Brie & Mushroom-stuffed Meatloaf

To say that I’m excited for fall is a bit of an understatement. After stiflingly humid North Carolina summers, I am always eager for the relief that comes in mid-September. I can finally open the windows each morning to let the cool, fresh air permeate our space (at least until afternoon, when the temps rise back into the 90s), and my soul starts longing for all the culinary comforts of the fall and winter seasons—warm herbal teas in the evening, soups and stews that nourish us from the inside out, and the return of what I like to call the Sunday Supper.

This meatloaf is one of my very favorites, though calling it a meatloaf may not do justice to the elegance of the meal, especially if you go the extra mile to make the French Onion Gravy recipe that accompanies it on my plate.

No mashed potatoes necessary.

My first inspiration for this recipe came many years ago when I spotted a wedge of creamy, mushroom-studded brie in the specialty cheese section at Trader Joe’s. It was begging to be part of something special and so I incorporated it into my usual, plain-Jane turkey meatloaf and I never looked back. I have since seen the cheese branded by other companies as well, and I actually bought this one from another supermarket. If you cannot find brie with mushrooms, substitute any other brie, and preferably one that is sold in large wedges, as it is easier to slice evenly for the rollup.


There will be plenty of mushroom in the mix anyway, as I slice and brown nearly a whole package of “baby bellas” to layer with the brie. Oh, and sauteed mushrooms and onions also get chopped and blended right into the meat mixture as well. Yes, this is definitely a mushroom-lover’s meatloaf!


I like using a combination of ground turkey (93% lean) and ground turkey breast (99% lean) for this, because the turkey breast on its own tends to go dry during baking, and the other on its own is almost too soft to shape properly. I suppose this meatloaf could also be made with lean ground beef, but I love it with ground turkey, which has a lighter flavor and leaner calorie load—though I’m sure the brie filling that oozes out into every bite probably cancels out that second part.


To give this meatloaf a hint of Thanksgiving (we are already counting down at our house), I have used dry stuffing mix (which I crushed into crumbs) in the panade, and it forms a glue to hold it all together. Feel free to substitute your favorite bread crumbs. Use less milk for this one than you normally would in a panade, because the turkey meat mixture is fairly loose and it benefits from the sturdier, almost crumbly panade.

The richness of the brie demands a little balance as well, so don’t omit the fresh parsley. Putting this meatloaf together is not as complicated as it might seem. At the end of the post is a click-to-print recipe, but I’ll walk you through it so you can see how easy it really is.


Parchment paper is my best friend for the task of shaping the meatloaf, but waxed paper would work in a pinch. Take your time, be sure the long edge and ends are sealed, and bake it on a cookie sheet rather than in a pan, for a beautiful crust. Give it 45 minutes at 400° F, and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.


Look at that gorgeous crust!

As for the gravy, well, I probably had you at “French onion.” It’s simple enough to make, but it does call for a special ingredient in the Herbes de Provence, which is a blend of herbs well known in the south of France. If you don’t have or can’t find it, substitute a blend of thyme, rosemary, marjoram and lemon peel. It won’t be quite the same, but these flavors will help to highlight and complement the onions. Use sweet or yellow onions and your choice of chicken or vegetable broth.


Serve the meal by ladling a portion of gravy directly onto the plate, and top with thick slices of the brie and mushroom-stuffed meatloaf. This entree does not need mashed potatoes, but if you crave them, may I suggest my hubby’s fantastic Garlic Mashed? You won’t regret it. 🙂

Brie & Mushroom-stuffed Meatloaf

  • Servings: About 8 slices
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Don't let the fancy swirl pattern in these meatloaf slices intimidate you! With a little patience and a sheet of parchment paper, you can make this delicious turkey meatloaf that literally oozes with comfort!


Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dry herb stuffing mix (such as Pepperidge Farm), crushed into small crumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided (note directions for when to use)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, minced
  • 12 oz. carton cremini mushrooms, divided
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (93% lean)
  • 1/2 lb. ground turkey breast (99% lean)
  • 1 large egg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Small handful chopped, fresh parsley
  • 6 oz. brie (with mushrooms, if possible)

Directions

  1. Make a panade, combining the dry stuffing mix with milk. You should have just barely enough milk to cover the stuffing mix. Let this rest while you prepare the rest of the meatloaf mixture.
  2. Clean and trim all the mushrooms and divide them, chopping enough into small pieces to measure about 1/2 cup. Slice the remaining mushrooms into thin slices and set aside.
  3. Place a non-stick skillet over medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the minced onion until translucent. Season with Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté together until the mushrooms are soft and most of their moisture has evaporated. Cool this mixture and then process (or chop) into smaller bits.
  4. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and brown half of the sliced mushrooms until they are golden on both sides. Repeat with the remaining oil and mushrooms. Don’t be tempted to cook the mushrooms all at once, unless your pan is very large. If they are crowded in the pan, they will cook by steaming rather than browning, and you’ll lose the texture of the mushrooms. Transfer the browned mushroom slices into a bowl to cool.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey (both), egg, panade, mushroom-onion mixture and parsley. Toss in a generous pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Use your hands to evenly combine these ingredients until they are uniform, but try not to overwork the mixture.
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the meatloaf mixture onto the parchment, using oiled hands to pat it into a rectangle about 9 by 12 inches, and about 3/4-inch thick. Layer the browned mushrooms evenly over the surface, leaving a 1-inch border around all edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes to firm up. Use this time to preheat the oven to 400° F and to prepare the French onion gravy.
  7. Slice the brie cheese wedge into uniform thickness pieces, about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer all over the chilled meatloaf, keeping a 1-inch border along both sides, and at least 2 inches from the far, short end. This will help prevent the brie from melting out of the meatloaf during baking.
  8. Use the parchment paper to assist rolling the meatloaf, beginning with the short end near you. Bend the brie, if needed, so that it will roll easier. Keep the roll snug as you go, and pinch to seal all edges, finishing with the end seal on top of the roll. Sprinkle the surface of the meatloaf lightly with kosher salt and bake for 45 minutes, until the meatloaf is browned with a slight crust all over; internal temperature will be about 160° F. Remove it from the oven and allow it to rest about 10 minutes before slicing. The residual heat will continue to cook the meatloaf during this time.
  9. Serve with French Onion Pan Gravy.


French Onion Pan Gravy

  • Servings: 3 cups
  • Difficulty: average
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Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced into crescent shapes
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. Herbs de Provence seasoning
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. dry vermouth (or dry white wine)
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. bouillon paste (optional, for richer flavor)

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet or shallow sauce pot over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and saute the onion crescents until translucent. Season with Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper and continue cooking until onions begin to caramelize.
  2. Sprinkle flour over the onions and add the butter, stirring to melt the butter and evenly coat the onions in roux. Cook until the onions no longer appear dry from the flour, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add dry vermouth to the skillet and stir to deglaze any browned bits. The liquid will probably dissipate rather quickly. Add broth, about half at a time, stirring to distribute evenly. When sauce begins to bubble and thicken, reduce heat to low and cover the skillet. Let it simmer while meatloaf is in the oven.
  4. Just before serving, taste and adjust seasonings. For additional richness, swirl in a heaping teaspoon of bouillon paste.
  5. Plate a ladle-ful of gravy, and top it with slices of the brie and mushroom-stuffed meatloaf.



