s not exactly the way our editorial calendar works here in Tennessee.
In our neck of the woods, August is not the start of grilling season, it’s the start of school. We are winding down the summer parties and cookouts, and look—not without some sadness—to the end of vacation eating and the return of our school and work day routine and the meals that fit into it. A typical tuesday this month will not include me standing at a grill outside basting a brisket, but probably throwing something together in between practices and homework.
This simple recipe has been a long-time favorite in our family and is perfect for weeknight dinners but tastes good enough to grace a magazine cover any month of the year.
Weeknight Chicken in Cream Sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or fillets, cut into 1” pieces
3-4 Tablespoons of flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
2-4 Tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
*1 cup white button mushrooms, sliced, if desired
*1 jar of marinara or spaghetti sauce, if desired
*Only if you want to ingredient
1.) Dredge chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt pepper—shake off excess.
2.) Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add chicken and lightly brown to a light crust about 6-8 minutes.
3.) Remove chicken from pan and deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any brown bits that have collected, about 1-2 minutes. Add heavy cream, stir, and bring to a soft boil.
4.) Add the mushrooms if desired and cook for a few minutes until soft and sauce begins to thicken.
5.) Add the chicken back to the pan. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook until chicken is cooked all the way through and no longer pink and cream sauce has thickened, about another 8-10 minutes.
Note: At this point, you can also choose to add a portion of the browned chicken back into the cream sauce and/or to a saucepan of heated marinara sauce if you have younger kids that might not like the white sauce.
Serve over cooked spaghetti with a crispy green salad and crusty bread.
(Serves 4 but you can easily adjust, just keep the wine/cream ration even and brown the chicken in batches.)
1.) Pulse cookies in a food processor. While running, drizzle in butter. Take out 1 pint of the dulce de leche cream to soften—leave the rest in the freezer.
2.) Press crust into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake in a 350℉ oven for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden brown on the edges. Cool completely.
3.) Spread the first layer of softened ice cream on top of the cool crust, making as smooth and even as possible. Put back in freezer and take out sorbet to soften.
4.) Alternate freezing the cake between layers and softening the next pint of ice cream until all 4 layers are frozen—about 45 minutes per layer but can be more or less depending on how you want to do it.
Notes: Start this cake the morning of the day before you want to serve it. If you’re making this outside of cookie season, you can make a simple graham cracker crust instead.
This easy and flavorful side is a souvenir from my youth when I thought rice only came in two varieties: Minute or pilaf.
I left the Minute Rice back in the 80’s and the pilaf seemed doomed to stay there as well until a few months ago when I resurrected it.
We’ve eaten it probably a dozen times since.
Old School Rice Pilaf
Olive oil and a couple tablespoons of butter
3-4 Angel Hair pasta nests, broken up and crumbled by hand (buy a big box and then you’ll have enough for pilaf for months)
2 cups long-grain or Basmati rice
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (plus more)
1 bay leaf
1.) Brown the crumbled pasta nests in a large pot with the olive oil and butter over medium heat for about 1 minute and then add the uncooked rice. Coat the rice and pasta with the butter and oil for a couple of minutes, toasting it by stirring constantly. Be careful not to burn the pasta–it’s super thin–but you do want it to brown.
2.) Add the broth and the bay leaf, bring to a boil, and then quickly reduce the heat to a low simmer with the lid on until the liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. (Check periodically so it doesn’t burn. You can add more liquid–water or chicken broth) if it gets too dry.
3.) Turn off the heat with the lid still on and let stand a few minutes to get the rice nice and fluffy. Remove the bay leaf and serve.
4.) Realize rice is better in 20 minutes rather than five.
You know that game, “What 3 foods would you want stranded on a desert island?” My answers change over the years, but if I had to answer that one today, I’d say heavy cream, dijon mustard and wine. Which means I’d like to be stranded in Provence.
I choose wine, because, uh wine, and the others because one can always make a beautiful sauce with cream and dijon mustard. Even if it’s for coconuts. Or driftwood.
And flank steak and arugula! Can I add those to the island? Let’s change the game to “What 5 foods would you want stranded on a desert island?”
Here’s a recipe for three of my five.
Flank Steak Arugula Salad with Béarnaise(ish) dressing
1 1-2 lb. flank steak
3 T. worcestershire sauce
1/3 c. red wine
1/3 c. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 small shallot or 1/2 of a large one, finely minced
1 T. dijon mustard
2 T. champagne or white wine vinegar
2-3 T. fresh tarragon, minced
2-3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
Arugula or arugula spinach mix
1.) Prepare marinade in a re-sealable bag, add flank steak. Marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2.) Heat grill or grill pan over medium high heat with a little olive oil if in a pan. Grill for approximately 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer to rimmed cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes.
