It’s going to be a…full day today, so I think an easy, no-brainer dinner is definitely in order. This recipe is perfect for frantic summer days, and best of all, Mama loved it. Truth be told, I love it, too. When the days get steamy and the basil is bustin’ in your garden and tomatoes are worth eating again, it’s just the thing.

It’s so effortless that it’s almost cheating to even call this a recipe. It’s more like a method…a very forgiving, adaptable method, providing that you have awesome tomatoes, which we happen to have right now. So make this in the next couple of weeks and ignore it until summer rolls around again, okay?

Damn, I’m getting as bossy as Ina Garten. Forgive me, readers. I promise that I won’t tell you to use the *good* olive oil in this recipe. Actually…I’m a liar. Do. But feel free to use the shitty Parmesan. Oh, wait. Don’t do that either.

The spirit behind this recipe is kind of funny. Every summer, I read articles written by people who live in the Hamptons or on the Cape and almost always, the jist of the article is: “Gee, I ‘summer’ in this amazing place and friends are always just dropping in, and I have to throw a dinner together at a moment’s notice.”

You have those days, right?  When you’re just hanging around the house and a mini-cooper full of friends calls and says, “Hey! I’m in the neighborhood. Do you mind if I stop by?”

You do?  Seriously? Who are you people?

Um, that has never happened to me. Never. Maybe because I have no friends. I have an aversion to, you know, people. Actually, I do have a  few friends and they have blessedly never pulled surprise visits, probably because they know that I am an anal-retentive freak. If I’m not expecting you and my doorbell rings? I assume that you are the creepy meat man and hide in the closet for at least 15 minutes.

I digress. In truth, this recipe needs a couple of hours to reach peak greatness, but it’s a lazy few hours. So if you do have friends, and they pop by, pour some tea or a glass of wine and catch up while this sauce “cooks” in the beauty of the afternoon sun. Then toss in some pasta and enjoy the wealth of friendship.

A nice thing about this recipe is that it’s perfect for people who enjoy the taste of garlic, but are averse to bits of it in their food. The tomatoes bathe in crushed cloves of garlic and then the garlic gets tossed, providing the best of both wolds. Another great thing about this recipe? You can throw just about anything into it and it will adapt beautifully. I’ve flung in cooked asparagus, roasted zucchini, crisped bacon, a lovely tin of Italian tuna…you get the idea. Like the best of friends, this recipe is quite forgiving. If I am feeling decadent (or sorry for myself, which I may be feeling tomorrow), I will throw in a few tablespoons of Haystack Mountain goat cheese, which melts into the pasta and, while it isn’t for purists, adds a luxurious touch that will bring smiles and comfort.

I’m eating my weight in it this time.

Thank you, Readers, for all of your wonderful thoughts and kind words.

And Happy Birthday, Mama. Eat up.

 

 

Kitchen Counter Pasta

serves 2 generously (can easily be doubled…for people who have friends)

12 oz. cherry tomatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes, or 3 large, fat, good tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 healthy glugs olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)

1/3-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

generous grinds of fresh black pepper

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (but not chopped–you pick them out later)

4 ounces dried spaghetti or linguine, cooked*, about 1/2 cup pasta water reserved

1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped**

1/2 cup fresh basil, torn

1/3 cup Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese, grated

salt, pepper and extra cheese to taste

optional: capers, sliced kalamata olives, leftover rotisserie chicken, crushed red pepper, or–heck with it–damn near any leftover you’d like to use up.

Cut tomatoes and place into a large glass bowl. Add the olive oil, smashed garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and generous grinds of pepper. Toss together and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place on a semi-sunny, warm kitchen counter for several hours or until flavors are well blended and juices are running.

Remove garlic cloves with a fork or slotted spoon. To the tomato mixture (do not drain liquid! That’s the good stuff!), toss in basil, parsley and 1/3 cup parmesan. Add drained hot pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water.

Toss. If pasta seems dry, add reserved pasta water by tablespoon-fuls until moistened. Taste for salt and pepper; add additional cheese or toss-ins, if desired.