Late Summer Succotash with Chicken & Waffles

Something about the change of seasons makes me happy, and this is especially true when we can see Labor Day just up ahead. This time last year, my husband, Les, and I were gallivanting all over New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, visiting old friends, meeting new ones and satisfying our culinary curiosity with so many delicious foods. Our plans this year have kept us mostly at home, and so the transition to fall doesn’t feel nearly as dramatic, but we have at least fulfilled the delicious food requirement. The big food news of our week occurred when we celebrated my hubby’s birthday with a fantastic veal and eggplant Parmesan dish, which he will be proud to share on Comfort du Jour soon (it will be an excellent way to re-welcome the Sunday Supper category).

Yes, the countdown to autumn has begun, and I’ll be at the front of the line to greet it. For now, I’d like to share this colorful, late-summer dish that I whipped up last month, just before our garden tomatoes started coming in. It’s a “healthy-ish” play on chicken and waffles, and a great way to hang onto the lingering days of summer as we prepare to roll out the welcome mat for the glorious comfort foods of autumn.


It may seem that “chicken and waffles” could not qualify as healthy-ish, but I did lighten this up in a number of ways. First, I used skinless chicken tenders (rather than skin-on, bone-in pieces), which were drenched in flavor after a two-hour bath in buttermilk, seasoned with plenty of hot sauce and a bit of Bell’s poultry seasoning. Never miss an opportunity to add flavor—that’s one of my key approaches to cooking. Rather than deep frying the tenders, I dipped them in seasoned flour and crisped them up lightly in a cast-iron skillet. And with a high volume of vegetables in the succotash, each serving only included two of the fried tenders. Portion control is one of the simplest ways to reduce calorie intake. 🙂


The waffles for this dish were on the healthy side of things, too, and based on a sourdough pancake recipe from my favorite baking site, King Arthur Baking Company.

I followed the King Arthur recipe as written, except that I halved it, swapped in white whole wheat flour with a little cornmeal, and bumped up the oil just enough to prevent them from sticking to the waffle iron. The scallions and leftover grilled corn folded into the batter made the waffles extra hearty, and sourdough can’t be beat for this application because of the amazing crispy texture it puts on the waffle exterior. If you aren’t riding the sourdough train, there’s no reason in the world you couldn’t substitute another waffle recipe you like and add the corn and scallions to it.


The succotash (technically this isn’t one because it doesn’t have beans) has everything that I love—zucchini (still plenty of it at the farmers’ market), grilled corn, leeks, ripe baby tomatoes, pickled onions and half of a tiny jar of pimentos we had in the fridge. I used one of my favorite prep-ahead techniques for this meal, which is layering the cut-up ingredients in reverse order in a single prep bowl that I can tuck into the fridge until I’m ready to start cooking.


This recipe gave me a first chance to use the new non-stick skillets we bought this summer; Les and I had looked high and low for replacements that didn’t feel chintzy and weren’t made in some factory overseas. Les learned via online research that the only pair of American-made non-stick skillets were a specific set of Calphalon pans that were sold by Williams-Sonoma (most of Calphalon’s products are made in China, but this set is made in Ohio). They are available online if you don’t have a store near you.

The non-stick coating is great, and I love the sturdiness of our new pans, but for me the real test of a new skillet is “how easily can I flip my ingredients?” Sometimes when I have a lot going on at once, I don’t want to take time to pick up a utensil so I’ll employ the flipping technique I learned during my catering days. It worked fine, though the pan was a bit heavy, so I’m counting it as upper-body exercise (and I only lost a few pieces of onion to the floor).


Having one prep bowl filled with vegetables makes cooking a snap, as I simply empty them into the skillet as I need them, and there’s no jumbling around in the fridge to find what I need or washing extra prep dishes. When the zucchini started to become tender, I moved deeper into the bowl for the other ingredients until I had everything in the pan.


All three components of this dish—the waffles, the chicken and the succotash—happen simultaneously, but you could certainly make the succotash ahead and simply rewarm it when you’re ready to serve. Keep the waffles warm on your oven’s low setting if needed, and aim to make the chicken the last thing you prepare. Remember to season it with a light touch of salt from the skillet!

Pile it onto a plate, with the succotash underneath and over top of the crispy waffles, and the chicken tenders leaned against it. Finish the dish with a scattering of fresh chopped basil leaves, and dinner is served!

Not only does this presentation look beautiful, it serves the purpose of keeping everything warm until you make it to the last delicious bite!


Late Summer Succotash with Chicken & Waffles

  • Servings: About 3
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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This meal takes some time to prepare, but the combination of sauteed summer ingredients and lightened-up chicken & waffles is well worth the effort! Prepare the three components of this dish at your own pace; if time is limited, the succotash can be made ahead and warmed at serving time. If you plan to make everything concurrently, consider setting the oven to warm and tuck away the waffles or chicken tenders on a rack placed over a baking sheet.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken tenders, patted dry
  • 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
  • Up to 1 Tbsp. bottled hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup neutral oil (for skillet frying]
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. medium-grind corn meal
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk, hot sauce, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. Add chicken tenders to the bowl, tossing to coat. Allow this to rest at room temperature at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to a few hours if working ahead. Take them from the fridge 30 minutes before pan-frying them.
  2. In a small bowl, combine flour, corn meal and garlic powder, plus a few shakes each salt and pepper. Set this aside for breading the chicken tenders.
  3. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, with 1/2-inch oil.
  4. When oil is hot, remove tenders from buttermilk mixture, allowing all liquid to run off. Dip the tenders into the breading mixture; coat evenly without dredging too heavily. Carefully place each tender into the hot oil, taking care to not crowd the pan too quickly, as this will drop the temperature of the oil and result in greasy chicken. Turn tenders when the first side is golden brown; transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate when done. Season immediately with a light sprinkle of salt.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup fed sourdough starter
  • 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3 Tbsp. medium-grind cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup leftover grilled corn kernels
  • 3 chopped green onions (scallions), white and green parts

Directions

  1. In a medium batter bowl, combine sourdough starter and buttermilk. Add flour and cornmeal. Stir until smooth; cover and leave at room temperature at least 30 minutes, up to about 2 hours.
  2. In a small bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. Set waffle iron to medium heat. While it preheats, add egg, oil, soda and salt to the sourdough batter. Stir until smooth. Fold in corn and scallions.
  4. Brush waffle iron with oil. Add a scoop of batter and bake until crispy, following manufacturer’s instructions. As a visual cue, watch for steam to dissipate from the iron. Generally, if the waffles are sticking, they aren’t finished baking. If working ahead, place finished waffles on a rack over a cookie sheet and keep them in a warm (250° F) oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped into chunks
  • 1 small leek or onion, chopped
  • 1 cup leftover grilled corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup pickled onions, chopped (I like the “pickled” flavor here; substitute anything pickled, such as okra, green beans, cucumber)
  • 2 Tbsp. jarred pimento, drained
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup ripe baby tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh basil or parsley, to garnish

Directions

  1. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium flame. Add olive oil and saute zucchini with leeks or onions until slightly tender.
  2. Add remaining vegetables, except tomatoes, and toss until evenly combined. Reduce heat to low and cover skillet with a lid so that the pan ingredients can heat through without much more cooking.
  3. Add tomatoes at the end, tossing just to combine.

