One of the first things I wanted to do when we moved into our house was to make outdoor movie nights a summer tradition. Four years and two children later, we finally did it. And let me just say, a tradition has officially begun. Thanks to the Bay Area’s infamous Indian Summers, I’m relieved to know that we still have a couple months of beautiful weather to enjoy flicks in our backyard. The best part about our inaugural movie night was surprising Quincy and all of his friends upon coming home from school. The looks on their faces were priceless. After all, what’s better than getting to indulge in classic theater foods and snacks on a school night? In addition to the hot dogs and popcorn, I loved the idea of changing up dessert and serving Chobani Flips yogurt snacks – especially since they’re available in so many kid favorites, like Mint Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Dream and Chocolate Haze Craze. Easy and mess free, it was a no brainer. The set up involved layering a few outdoor rugs and pulling out nearly every cushion we own from inside the house. Comfort is key! All in all, it was a perfect night, and destined to be replicated time and time again.
Despite summer technically coming to an end, the temperatures here in the Bay Area are showing no signs of dropping (last night’s thunder storm aside). It’s no surprise, as Bay Area residents have long known that it isn’t “June Gloom” or “Fogust”, but rather September and October that are our nicest months of the year. This is why I chose to get married in early October (where it proceeded to be 100 degrees), and why I’ve resurrected my shaved ice machine, aka the Blue Beast, from the crawl space under the house.
For this week’s shaved ice recipe, I hearkened back to my boozy roots. I’ve always been fascinated with bananas foster – maybe it’s the pyro in me, or perhaps it’s all that rum that fascinates me. Honestly, it really is a wonderful flavor combination. Sure, it’s a bit dated, but when served drizzled atop a heaping mound of freshly shaved ice, and a couple scoops of coconut ice cream, this old school dessert is my new favorite way to beat those soaring temps!
My daughter Coco hates chocolate. What? Why? How? I’m still bemused by her aversion to my biggest weakness. Nevertheless, sweets have just never been her thing – that was until she demolished a healthy portion of a batch of homemade raspberry jam cookies. Is it weird that I actually let out a sigh of relief at that very moment? Finally, a sign that she is, in fact, my daughter! I kid. Anyway, here’s the backstory to today’s recipe. A few months ago, while filming some tutorials for HP‘s Smart app, I was flipping through a beautiful vintage cookbook that the prop stylist had brought on set. One of the many interesting recipes was one for Raspberry Jam Dream Cookies. I scanned and emailed the page to Karen and Todd, as a reminder to make them some day. We eventually tinkered with the recipe by using less sugar to make it less sweet and almond butter to cut down on time. They were a huge hit and at this rate, I might be sticking candles in these cookies for Coco’s second birthday early next year. Because did I forget to mention that she hates cake, too?!
Apologies for this generically Asian named recipe. What I really wanted to call this was bun cha, but I know there are some Vietnamese cuisine purists who will immediately inform me that this is not truly bun cha (which it really isn’t). Thus, I’m sticking with “noodle salad” which also sounds good right? If you don’t know what bun cha is, oh my, you are missing out!! It is hands down one of my favorite dishes, something I fell in love with when I was in Hanoi and could easily eat every single day. I truly mean that, but that also goes for a lot of Vietnamese dishes I suppose. It’s sort of like a deconstructed noodle dish: plates of rice noodles, grilled pork or pork meatballs and fried spring rolls are accompanied with a dipping sauce of fish sauce, lime and/or vinegar sugar, garlic and chili, pickled green papaya and a plate of fresh herbs like basil, mint and bean sprouts. You sort of gather all the ingredients together into a bowl of the dipping sauce and . . . eat! It’s got the hallmark Vietnamese flavors; sweet, sour, slight heat and SO fresh and I personally like to eat it with tons of greens, making my version almost a salad with noodles. I opted to go for grilled prawns since they marinate and cook so quickly, but you could easily sub in these lemongrass pork meatballs. Either way, you need to make this while we’re still in these hot summer months and you’re putting that grill to use!
I’ve never loved baking (rather, never been particularly good at it), so when a baking recipe works out for me, I consider it a huge success. After testing 3 damn pie crust recipes in one day, I finally was able to make a pie with a braided crust. Truth is, I’m very particular about pie. I’m not a big fan of lots of cooked fruit and the only kind of pie I really like is one that has an almost equal fruit to pie crust ratio. That’s why I was so drawn to a slab pie– it’s got the perfect amount of fruit! The thin pie is baked in a shallow baking sheet giving you, in my humble opinion, the best pie ratio! Originally I tried a butter-based crust that had never failed me in a regular pie, and is still a perfectly great pie crust. The base and lattice with a butter crust worked fine but when I started to braid the crust for the edges they would just break and fall apart. Lots of pie dough later, we finally decided to try a pie crust with shortening and it worked! I never use shortening so never have it on hand for a pie crust but I have to say this crust is fantastic. After you pull this pie from the oven, let it rest and get happy with the pie crust for a while. Serve this on its own or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream–this is the ultimate summer dessert!
I’ve never been one for salting fruit. I think my distaste dates back to my childhood, when my mom would soak apple slices in salt water to prevent them from oxidizing. That just ruined it for me. I never understood how a salted apple could possibly taste better than a brown apple looks. So, strawberries in a savory salad? Salt and chili on mango? Salted prunes? No, thanks. However, melon and prosciutto? I love! Somehow, that became the exception after I experienced it while on a trip to Italy years ago. The combination of cold and juicy melon with dry and salty cured ham is divine.
Perhaps I’ve romanticized it with fond memories of a summer spent in Tuscany. Regardless, it’s the perfect summer starter and with melons in season, I was inspired to build a spread that went beyond just your classic marriage of cantaloupe and prosciutto. For the ultimate melon and prosciutto platter, I’ve incorporated melons that range in an assortment of textures and sweetness, like watermelon, honeydew, Galia melon, cantaloupe, and Canary melon. Italian cured hams also come in a wide range of flavors. Prosciutto San Daniele is sweeter and more delicate compared to it’s more savory and mature counterpart, Prosciutto di Parma. For me, Speck is most intense in flavor, with its rich, smoky quality. Spanish Jamón Serrano is made from an entirely different breed of pig and cured for a longer time than prosciutto, which makes it drier and more salty. The fun is letting your guests experiment with the variety of potential combinations. Add burrata, mozzarella, basil, and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and honestly, you’ve got yourself a party!