3.) Make dressing by combining the shallot, mustard, vinegar, tarragon and salt and pepper by whisking in a small bowl. Add olive oil to desired consistency but it should be on the thick side.
4.) Slice the steak against the grain and on an angle into thin slices and place on a large platter of the greens. Drizzle dressing over top.
It may seem as though I’m dogging on the South a little bit lately, and I want to set the record straight that this is not the case. There are some things that the South is considerably superior over the geographic North. Namely, grocery stores.
Seriously, North, you don’t know what you’re missing.
And although there are many fine supermarkets to choose from here, Publix is, and has been, my personal favorite for almost 20 years. This is not a sponsored post, (but call me Publix, we’ll talk) but frequently this store, and others, offer excellent, fresh, ingredients and very reasonable prices.
This week, fresh figs, (Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota) are on sale as they are about twice a year. I always want to figure out a way to use them because I just can’t pass them up easily when they are that plentiful and cheap.
So I came up with this recipe using another fine grocery store secret–fresh pizza dough from the bakery section–for a lovely appetizer or light dinner. So easy but it will look and taste as though you’ve hired a personal chef.
Fresh Fig, Walnut and Goat Cheese Pizza
Pizza dough from the bakery (if you use a tube that’s been sitting in the refrigerator case we’re going to fight.)
2-4 fresh figs, sliced thinly
1/4 cup walnuts
2 oz. goat cheese
Honey, enough to drizzle
1.) Preheat the oven to 400°. Divide pizza dough in half, and roll out to desired shape and thickness. (It will rise in the oven.)
2.) Place dough on a pizza stone or baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and lightly salt. Top with sliced figs and walnuts.
3.) Bake for about 15-20 minutes–check frequently so it doesn’t burn. Remove from oven, and sprinkle goat cheese on the warm pizza. Drizzle with honey and enjoy no matter where you live.
I’ve been asked for my hand in marriage. (Yes.) I’ve been asked if I want fries with that. (No.) I’ve been asked if I wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl. (No, yes, no, no.) I’ve been asked what I want to be when I grow up. (Still waiting to grow up.) I’ve been asked for my I.D. (Ok, not in a very long time.) I’ve been asked for my advice, opinion, and counsel. (Stay in school, the one on the left and don’t read Internet comments.) Paper or plastic? (Canvas, please.) I’ve even been questioned as to who wrote the book of love, what’s love got to do with it and what’s eating Gilbert Grape. (I’ve got satellite radio and a Netflix account.)
But in 29 years of combined school grades and teachers, I’ve never been asked to be the Room Mom.
The teacher who proposed such an obvious travesty of scholastic volunteerism is new, so I quickly said yes before she Google search me. (Rookie mistake.) Since I’m new to the Room Mom game, I had some questions of my own. Like, is there a union per diem minimum? (No, in fact you’ll be expected to pay out-of-pocket for countless expenses.) Will my yearbook profile include high res photos or standard? (We don’t exactly feature parents in the yearbook.) When driving to field trips, do I collect gas money from the kids before or after I drop them off? (Wait, what?) Are there any allergies I should notify the caterer of for the class parties? (We don’t use a caterer, maybe we should talk…) My first arts and crafts project is wallpapering my bathroom so I’m going to need 4,288 glue sticks added to their required supply list. (On second thought, we may not need a Room Mom this year.) Your Tuesday Reading Circle is on my preferred spa day, so can I move in a massage table on those carpet squares? (@#$%^&*) Why is your face so red? Who are you calling? Are handcuffs really necessary?
And now I’ve also been asked if I understand my rights as they’ve been explained to me. (Best. School. Year. Ever.)
One of the recipes I get asked about the most–Guacamole.
3 ripe avocados
1 red onion, diced
1-2 tomatoes, diced
Salt and Pepper
Nothing else or you’ll ruin it
I mean it
Mash the avocados with the back of a fork in a medium bowl. Mix the 3–exactly 3–ingredients together. Resist the temptation to make it more complicated than it is–you will thank me later. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy by the handful or use tortilla chips.