To assemble the dish, spoon out some of the succotash, and then place a waffle section, topped with additional succotash. Arrange the chicken tenders by leaning them up against the waffles. Sprinkle with chopped, fresh basil or parsley.



Ratatouille Shakshuka

How is it possible that the simplest combination of ripe-at-the-same-time ingredients turns out to be such a mouthwatering flavor explosion, no matter how you put it together?

Any way you plate it, this is a great combo!

I never get tired of rearranging ratatouille—eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, onions and tomatoes—and this time, I married the classic Provencal stew with a classic Jewish breakfast dish, shakshuka.

The first time I heard of shakshuka was during a pre-wedding meeting with Rabbi Mark, who formerly led Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, where my then-fiancé, Les, is a member. When our ceremony-planning conversation took a detour toward food and cooking (as literally every conversation with me eventually does), Mark asked if I’d ever made shakshuka, the Middle Eastern dish that is a breakfast staple in many Jewish households. I was stumped because I had never even heard of this dish, let alone made it. But that changed quickly, and it has become an occasional favorite at our house.

Shakshuka is a humble and hearty, tomato-based skillet meal, and a great way to use up whatever other vegetables you have on hand, with eggs simmered right into the sauce. It is very similar to a dish the Italians call “eggs in purgatory.” I especially appreciate how simple it is to pull together when I have had a busy week with little time to plan a menu. Up until now, I have made it only with the spicy flavors that are traditional to the northern African region, where shakshuka originated—cumin, paprika, hot pepper, garlic and oregano.

But this time, I took the concept of shakshuka northward across the Mediterranean Sea, into the south of France, using Herbs de Provence alongside all the beloved vegetables of ratatouille. The result, as you can see, was awesome!

Served with a light sprinkle of Parm-Romano blend cheese at the table.

There was so much nourishing comfort in the stewed vegetables, which simmered long enough to become soft and melded, and the delicate herbs were just right. I’m already craving it again!

As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients chopped and ready before you begin. For any stew, I like to cut up the vegetables into roughly similar size. This ensures more even cooking, and also makes it possible to get a little bit of everything in each delicious bite. I used a large zucchini, a large “millionaire” eggplant (the slender, Japanese variety), half of a large onion, half of a huge red bell pepper and three fresh, red tomatoes from my garden. In addition to the fresh ingredients, you’ll need a 15 oz. can of tomato sauce, a splash of dry white wine (I used dry French vermouth), a pinch or two of Herbs de Provence, and up to six eggs.

We’re going to need a bigger pot!

That’s a lot of veggies! I made this version of shakshuka in a larger pot than usual because I knew that tossing all of these fresh vegetables in my go-to cast iron would be a serious challenge, and I wanted to avoid making a big mess. The ratatouille also needs to be stirred as it cooks, so be sure your cooking vessel can handle the volume of ingredients as well as the mixing requirement. Choose a pot that has a snug-fitting lid, as this will be important for simmering.

The width of the pot is what matters, so you’ll have plenty of room to place the eggs.

Begin by heating the pan over medium flame. Add oil and start sautéing the vegetables. Eggplant soaks up oil fast so I held that back until the peppers, onions and zucchini had a chance to soften. Remember to season each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper, not only for flavor, but also because salt helps to draw excess moisture from the vegetables as they cook. During this stage, also add a few pinches of Herbs de Provence, a French blend that includes any combination of thyme, savory, rosemary, marjoram and lavender. These are delicate herbs, but they do pack a fragrant punch, so start with a small amount and inch up to taste.


When the vegetables are visibly softened, add the fresh garden tomatoes and give it a stir. Add the tomato sauce and dry white wine. If I have used a canned ingredient, I usually swish the wine around in the empty can to rinse out the last bit of flavor. Another quick pinch of salt and pepper, and then reduce the heat, cover the pan and allow it to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The vegetables will continue to soften, melding the flavors together, but the sauce should not reduce too much. While it simmers, take the eggs out of the fridge; they will set in the shakshuka better if they are closer to room temperature.


When the ratatouille stew has become very soft, crack each egg into a ramekin dish for easy transfer to the shakshuka. This may seem unnecessary, but trust me when I tell you that it is no fun at all trying to fish out itty-bitty pieces of egg shell that went astray into a big saucy mixture. If anything goes sideways with your cracked eggs, you want it to happen in the ramekin, not in your beautiful recipe!

Give the stew a gentle stir, and then use the back of a large serving spoon to create a slight depression for each egg to rest. This doesn’t have to be perfect, and you only need a spot about 3 inches across for each egg. I had room for six eggs in my large pot, but I only used four because I knew the extras would not warm up well without overcooking. Better to add fresh eggs when you heat up the leftovers.

Cook as many eggs as you plan to serve initially. Make more eggs when you reheat the leftovers.

Slip an egg into each depression and give the shakshuka one final pinch of salt and pepper before covering the pot. Keep the flame set on low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks still have a bit of jiggle to them.

I wish you could smell this! 😋

Scatter fresh, chopped herbs over the dish (I used fresh basil from the garden, but flat-leaf parsley would be nice, too), and serve immediately with a slice of crusty French bread. The best way to serve this dish is to use a wide, somewhat flat spoon to scoop underneath an egg, grabbing as much of the surrounding stew as possible at the same time. Sprinkle on a teaspoon or so of grated Parmesan for a big burst of umami flavor.


Ratatouille Shakshuka

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: average
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Choose a wide, covered pot for making your ratatouille, and prepare your workstation by chopping all vegetables before you begin.

Ingredients

  • 1 large zucchini, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 large (or 1 medium) red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large Japanese eggplant, chopped (or about 2 cups of alternate variety)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Up to 1 tsp. Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning, if preferred)
  • 3 small, fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 15 oz. can low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
  • 6 large eggs* (see recipe note below)
  • Fresh basil or Italian parsley, for garnish

Note: If you wish, cook only the number of eggs you intend to serve initially. When you use the leftovers, fresh eggs will yield a better result at that time.

Directions

  1. Heat large pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute vegetables, beginning with only zucchini, onion and bell pepper. When the first vegetables begin to soften, add the eggplant and saute until all veggies are tender. Season with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence.
  2. Add fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and dry wine, stirring to combine evenly. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove eggs from fridge during the simmer time.
  3. When vegetables are fulley softened, crack each egg into a ramekin cup for easy transfer into the pot. Use the back or a large serving spoon to make a depression for each egg. Slip the eggs into the depressions, season with salt and pepper and cover the pan.
  4. Cook over low heat about 8 minutes, until egg whites are set and yolks are still slightly jiggly. Serve immediately.


Summer Tomato Water Martini

The truth is, I have been fiddling with this martini since before my own garden-fresh tomatoes came to fruition. My first effort was accidental, right after my husband and I had returned from a vacation at the end of last summer. It was good, but kind of a one-off thing and I didn’t give it much thought. Months later, it popped up in my news feed—on Epicurious or Food 52 or, honestly, I don’t know where—and it sucked because it was February or March and I had to improvise because there were no garden fresh tomatoes available. So let me get this out of the way early: do not try this with grocery store tomatoes. Trust me on this.