Bonus: this tastes terrific both hot and at room temperature, so if it’s hella hot outside, pour another beverage, visit a while longer, and serve when you are ready.

* I know!! 2 ounces of pasta per person seems parsimonious, but honestly, that’s the recommended serving. American restaurants have fooled us into thinking that anything less than 4 ounces of pasta is chintzy, but there are so many tomatoes in the dish that the serving actually feels quite hearty. Still, if you wanna go all abondanza and increase the amount of pasta, go ahead. I won’t judge (well, unless you use the shitty olive oil). Just adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

** You can use lesser amounts of the basil and parsley. I like mine really herby, but it might put some people off. You can start with 1/4 cup of each and then put extra on the table if you like.

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Hey, everybody. This week is going to be a bit of a challenge.

Okay, I lied. It’s going to suck pretty hard, but we are digging our heels in the quicksand and wrestling out of the muck.

That’s the story I’m telling, anyways.

This Friday, June 24, is Mama’s birthday.

It’s unbelievable and wrenching to know that she won’t be here to celebrate it. I still can’t believe she’s gone.

 

scan0001

My only solace is that I know she wouldn’t have wanted to spend it in a wheelchair, or hooked up to an oxygen tank, in need of constant medication/assisted care, which would have been her reality had she survived the trauma she suffered in April. Mama was adamant that quality of life, not quantity, was what mattered. She lived–and died–in accordance with that wish, on her terms. It was the last gift Daddy and I were able to give her. It hurt greatly to give it, but we owed her that.

 

glamor mama

 

The girls and I will make the trip to Golden on Friday, and spend the day with Daddy. We will tell stories of her and laugh (and probably cry a little, too) and scatter some of her ashes in her beloved rose garden on the side of the house. She loved those roses and cut huge armfuls throughout the entire summer. They perfumed the whole house and made everything beautiful. I like to think this would make her happy, to be there with them. The rest of her ashes will be scattered into the Pacific when we make our family trip to Hawaii over Thanksgiving, and I think she’d be happy to be there, too.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday without cake, and this year, I’m making this one. I chose it a little selfishly, because it’s my favorite cake, and it’s a cinch to make–perfect for me, the baking-challenged. Mama’s favorite cake was this one, but she loved this carrot cake, too. She made it often, knowing it would put a smile on my face.

 

mama dana bonnet

 

The secret frosting isn’t really “secret.” It’s special because of the surprise addition of fresh lemon zest and the use of just the barest amount of honey to sweeten the deal, unlike the gobs of powdered sugar you see in most recipes. The honey adds a lovely floral note and the lemon zest brightens things up and brings out the flavor of cinnamon and cardamon in the cake. I predict that once you try it, this will become your go-to recipe whenever cream cheese frosting is required.

Mama livened up the icing by adding plump bits of dried apricot and some toasted pecans, and if I weren’t making this for the girls to consume, I’d toss them in, too. I think they add nice character to the cake, but the girls would rather get a tetanus shot than consume dried fruit of any kind.

If you’re so inclined, I’d love it if you’d think of Mama on Friday, and give big hugs to the people you love. Maybe make something sweet for them, or have a silent toast, or make a phone call to let someone know they matter to you.

It will be a beautiful day. Of that I am certain.

 

 

mama side view

 

Carrot Snack Cake

makes one 9×9 cake

 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 cup vegetable oil (or melted coconut oil)

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups grated fresh carrots

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together flour, sugar, salt, soda, and cinnamon. Whisk in vegetable oil, sour cream and eggs, whisking until well combined. Stir in the grated carrot and mix well.

Pour into a greased and floured 9×9-inch pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool and frost with the following:

 

 

 

Secret Frosting*

 

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest

optional:

1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots

1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans

 

Beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in the honey until well blended. Stir in the lemon zest and the apricots and toasted nuts, if using. This frosting is also very good on a traditional spice cake.

