How to Say Goodbye to Summer

I don’t know what things are like in your neck of the woods, but around here summer has been quietly fading away into the amber chill of autumn, and its all I can do not to jump and cheer out loud because MAN have I had enough of heat and humidity. I’d nearly forgotten what its like to actually sleep comfortably at night. And with a blanket! Truly, my friends, a delicious luxury.

But despite being overjoyed at the slow return of golden days and crisp blue skies, long-sleeved shirts and pumpkins in the markets, I will admit a lingering sadness that all the summer cooking and eating that I love dearly are going away for another year.

The transition from summer to fall is always a bit difficult to navigate for me – I’m so totally ready for soups and braises and long-roasted hunks of meat, but I’m not quite ready to give up the grill. I haven’t had enough corn and tomatoes yet! And I’ve only JUST made my first batch of pickles. And its getting colder by the day.

So, over the last two weeks (when I’ve been embarrassingly absent from this blog) J and I have been milking what’s left of summer for all its worth and enjoying lots of warm-weather foods for probably the last time this season. Maybe in another week or so I’ll be ready to say farewell to summer, and at least I’ll have the memories of these dishes to carry me through until May.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Summer Corn Salad

Yes, yes, perhaps I’m playing out the chicken thigh thing, but seriously, if you were able to get consistently fresh, juicy, BIG chicken thighs for less than $3 a pair, wouldn’t you get a little bit obsessed?

This was, until this past weekend, the best chicken that J or I had ever eaten, bar none. The preparation really wasn’t all that different that this recipe with lemon and oregano, but we adjusted the cooking technique a bit by switching the oven from bake to broil when the meat was still just slightly underdone, turning the thighs skin side up and moving them close to the heating element to crisp the hell out of the skin. And for once, it really worked! The skin was crisp almost to the point of shattering, and so incredibly flavorful from the lemony marinade and pre-cooking sprinkle of kosher salt. The meat beneath stayed moist and tender and intensely chicken-y, more so than any chicken we’ve ever cooked or eaten before. It was PERFECT. And of course, when we tried to do it again a week or so later, we failed. Eventually, I swear, we will learn to take notes and be consistent with our cooking. (In all seriousness, I hope that this blog will help with that, but its yet to be proven so we’ll see.)

As good as the chicken was though, it was very nearly surpassed by summer corn and tomato salad we had as accompaniment. Making and eating this salad was a humbling lesson in simplicity – I tend to forget that sometimes, the most basic preparation is the best, and that when you have really good ingredients the only way to do them justice is to let their flavors shine all on their own. And that’s what I did here.

Two ears of corn and one Italian green frying pepper went under the broiler for awhile to roast and blacken a bit, allowing the sugars in the corn to caramelize and the pepper to soften. Meanwhile I chopped up some red onion and halved some tiny sweet grape tomatoes and tossed them in a big bowl. When the pepper and corn were cool enough to handle, I peeled, deseeded, and chopped the pepper and shaved the kernels off the cobs, and tossed them in with the tomatoes and onions. Add a dash of red wine vinegar, a splash of good olive oil, a pinch each of sugar and kosher salt, and a few cracks of black pepper, and combine.

That’s it.

Seriously, trust me on this. If you’ve never had corn cooked this way, you’ll be amazed at how much sweeter and, well, more like corn it will taste. Fresh corn turns into sweet, tender gold when it gets hit by some dry heat, and combined with the sharply pungent red onions, fruity and juicy tomatoes, and slightly bitter roasted peppers, you end up with a salad that is beautifully balanced in both taste and texture, and truly beautiful on the plate in its yellow, red, and green glory. The dressing here is mostly just a binder and a flavor enhancer – you shouldn’t really notice it on its own, but it should complement all the other flavors that are going on. We’ve made corn salads and salsas before, but never one as good as this. I’ll be coming back to it next year, for sure.

Grilled Curry-spiced Pork Tenderloin with Chana Masala

There isn’t really much to tell about this meal except that it was almost shockingly good. The pork was brined overnight, then rubbed with J’s homemade curry spice mixture and grilled until just cooked through and blacked a bit on the outside. The Chana Masala was made using the recipe on Orangette almost verbatim, though I halved the recipe and added in some potatoes, and it was absolutely perfect – buttery chickpeas, velvety potatoes, sweet-tart tomatoes, and just the right amount of spice (so many of the Indian recipes I’ve tried have just been so heavily spiced that I couldn’t really enjoy them). That recipe is going in our tried-and-true collection. Thanks Molly, for posting it, and thanks to Brandon for coming up with it!

Incidentally, though the grilling made this pretty summery for me, I think I can say with a fair amount of reliability that we’ll be repeating this meal in the fall and winter – the chana masala is so hearty, and the pork can just be cooked in the oven. Because really, who doesn’t love a hunk of roasted pork when the weather’s cold?

Surf-n-Turf with Grilled Portobello and Mixed Greens

We gave the grilled surf-n-turf another go, and it came out much better this time. The shrimp were grilled on skewers rather than in a pouch, and were still slightly overdone but miles better than the last attempt, and the steak was cooked to somewhere between medium-rare and medium. Still a bit overcooked for my tastes, and to tell the truth it just wasn’t a great cut of steak so it as still a bit tough, but it certainly tasted good. And the salad was an easy-peasy success, made up of some washed spring mix, thinly sliced red onions, a couple grilled and sliced portobello caps, some shaved parmesan and a drizzle each of fruity EVOO and aged balsamic. Fresh and tasty, for sure, and look how colorful!

(This was also the first meal I photographed with my new set-up, so I just had to share!)

Masala Burgers with Fresh Mango and Sweet Potato & Pea Salad

This was one of those hugely dichotomous meals where one part was made of total win, and the other was a nearly dismal failure. In this case, the garam-masala-spiced burgers with fresh mango? Delicious. Almost tropical with their blend of spicy and sweet, and an extra little twang from a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a hint of richness from a drizzle of curry aioli. I could’ve eaten those burgers for a week straight.

The salad, however? Not so much. It seemed like a great idea: sweet potatoes go great with both tropical and Indian flavors, and potato salad is a classic pairing for a burger, and we could even grill the potatoes at the same time as the burgers – thus, the curried sweet potato salad was born. The peas were sort of a last minute addition, in an effort to get a green vegetable onto our dinner plates, but I reasoned that peas are pretty common in curries as well, and their natural sweetness ought to complement that of the sweet potatoes. It all made perfect sense. Right?

Well, apparently not. I’m not even sure I can pinpoint where it went wrong, though I’m pretty sure the dressing had a lot to do with it – I was hoping for a light, saffron-scented dressing with a bit of Indian spice for warmth and lime juice for brightness, but what I ended up with was an oddly-colored concoction that didn’t really taste strongly of anything you could pick out and tasted disturbingly milky to me because I used some creme fraiche in place of part of the usual mayo.

Even with the less-than-stellar dressing, it might have been alright had the sweet potatoes had any flavor of their own to speak of, but they were oddly bland despite having been seasoned and grilled.

I barely ate any of mine (though that was partially due to a minor allergic reaction that I sometimes get with curried foods). J ate his with enthusiasm and said he really liked it, but then the extras that got shoved in the fridge sat there for a week until they finally needed to be thrown out, so I’m guessing he didn’t like it as much as he claimed. Ah well. You can’t win ’em all, right?

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