Fast forward to mid-August, when fresh, homegrown tomatoes are available everywhere, from your own garden or the farmers’ market, and that makes a world of difference. The flavorful liquid that seeps out of those freshly sliced, vine-ripened tomatoes is absolutely begging to be part of a cocktail. If you love summer tomatoes and you are up for a fun martini experiment, this is for you!

I’ve made this cocktail with red heirloom variety tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, vodka and gin.
Try them all to find your favorite!

When the local growers started selling a few heirloom tomatoes at their market stands, I tried this idea again, and it was so much better. The red heirlooms are so juicy and sweet, and the success of this martini twist gave me even more reason to be excited about my own harvest of heirloom and yellow tomatoes. And here we are. 🙂

Regardless of the type of tomato you use, the unique sweetness and acidity will add an exceptional brightness to a martini. I have tried this with both gin and vodka, and a variety of spirit-to-vermouth ratios. It’s good many different ways, so my recommendation is to try it yourself to find the balance that is perfect for you. My personal favorite (at least this week) is made with top-shelf vodka, in a 4-to-1 ratio with dry vermouth, no bitters and at least 1 part seasoned “tomato water.” A full description with amounts is at the end of the post, in a click-to-print recipe card.

But for now, watch to learn:

Wash and slice a ripe, room-temperature tomato (or several, depending on what you need them for) and arrange the slices on a plate. Sprinkle with a fair amount of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper (don’t skip this!) and walk away for about 15 minutes. What you’ll find when you return is a plate full of beautifully seasoned tomato water underneath the slices. Use the tomatoes for whatever you wish—a tomato sandwich, perhaps—but don’t toss that tomato water! Carefully pour it off into a shot glass or small bowl, grab your martini fixins and chill down your glass with ice and water.


Measure your vodka (or gin) and vermouth into a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Add the tomato water to taste. I have discovered that you need at least a tablespoon to really savor the flavor it adds to the drink. If you see excess moisture on top of your tomato slices, drain that off into the mixing container as well. Add a generous cup of ice cubes and shake or stir to chill the cocktail.


Empty the ice water from your chilled glass, and immediately strain the martini into the glass. Garnish with a pickled cocktail onion or olive, and a small piece of tomato if you wish.

Cheers to summer!

Summer Tomato Water Martini

  • Servings: 1 cocktail
  • Difficulty: average
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This super-simple twist adds a bright, fresh, summery flair to an otherwise classic martini cocktail, and I have found myself slicing up tomatoes just so I can make another one.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe, garden fresh tomato (any variety, but heirloom is best)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz. good vodka (I have used Grey Goose and Ketel One with terrific results)
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth (my fave here is Dolin)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 oz. seasoned tomato water
  • 1 cup ice (for mixing)
  • Pickled cocktail onion, olive and/or piece of tomato (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Slice tomato and arrange the slices on a plate or shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper and let rest about 15 minutes. Chill martini glass with ice and cold water.
  2. Add vodka and vermouth to a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Transfer the tomato slices to another plate, or use them in a salad or sandwich. Drain the remaining tomato water into a small bowl or shot glass. Measure at least one tablespoon of it into the cocktail glass. Add ice and shake or stir until chilled.
  3. Empty ice water from the chilled glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish as desired.
  4. Repeat at least twice per week until all the tomatoes are gone.


S’mores Brownies

Ooey-gooey. It’s the only honest way to describe a s’more—with its melty, oozing richness of milk chocolate, warmed and softened by a fresh-from-the-campfire toasted marshmallow and squished between two delicately crispy, honey-sweetened graham crackers. It is a little dessert sandwich that says, “come on, be a kid again!” This beautifully sticky, utterly sweet nostalgic treat is fantastic on its own, but now I’ve just gone and made it even more sinful by baking it into a rich, dark, fudgy brownie.

Why in the world would I do such a thing, when I’m supposed to be watching my calories? One reason: National S’mores Day!

You probably think these are ridiculous, and you’re absolutely right!

What Goes Into S’mores Brownies?

There’s no campfire required to make these, and you don’t have to get carried away making them from scratch, either. My s’mores brownie recipe (like all my brownie riffs) is based on my favorite brownie box mix, and I am confident that it would work well with your favorite, too. All you need (besides whatever the brownie box says) is a sleeve of graham crackers, a little melted butter, a jar of marshmallow cream, two Hershey’s milk chocolate bars and a smidge of cream cheese.

The main ingredients are exactly what you’d expect. You’ll also need a little butter, a dab of cream cheese and whatever is required for making the brownie batter.

This would be a fun and tasty activity with the kids, the grandkids, the neighbor kids, the big kid you married or perhaps just the kid in you! There is playfulness in making them, and my hubby even joined the action during assembly—it’s funny how quick he is to lend a hand when dessert is involved, and he was definitely excited about these.

S’mores brownies are excellent when served in their just-cooled state after baking, but (as my husband discovered) they are also great cold from the fridge. My neighbor reports that they are awesome warmed up for a few seconds in the microwave—you know, bringing that melty gooiness back to life. We even tried them warmed with a small scoop of ice cream on top. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a bad way to enjoy a s’mores brownie.

The cold, creamy ice cream was a nice complement to the ultra-rich s’mores brownie.

How to Make S’mores Brownies

Did I mention that making them is easy? You’ll find an easy click-to-print recipe at the end of the post. It includes all the measurements and directions I used. But first, some eye candy!

I started with a graham cracker base—the same as I would make for a cheesecake or key lime pie. My graham crackers were packaged in “stacks,” which are basically just pre-halved graham squares for quick and easy s’more making. I used two stacks for the crumb base. Prepare your baking pan with a few swipes of cold butter along the bottom and sides to ensure easy removal of the ooey-gooey brownies, with all its sticky sweet fillings. Add graham crackers to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse several times to break them up into rough crumbs. Then add the melted butter and pulse again several times, until the mixture resembles coarse, wet sand. Transfer the crumbs into the buttered pan and press firmly onto the bottom, but not up the sides. Bake a few minutes to set the crumbs and then let it cool.


For the marshmallow layer, I used the same trick as in my S’mores Ice Cream last year—I used an electric mixer to combine the entire jar of marshmallow cream with a small amount of cream cheese. This knocks out the airy bubbles, making it more manageable for layering inside the brownies. Scoop this mixture into a zip top bag, seal it and set it aside.


Make the brownie batter according to package instructions. If you are obsessed with dark chocolate (ahem, like me), feel free to add a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder to the dry mix first. I planned to use Hershey milk chocolate in the layers (for its ooey-gooey properties), so the addition of cocoa is how I got my dark chocolate fix. Spoon roughly half of the brownie mixture as evenly as possible over the baked graham crust. Don’t try to spread it, as this will dislodge those beautiful crumbs. Just spoon it and let it ooze into place.