*unless you like a lot of icing on your cake, you will have extra

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I’ve been trying to figure out what to serve for our Father’s Day feast this year, and while I’d like for there to be a surprise dish on the menu, just for fun, I’m having trouble making decisions, so we shall see. Maybe the surprise will come in the form of a cocktail, since this Father’s Day will be bittersweet without Mama at the table. A cocktail will probably be a very welcome way to kick off the afternoon, especially because it’s gonna be a scorcher.

Speaking of Father’s Day, I’d like to share this picture of Daddy-o from the family archives. It’s a classic:

hairdo daddy

Poor Daddy-o. He was on the road so much when my sister and I were little that on the rare weekends he was home, we manhandled and pestered him to death for attention. I’m sure he really had no idea what to do with us girls.

One thing that’s sure to be on the menu this weekend? Beef. My father dearly loves his beef, and after he and Mama visited (and fell in love with) Argentina a few years ago, I have just the way to serve it. Skewered and doused with Chimichurri sauce! Chimichurri is a funny sounding name, but that’s about the only funny thing about this condiment. This Argentine-style sauce, sort of a mix between a sauce and a salsa, packs a flavor wallop–it’s punched up with all sorts of good things like fresh herbs and garlic and tangy vinegar. It’s the perfect foil for the richness of a good hunk-o-meat, and believe me, we’re going to buy only the best-quality, grass-fed organic beef for a Father’s Day feast.

Another thing that’s near and dear to my daddy’s heart is sweet summer corn. Can you blame him? In the words of the wise Garrison Keillor: “People have tried and they have tried, but sex is not better than sweet corn.” I kind of have to agree with the guy.

At its zenith, summer corn is so juicy and sweet that it hardly needs any adornment, save perhaps a kiss of butter and a sprinkle of salt. I don’t think we’re quite at peak season yet, so I think I may gild the lily a little with an herb-studded butter or a smoky Chipotle/butter glaze like the recipe below. The glaze would stand up to the bold flavor of the Chimichurri quite nicely.

The dudes in my life definitely deserve to eat well on their big day, that’s for sure.

 

 

 

argentine-skewers

 

Argentine Beef Skewers

 

serves 4 to 6

from Weber’s Way to Grill

Sauce:

1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, leaves and tender stems

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup chopped white onion, rinsed

1/4 cup chopped carrot

1 medium garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Rub:

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds top sirloin, about an inch thick, cut into 1-inch cubes

extra-virgin olive oil

18 cherry tomatoes

In a food processor, finely chop the parsley, basil, onion, carrot, garlic and salt. With the machine running, pour in olive oil and vinegar, until sauce is fairly thick.

Mix the rub ingredients together.

Place the steak cubes in a large bowl and toss lightly with a little olive oil. Add the rub; toss. Set aside at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

Thread meat and tomatoes alternately on skewers. Grill the skewers over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until cooked through–6 to 8 minutes total for medium rare, turning occasionally.

Let meat rest 5 minutes, coat with sauce or, alternatively, serve with sauce on the side.

 

 

chipotle-corn

 

 

Chipotle-Lime Glazed Corn

serves 6

adapted from weber’s Way to Grill

Glaze:

1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon chipotle puree**

6 ears fresh corn

Prepare your grill for direct cooking over medium heat.

Shuck the corn and remove all silk. If you like, you can pull the husks back, but leave them attached at the stem end so they make a nifty little handle.

Grill the corn over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, for 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine glaze ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; continue to cook over medium high heat (boiling) for about 5 minutes or until glaze thickens.

Brush grilled corn with glaze and enjoy.

 

 

 

sleeping d 2

 

Despite a spring shadowed with loss, I feel so grateful to be spending this weekend with two of the finest men I know. Throughout this whole ordeal, my husband has been an incredible source of support and understanding. Nothing has been easy–I haven’t been easy, that’s for sure–but he’s been patient as a saint.

And damn, he’s an amazing father.

 

 

sach and meems

I’ll be counting my blessings as I toast the men in my life this weekend, and I hope you readers have a wonderful day with the loved ones in your lives, and can raise a glass in honor.

Much love,

Kitch

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The Solitary Table

May 16, 2016