Note: The only variation I will allow is the addition of fresh cilantro if you love fresh cilantro, or a squeeze of a fresh lime. Ripe avocados are a must. Buy the nice blackish-skinned ones, but if they aren’t quite ripe yet place in a brown paper bag for a day or so and they’ll ripen quickly and guac-ly.
As I sit here on the eve of the first day of school, which has crept earlier and earlier each August until it seems as though the 4th of July is closer than Labor Day, it occurs to me that the local School Boards may be suffering from an embarrassing affliction. I know it’s not quite PC or appropriate to discuss outside of AM radio talk show commercials and creepy email spam, but I think there’s a rampant case of premature education going on around here.
It only takes a simple Google clip art image search of the words, “Back to School” with its apple-laden, fall-leaf-wreathed chalkboards and discounted plaid wool skirts with turtlenecks turned up to earlobes covered by fur-lined ski caps to confirm that the web–which is World Wide I remind you–universally accepts the fact that the First Day of School is an autumnal event.
And though I am not Julius Caesar, I maintain that August, and certainly July, land squarely in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and therefore, by its very position in the space-time continuum, charted latitudes and longitudes, maritime tides, and proximity to the solstices and several Independence Days, both foreign and domestic; are historically, meteorologically, ill-timed months to resume scholastic endeavors.
In other words, you may be pulling the trigger a little too early, Board of Education.
August 7th was our start date this year. This is actually a week later than most of the schools around us, so I guess I should feel lucky. The earth has had seven more days in which to retain summer temperatures approaching triple digits.
Clearly there is some confusion on the Board with regard to an appropriate First Day of School. As the helpful citizen that I am, I would like to provide this brief tutorial to school planners to consider when they prepare next year’s calendar so they are not, once again, subject to this embarrassing and inconvenient problem.
If you start school before your state’s tax-free holiday on school supplies even begins, you may be guilty of premature education.
If playground balls fuse to the blacktop in the blistering heat, it may be a sign of premature education.
If the first holiday off you have after the first day of school is a Christmas in July mattress sale, it just may be evidence of premature education.
If parents are confused on whether the first day is a start date or an end date to the school year, well, it just may be a textbook case of premature education.
If you have to pack zinc oxide and salt tablets in your child’s lunchbox, chances are pretty good you’re prematurely educating.
If your child’s “school bus” has a freezer on board, plays “Pop goes the Weasel” and serves Push-ups from a side window, premature education could be to blame.
If your official school uniform includes flip flops and a panama hat, methinks it clearly is premature education.
If math class is taught in SPF values, you know…
If students have completed all of the material in their textbooks before they’ve chosen a Halloween costume, premature education should be considered.
If your child was born under the zodiacal sign of cancer and has to bring in birthday cupcakes for his classmates, talk to your doctor about premature education.
If your child has ever brought a watermelon for a teacher on the first day instead of an apple because that’s the only fruit in season, education prematurely could be the culprit.
If there has ever been a wave runner in your school carline, there’s no shame in admitting your premature education.
If your child is taught how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and Celsius to Kelvin to record the average temperature during science class; well, just sayin’.
If your child has ever had to write a paper on Bastille Day due on Bastille Day; ahem.
And finally, if as part of their emergency planning your school regularly conducts Sharknado drills; I rest my case.
These are simple to make on a weeknight, but can easily be dressed up or down for your family’s tastes.
Chicken cutlets (you can buy the cutlets, or cut boneless skinless breast or fillets in half and pound to a thin cutlet)
2 eggs (or more)
1 cup Panko (or more)
salt and pepper
1.) Set up a breading station of the flour seasoned with salt and pepper, the eggs beaten with a little water, and a plate of the panko.
2.) Heat a non-stick pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. You may have to re-oil in between batches, so don’t put the bottle away. Preheat the oven to 350°.
3.) Bread each cutlet by first dredging through the seasoned flour, then the egg wash, and finally evenly coating with the panko. Do 3 or 4 cutlets and place them in the pan. Do not overcrowd–do in batches if necessary.
4.) Cook the cutlets about 2-3 minutes per side, just to give a nice brown color. Try to only flip once to preserve the panko crust. When golden brown, remove from pan and place in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet in the oven to finish cooking, and while you cook the next batch.
5.) Continue with all the cutlets and bake in the oven another 10 minutes or so until they reach 165° internally and no longer pink. By finishing in the oven, you still get a properly cooked chicken but the crust is still crispy and golden rather than charred.
6.) Serve either as is, or top with a handful of arugula tossed with Dijon-lemon vinaigrette–it gives a nice freshness and bite to the simple cutlet.