Next, snip a small corner off the bag holding the marshmallow cream and gently pipe it all over the first layer of brownie batter. I did my best to keep this layer from seeping to the edges, because marshmallow tends to turn hard and chewy if it cooks too much. My hubby jumped in to help at this point, as he had opened up the Hershey bars and broken them into individual pieces for layering onto the marshmallow cream. He may also have been doing a little quality control for me—a.k.a. taste testing the chocolate bars—and it was fun hearing him describe how he broke the bars into little pieces like that when he was a kid. You know, to make the chocolate bar last longer. 🙂

We arranged the chocolate with a little space in between so the marshmallow had plenty of room to ooze.


The rest of the brownie batter was layered on, and it was tricky to spoon it on evenly without creating a muddy swirl. Next time, I might use a zip top bag to pipe that on as well, but the swirls were not too pronounced. A few broken pieces of extra graham cracker, and our brownies were ready for the oven! My box mix suggested 45 to 50 minutes, and I gave it the full 50. My s’mores brownies were a bit on the “fudgy” side, and I think a few extra minutes in the oven would have been just fine.

Now, the hard part. Waiting for them to cool!

As much as I’d love to claim that the calories fell out when we cut them into squares (spoiler alert—they didn’t), I think I’ll just declare that I’m glad National S’mores Day only comes once a year!


S'mores Brownies

  • Servings: 9 or 16, depending on how you cut them
  • Difficulty: average
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There’s no campfire required to make these, and you don’t have to get carried away making them from scratch, either. My s’mores brownie recipe (like all my brownie riffs) is based on my favorite brownie box mix, and I am confident that it would work well with your favorite, too.

Ingredients

  • 1 box brownie mix, plus ingredients listed to make them (usually oil, water and egg)
  • 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa, optional for extra rich chocolate flavor
  • 1 sleeve honey graham crackers (or two “stacks,” if your package is like mine)
  • 3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted
  • 7 oz. jar marshmallow cream (or fluff)
  • 2 Tbsp. plain cream cheese
  • 2 full-size Hershey milk chocolate bars, broken into individual pieces
  • 1 or 2 additional graham crackers, broken into pieces for top of brownies

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F, or temperature recommended on the brownie mix. Place rack in center of oven. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. Break up a sleeve of graham crackers (or two stacks) into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break them into coarse crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse several more times, until mixture resembles wet sand.
  3. Transfer crumbs to buttered baking dish and press firmly onto the bottom but not up the sides. Use a small, flat-bottomed dish to make this easy. Bake graham crust for about 7 minutes, enough to set the crumbs. Cool to room temperature.
  4. In a small bowl, use an electric mixer or sturdy whisk to beat cream cheese and marshmallow fluff together. Spoon mixture into a quart size, zip top bag. Seal and set the bag aside for now.
  5. Make brownie batter according to package instructions. If using dark cocoa, add it to the dry ingredients before blending.
  6. Carefully spoon about half of the brownie batter onto the cooled graham crust. Do not spread the batter, as this will disturb the delicate crumbs.
  7. Snip a corner of the zip top bag and use it as a piping bag to distribute the marshmallow cream over the brownie batter. Try to keep the cream about an inch away from the side edges of the dish.
  8. Arrange the individual Hershey pieces all over the marshmallow cream. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just aim for uniform coverage with a bit of space in between each piece.
  9. Carefully spoon the remaining batter over the layers of marshmallow and chocolate pieces. I found this easiest by using small spoonfuls, beginning around the edges of the dish first, to keep the chocolate pieces from being pushed to the outside.
  10. Break up about two additional graham crackers (or four, if using the stacks); arrange them randomly over the top of the brownies.
  11. Bake for the full time recommended on the brownie package, until the top of brownies is done to its usual state. (If you’re using a favorite brand, you’ll know what they should look like on top)
  12. Cool to room temperature before cutting and serving.



PB&J Ice Cream

Of all the foods I loved as a kid, few were as simple and pleasing as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The combination of protein-rich, salty, sticky peanut butter and sweet, cool, fruity jelly (or jam) is so satisfying, and I still love it today. My personal favorite way to enjoy this kid-friendly classic is fried, exactly like a grilled cheese sandwich—this preparation seems to elevate a PB&J sandwich into something more suitable for, ahem, grownups. I guess I’m still trying to be one. And, as I learned last week, the flavor combo also translates nicely to summer’s favorite dessert.

The kid in you will go crazy for this ice cream!

When National Ice Cream Month rolled around this year, I already had a long list of flavor ideas to try, but some of them will have to wait because July is slipping away. This one, however, is too fun to let slide, and I’m even willing to make an exception to my “trying-to-eat-healthier” summer. After all, what could be more fun than PB&J ice cream???

It’s smooth and peanut butter-y, with little dots of fruity sweet jelly throughout. Mmmm!

The ice cream base is literally one of the simplest I have ever made. It is only four ingredients, including the fat-free version of sweetened condensed milk that I discovered when I made my Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream at the start of this month. This was such an exciting discovery, because the fat-free condensed milk still provides the texture that makes ice cream so addictive. The rest of the base is whole milk, a slight amount of light cream and a smooth, natural peanut butter.

Choose a smooth natural peanut butter, not one with a grainy texture.

For full disclosure, I confess that this is not my usual go-to style of peanut butter; I prefer the type that is nothing more than ground peanuts and sea salt—you know, the kind you have to stir and keep in the fridge—but most of those have a slight grittiness that would not play well in this smooth ice cream base. After much label perusing, I went with this Skippy brand “natural” peanut butter, which is smooth like the Jif of my childhood. It does not contain partially hydrogenated oils, but it does have some amount of palm oil, a somewhat lesser crime. It keeps the peanut butter mixed, silky and spreadable—exactly what I needed for this recipe. I also considered one of the peanut butter powders that have become widely available, but I’ll save that experiment for another day. Though it may not be my favorite peanut butter for sandwiches, we can always use it up by making a batch of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies!

My base has plenty of peanut butter flavor on its own, and with addition of a pinch of sea salt, the contrast of salty-to-sweet is exactly what I wanted. But then I went wild and added more peanut butter, in the form of a ribbon made of salted, crunchy peanut butter. I layered it with the frozen base, and after some time in the freezer, the ribbon has a texture that is almost like peanut butter chips. Finally, the “J” part of this PB&J ice cream—and for this, I brought my childhood favorite flavor of Welch’s grape together with my current-day favorite of French mixed berry preserves. Together, they were soooo good!

Past favorite, meet present favorite. This jelly is my JAM! 🙂

Mixing up this ice cream was so easy, and I’m honestly starting to wonder why I ever went through the trouble of making a custard base. Besides being crazy creamy and having fewer steps, this egg-free type of ice cream base is also ready for freezing in less than half the time as custard ice creams. Just whisk together the condensed milk and smooth peanut butter (I used my handheld mixer for this task), then add the milk and cream. I did not add vanilla because I wanted a pure peanut butter flavor. Chill it down in the fridge for an hour or two.


When you’re ready to churn, give the ice cream base a quick whisking to reincorporate any ingredients that may have settled. Pour the base into the ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. Measure out the chunky peanut butter and the preserves-jelly mixture into separate, small zip-top bags. This will make it easier to layer them in ribbons throughout the frozen base. Put both bags on standby in the fridge until the freezing is completed.


