Thursday, July 2, 2009

easy does it

i hope everyone is looking forward to this long weekend as much as i am. it's crazy that it is already july 2nd and there has been approximately one day of summer in the northeast with no rain. i feel out of practice at the whole summer thing, while at the same time, i feel the need to be insta-summered before fall is here!

one of the big components of most fourth of july weekends is grilling in some form. as of now, the weather looks good for saturday, but here are a few ideas that are easy and can be made inside or out. the only two parts that require any prep or cooking are the chicken and potatoes - the rest are as easy as you can get.

a few cheeses, some nice bread or crackers and some olives and nuts are all you need for a simple appetizer course. if you really want to step it up, put a wedge of brie on the grill or in the oven just until it starts to melt.

for drinks, i'm thinking just a simple champagne or prosecco, perfectly chilled, will hit the spot. but if you're looking for something more festive, as you know, i've been a big fan of sangria this summer so far. here is the recipe for the one i made on memorial day. if you like something lighter, try the fizzy peach.

this recipe for tuscan lemon chicken is from ina garten (the barefoot contessa, or as she is known in my house - just "ina"). her recipe calls for using a full chicken and cooking it on a charcoal grill, but it can be cooked anywhere you like, including in the oven or stovetop. because i'm a baby about meat, i took the idea for the marinade, but used pre-cut chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken, and i cooked it on the stovetop in a grill pan. both times i made it, it was very successful. my husband mitchell called it "restaurant quality" which is top honors in my book. it is perfectly delicious served warm, room temperature or even chilled in a sandwich or a salad. this is definitely one of those "cook once, eat a few times" things.

a few things to note: i marinated the chicken overnight and cooked it a few hours in advance of serving, keeping it warm and moist in my cast iron dutch oven. also, i have found the key to keeping it moist is not using a fork to turn and move the chicken, but rather using tongs that don't pierce the chicken, releasing the juices. similarly, when checking done-ness, use a meat thermometer, inserted in the same spot each time, rather than cutting it open to test. it's amazing what a huge difference it makes.

these roasted potato wedges are the easiest side dish (not counting the microwavable jasmine and brown rice from trader joe's that cooks in 3 minutes). they can be done in the oven or on the grill using a grill basket, and really they can be tweaked to your own preferences in terms of spices. the only universally important thing is that you jumpstart the cooking by microwaving the potatoes otherwise they'll take until the next morning to cook to the point you want them.

to make these, i use baby potatoes (sometimes red, sometimes gold) and after scrubbing and drying, halve and/or quarter them. in a large bowl covered with saran wrap, microwave them for 15 minutes. when they are done, remove the saran wrap (carefully, as it is the temperature of the sun) and mix in about one tablespoon of butter or margarine, kosher salt and pepper and whatever spices you like - to me, this is most fitting with rosemary and i use the powdered kind i buy at penzey's. but i have also used dill and cumin (not together) and they both work too. once they're seasoned, spread them on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray and bake at 400 for about 45 minutes. you'll know when they're done because they'll be browned and crispy looking, and they taste as good as they look.

for dessert, there is wonderful summer simplicity in some vanilla (or your chosen flavor) ice cream or fro yo with some delicious sliced peaches or angelcots.

most of all, enjoy your time and fill it with the people, places and things you love.

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