When the ice cream reaches the desired consistency, splash in a tablespoon of vodka (assuming only grownups will be eating it), to ensure a smooth scooping texture, straight from the freezer. Transfer the ice cream into an insulated freezer container and snip the corners of the peanut butter and jelly bags, making it easy to squeeze ribbons of PB&J into layers of peanut butter ice cream.


Don’t worry about swirling the ribbons—doing so will only make the ice cream look muddy. Just lay the ribbons down in a criss-cross kind of way, and trust that the swirls will happen on their own when you scoop out the finished ice cream.

Swirly and delicious.

And don’t worry if you have a little extra PB&J in the squeeze bags because—wait, what are you doing, Love?

I guess a recipe like this brings out the kid in everyone! 🙂

PB&J Ice Cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
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This ice cream is the very best of two childhood favorites, all swirled together in one easy, creamy bite!

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1 Tbsp. vodka (optional, mixed in at the end for improved texture)
  • 3 Tbsp. crunchy natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. each grape jelly and mixed berry preserves

Directions

  1. In a large pitcher bowl, whisk together condensed milk and smooth peanut butter until completely smooth. Stir in sea salt to boost the salty peanut flavor.
  2. Whisk or stir in milk and light cream. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or two, until fully chilled.
  3. Set up the ice cream maker and give the base mixture a quick whisking to re-blend any ingredients that have settled. Pour into the ice cream machine and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions. During the last minute of churning, blend in the vodka (unless serving kids or non-drinkers, of course).
  4. While the ice cream is churning, measure out the chunky peanut butter and the jelly combination into separate, small zip-top bags. Refrigerate until ready to layer.
  5. Transfer the frozen ice cream to an insulated freezer container, about one-third at a time. Snip a small corner off each swirl bag. After each partial layer, squeeze a ribbon of peanut butter, alternating with a ribbon of jelly/preserves.
  6. Finish the ice cream with a final layer of ice cream base. Cover and freeze several hours for best scooping texture.



Buffalo Chicken Salad

One of things I love about food blogging is participating in the “National Days” that are related to popular comfort foods. I’m not sure who is responsible for deciding what day is right for celebrating chocolate chip cookies or fried chicken or pepperoni pizza, but I know it’s fun! Here on Comfort du Jour, I have paid particular attention to National S’mores Day, and this year will be no exception (watch for that on August 10th).

This Friday is National Chicken Wing Day, proclaimed as such in 1977 by then-mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., Stan Makowski—and for this gal, who was born and raised just south of Buffalo, that’s a big deal! But I’m torn, because I have really been trying to dial it back on the heavy foods to get my health back on the right track. As much I love Buffalo wings (oh, how I do), I can’t justify deep frying tiny, skin-on chicken pieces, drenching them in sauce and then dragging them through bleu cheese dressing, just because it’s a “National Day.” Talk about a calorie explosion! I wanted to see if I could find a lighter way to enjoy the flavors associated with this “taste of home.” Here it is—Buffalo chicken salad.

This has all the flavors of Buffalo wings, without the deep-fried calories!

All the flavors are represented: tender chicken (obviously), spicy Buffalo wing sauce, bleu cheese, even celery—but at a fraction of the fat and calories of the usual preparation. The chicken here is lean, skinless breast meat, and you can make that part super easy by picking up a deli-roasted chicken (you can use the rest for another meal), or you can poach them at home with a few aromatics and some chicken or veggie broth, as I did:


The dressing that wraps around the chicken shreds carries all the other flavors, beginning with mayonnaise and sour cream—just enough to hold it all together—and ending with however much Franks RedHot sauce tickles your fancy. To give it a really good kick, add a few pinches of cayenne pepper or keep it colorful with less heat by adding a spoonful of sweet paprika. This recipe is totally flexible to match your heat tolerance.


This recipe made four generous servings of chicken salad. I served it on leaves of soft butter lettuce as dinner, alongside an impromptu slab of garlic toast; the latter was my husband’s genius creation made from leftover hot dog buns and a few sprinkles of our favorite parm-romano blend cheese. It was a great meal, both for the flavor and the satisfaction of throwing a low-calorie twist on a classic comfort food.


Buffalo Chicken Salad

  • Servings: about 4
  • Difficulty: average
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This is an easy way to enjoy the flavors of Buffalo wings, but without the high fat and calories. Adjust the amount of Frank’s RedHot sauce to match your desire for heat.

Ingredients

  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 3 Tbsp. Frank’s RedHot sauce (give or take, depending on your heat preference)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup bleu cheese crumbles
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika, optional for color
  • A sprinkle of fresh, chopped parsley for garnish, if you’re feeling fancy

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, RedHot sauce, lemon juice, pepper and garlic powder. Whisk until evenly combined. Adjust hot sauce to taste.
  2. Add shredded chicken, onions and celery to the dressing bowl. Fold gently to combine ingredients. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings to taste.
  3. Fold in bleu cheese crumbles and sliced scallions, plus paprika if desired for extra color.
  4. Cover and refrigerate Buffalo chicken salad until ready to serve.

If you prefer, you can poach the chicken breasts yourself. Simply place them in a shallow pot with aromatics, such as celery, onion, fresh herbs and black peppercorns. Pour in enough chicken or vegetable broth to cover the chicken about halfway. Bring to a slight boil, then cover and simmer about 20-30 minutes until chicken is cooked through and tender.


When I got to the bottom of the bowl of Buffalo chicken salad, I lost my way a little bit on the whole “light and healthy” thing. I couldn’t resist putting an over-the-top spin on it. I know, but it sure was delicious, and still not as heavy as chicken wings! 🙂



My Favorite Vinaigrette Potato Salad

Is there a more ubiquitous summer side than potato salad? But just because it’s always there hardly means it’s the best thing on the table. One of my most cringe-worthy food memories of childhood was played out on repeat at summer gatherings with family, friends and neighbors, and seeing what happened to the potato salad—which, many times, was little more than sticky, cooked potatoes with some hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise. I know you’ve seen this, too, when it gets a little bit warm and separates into a greasy, gloppy mess with that thin filmy crust on the surface. Is it any wonder everyone passes over it in favor of potato chips? Nothing ruins a picnic faster than bland potato salad, slick with broken mayonnaise. Bleh.

It’s a shame to not give the versatile potato a greater chance to shine! If you are bored with potato salad or stuck in a rut with a recipe that gets left behind on the picnic table, maybe you just need a different approach—one that doesn’t depend on a heavy, mayonnaise-y coating to give it flavor because, honestly, mayo doesn’t have much flavor to begin with. Here’s something a little different and for me, it’s a winner every time.


This potato salad does not disappoint, and it could never be accused of being bland because it is doubly dressed—first, with a tangy, heart-healthy vinaigrette that soaks flavor all the way through the potatoes, and then with the slightest amount of mayonnaise-based dressing for a creamy, picnic-ready finish that isn’t greasy and doesn’t clump or break.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that potatoes are one of my very favorite foods, and I have shared a few fun twists on potato salad here on Comfort du Jour, but of all the versions I like to make, this one is my favorite (especially in summer), and for a few fun reasons.

Any kind of potato works

You can use starchy russets, baby reds or Yukon golds (my favorite, and my choice for this post). Peel the skins or keep ‘em—your call. The only thing to consider with the waxy style of potatoes is that they will absorb slightly less of the dressing, so you would want to proceed in stages to be sure it’s to your liking. But flavor-wise? Whatever you like is going to work.

This salad is adaptable

My main goal for any kind of salad is variety of texture, and you can adjust this one many ways by changing up the mix-ins. My go-to combination of mix-ins usually includes hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles, crunchy bits of celery or radish (or both), fresh onions and any kind of fresh herbs. But that leaves it open for interpretation—I could swap out the chopped pickles for chopped olives and skip the onions but add some minced bell pepper. Dill has a completely different flavor than basil or parsley, so that’s another layer of options you can customize to your liking. As long as your ingredients are not overly wet (like tomatoes), the options are nearly endless.


It is not drenched in mayonnaise

We go through a lot of mayo at our house (mostly for my husband’s beloved tuna sandwiches), but it is not my favorite ingredient for dressing potato or pasta salads. Mayonnaise, which is essentially an emulsion of egg yolks and oil, is just plain heavy. And if you add mayo to cooked potatoes, you might notice that it takes a lot of it to keep them coated so the potatoes don’t seem dry, especially if your potatoes lean more starchy than waxy. Too much mayo is never appealing and it definitely is not healthful. Almost all its calories are from fat, and though recent reports have debunked the idea that warm mayonnaise is solely responsible for post-picnic foodborne illnesses (the culprit is usually the meat or fish that is dressed in the mayo), there’s no disputing that it looks completely unappetizing.

It’s actually delicious!

Unlike the typical mayonnaise-only potato salads, this one is mostly flavored with a tasty vinaigrette-style dressing that you can customize to your own palate. You can use a fancy French vinaigrette, a balsamic vinaigrette, a zesty, Italian-style vinaigrette or even a store-bought vinaigrette. There are only two types that I would not recommend, and for different reasons. An entirely fat-free vinaigrette is not ideal, because the extreme water content will turn your cooked potatoes soggy. The dressing should have some amount of oil in it, and you can choose one with heart-healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. I also would not recommend a sweet, fruit-flavored vinaigrette, such as raspberry. It would be tough to choose mix-ins that would work with those flavors. It’s best to stick with a savory one.


The vinaigrette is added to the cooked potatoes while they are hot—immediately from the pot after draining is best—and it only takes a few minutes for it to be absorbed. After the potatoes cool, you simply add your favorite mix-ins and a very small amount of mayonnaise, blended with equal amount of sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and a touch of Dijon mustard for extra flavor. I like to add celery seed as well, but this is optional.


Our little secret…

Here’s one more nugget about this potato salad, and it is good news for anyone who can’t have (or doesn’t want) mayonnaise. This salad technically does not need mayo at all! The vinaigrette soaks so much flavor into the hot potatoes that you could skip the mayonnaise altogether and send it straight to the fridge for serving, just as it is—almost like a German potato salad, but chilled and delicious for summer!


My Favorite Vinaigrette Potato Salad

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
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What I love about this potato salad is that it is double-dressed. First, it’s flavored with vinaigrette, from the inside-out, while the potatoes are still steaming hot. The vinaigrette absorbs into the chunks for great flavor in every forkful. Then, when it’s cool, add your favorite salad mix-ins (aim for variety of textures) and a creamy dressing that has very little mayonnaise for such a large batch of salad. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup prepared vinaigrette dressing (see below for my favorite blend)
  • 1 1/2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, cleaned and cut-up (peeled or skin-on)
  • 1/2 cup each finely chopped onions and celery
  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (reduced-fat versions are fine)
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • favorite mix-ins (I like hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles or capers, radish slices, minced fresh herbs; avoid high-moisture ingredients such as fresh cucumbers)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Prep and simmer potatoes until they can easily be pierced with a knife tip, about 25 minutes.
  2. Add finely chopped onions and celery to a bowl large enough to mix the potato salad. When potatoes are tender, drain them and immediately add them to the bowl. Fold with a spatula to distribute the onions and celery throughout. Season with a couple pinches of salt.
  3. Pour the vinaigrette over the hot potatoes. Gently fold with a spatula to mix the vinaigrette evenly with the potatoes. It will take a few minutes for the vinaigrette to be absorbed. Allow them to cool at room temperature. If you wish, you can refrigerate the potatoes before adding the creamy dressing.
  4. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon, celery seed, salt and pepper. Add your favorite salad mix-ins to the vinaigrette-drenched potatoes. Pour dressing over the bowl contents and fold gently to combine and coat the potatoes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Refrigerate the potato salad until completely cold. Serve alongside your favorite summer cookout fare.

Any savory vinaigrette dressing is suitable for this potato salad, but I do not recommend using an “oil-free” version. The excess moisture may make the potatoes too mushy. Here’s my easy, go-to vinaigrette dressing recipe, but between you and me, at least half the time I make this salad, I use Good Seasons Italian. 🙂

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • A few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or another heart-healthy oil, such as avocado)

Directions

  1. Combine vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon, seasoning, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl or glass measuring cup.
  2. Gradually drizzle olive oil into the mixture while whisking vigorously. The Dijon mustard will help emulsify the mixture.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

Ah, fresh lemonade. Is there anything more refreshing on a scorching hot summer day? If you have never made homemade lemonade, I promise you that it’s very simple and totally worth the effort. All you need is a simple syrup (which is literally only a warmed mixture of water and sugar), a tiny pinch of salt (which is basically an exclamation point on the other flavors) and a whole bunch of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

And if you want to elevate homemade lemonade with other flavors, it’s a simple twist of ingredients. For my strawberry-rhubarb version, I made two simple syrups, one infused with the bright citrus flavor of organic lemon peel, and the other with two stalks of cut up rhubarb. Then, I pureed fresh organic strawberries with water, strained out the seeds and combined the whole thing in a pitcher with the juice of six lemons.

This recipe makes a delicious base. Mix it in equal parts with still or sparkling water for the ultimate refresher!

The result is this beautifully hued summer beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. The formula is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it would make a great cocktail if shaken with ice and a shot of vodka or blanco tequila. My husband even suggested we blend it with crushed ice for an even more refreshing summer cooler—a slushie.

Here’s how it came together, and I’ll admit that it could have been easier if I had made only one simple syrup rather than two, but there’s a reason it happened that way. I’ll explain in a moment.





Bring the heat, summer!

So, why two syrups for this recipe? It wasn’t necessary, and next time, I’d make them together in one batch. Truthfully, I made my rhubarb syrup first, and it was intended for some other recipes, but a story in my news feed last week caught my eye and I took a detour toward this pretty, pink lemonade. The story was about the upcoming “Strawberry Moon,” the full moon tomorrow night that has the distinction of also being a supermoon.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Big Moon Summer

Supermoon occurs when the moon is full at the same time it is closet to Earth in its orbit. Nothing is different about the moon itself, of course, but the combination of its full phase and proximity to our planet give it the appearance of being larger and brighter than a typical full moon.  

I am fascinated by the moon, which has tremendous influence over all life—from the ocean tides and reproductive cycles of animals to its effects on the human body and even (or, perhaps, especially) our emotions. Nobody understood these things more than the Native Americans, who are responsible for the names given to the full moons each month. They named the moons based on what was in season, or what was happening in nature at the time of each full moon cycle. Various tribes held this moon-naming practice, but the names that are still used today are mostly attributed to the Algonquin tribe, which made its home in the stretch from New England to the Great Lakes.

Strawberry Moon is the first of three supermoons this year. Next will be July’s Buck Moon (named for the time when male deers’ antlers will be in full growth mode, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac). And some sources say that August’s full moon also qualifies for supermoon status. That will be the Sturgeon moon, so named for the abundance of sturgeon fish that historically filled the Great Lakes during late summer. That’s three consecutive supermoons, and I think that’s a natural phenomenon worth celebrating.

Want to see the Strawberry Supermoon? This site will help you find the best time for viewing in your area—Moonrise and Moonset Calculator (timeanddate.com)—but if you don’t want to try to interpret the scientific chart for an exact time, just pour yourself a tall glass of strawberry rhubarb lemonade and head outside for a sky check any time after sunset on Tuesday.

Cheers!


Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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I’ve combined juicy strawberries, spring rhubarb and fresh lemon juice, making a beautifully hued beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. This is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I can’t wait to try it as a cocktail, shaken with a shot of vodka or blanco tequila.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 2 or 3 stalks rhubarb, chopped
  • Strips of lemon peel from two organic lemons
  • Juice of 6 lemons (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • About 1 cup fresh organic strawberries, trimmed and hulled
  • 1 cup water (for pureeing the strawberries)

Directions

  1. Combine filtered water and cane sugar in a large saucepot. Add rhubarb pieces and strips of lemon peel. Heat over medium heat until water comes to a gentle boil, then turn off heat. Stir until sugar fully dissolves. Stir in salt. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.
  2. Add strawberries and 1 cup water in the pitcher of a blender or bowl of a food processor. Puree until no visible bits of berry remain. Strain through a mesh strainer over a large pitcher or bowl.
  3. Add simple syrup and lemon juice to strawberry puree. Stir to blend. Chill overnight.
  4. To serve, combine equal parts lemonade base and cold (or sparkling) water and pour over ice.



Creamy, Crunchy Dijon Cole Slaw

My intention for this post and recipe was to introduce you to my new food processor; I’m excited about my choice of machines and still learning how to use some of the features that are new to me. But I’ll save that for another day, because what this post is really about is a new trick I’ve learned in the kitchen—one that has very little to do with my food processor and everything to do with trying something new with an old tried-and-true: cole slaw.

There are so many ways one can make cole slaw, and it’s usually the dressing that makes each version special, whether it’s sweet and creamy like a KFC-style slaw or refined and elegant with a lime and poppy seed vinaigrette. I shared those when Comfort du Jour was brand new, and they are delicious, just like the tangy apple cole slaw from last summer.

This time, I’ve changed the dressing again (and I think you’ll love its delicate Dijon flavor), but I’ve also dabbled in a new technique that I read about from one of my newest kitchen idols, J. Kenji López-Alt. I love the way this guy approaches food, always with a “what if” attitude, and after his exhaustive experiments in what he calls “The Food Lab,” Kenji is great about sharing his culinary discoveries with home cooks like you and me. You will find a ton of his recipes on the Serious Eats website, but also on his own YouTube channel, which a basically a rabbit hole of exciting kitchen experiments.

His method for making cole slaw produces a perfectly textured salad that is soft, yet pleasantly crunchy. It has all the right flavor but doesn’t get soggy in the bowl. That has always been the bummer, hasn’t it—to load up your plate with all your summer favorites, only to have everything turn milky and soggy because the cole slaw dressing runs everywhere? Well, friends, Kenji has fixed that! And this game changer is so darn simple. Rather than just adding dressing to freshly shredded cabbage and carrots, there’s an intermediate step of extracting most of the moisture from the vegetables first. Under Kenji’s guidance, I tossed the cabbage and carrots with a very generous scoop each of kosher salt and cane sugar, then rinsed it under cold water (which seemed counterproductive with the intention of removing excess water, but stay with me), and then I dried it before proceeding with the dressing. The results were outstanding, and the fine strands of cabbage held exactly enough dressing for flavor, but not so much to drown it.

The extraction of extra moisture results in a cole slaw that feels almost like sauerkraut, with a squeezed-dry texture, but with all the familiar crunch and flavor you expect.

The dressing is a departure from other cole slaw recipes I’ve made, as it has only a slight hint of sugar (a lovely balance to the apple cider vinegar in the recipe). Dijon mustard lends a little sass to the creamy mayo, and I mixed in a dash of celery seed along with drained, finely shredded sweet onion and about two dozen twists of freshly cracked black pepper. Here’s how it goes, beginning with about 8 cups of shredded cabbage and carrots in a very large bowl:


At the point that I noticed all that liquid resting in the bowl after the salt-and-sugar bath, it occurred to me that Kenji’s technique for cole slaw is basically the same one I use for making homemade giardiniera, and the outcome is similar, too—crunchy and firm, despite being soaked in a pickling liquid.

My inspiration for both the technique and dressing on this cole slaw comes directly from Kenji, and if you want to get geeked about the science behind it (as I already have), you may do so by linking to this article:

How To Make the Best Creamy Coleslaw | The Food Lab

Otherwise, just get straight to making it. 🙂


Creamy, Crunchy Dijon Cole Slaw

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

If you’ve never had cole slaw that didn’t water down your entire plate, then this recipe is for you! The intermediate step of “purging” the moisture from the shredded cabbage is changing the game on this favorite summer salad.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups total, shredded green and red cabbage (fresh is best)
  • 3 average sized carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt (for purging)
  • 1/3 cup cane sugar (for purging)

Ingredients

  • scant 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. prepared Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium yellow or sweet onion, finely shredded and drained


To make this cole slaw, you will need a large colander for draining the cabbage, and a salad spinner or clean, unscented towels for eliminating the excess moisture.

Directions

  1. Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl, with extra room for tossing. Pour the kosher salt and cane sugar all over the shreds and toss with salad forks or your clean hands to distribute throughout the cabbage mixture. Allow it to rest at least 5 minutes, or up to 15 minutes. The salt-sugar blend will coax the excess moisture from the cabbage.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a colander placed in the sink. You should notice a significant volume of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Rinse the mixture really well under cold, running water. Toss it thoroughly as you rinse, and continue for about two minutes to get all the excess salt removed. Taste a piece or two. If they are too salty, rinse another couple of minutes.
  3. To dry the cabbage, use a salad spinner (in batches) or line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel or layers of paper towels. Place the cabbage on the towels, cover with another towel (or more layers of paper towels) and press heartily to soak up the moisture. I used kitchen towels and gently rolled up the cabbage to squeeze out the excess water. Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl for dressing.
  4. Combine the dressing ingredients, stirring in the drained, shredded onion after mixing. Pour over the cabbage blend and toss to coat.


Have a safe Memorial Day weekend! And if you’re wondering what happened to my tie-dyed towels, never fear: