Tzatziki Sauce

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This. is. the jam! Well, sauce. Technically it’s a sauce. Quite frankly, I think it should be the new ketchup. Sorry ketchup, I’m seeing other condiments. Tzatziki Sauce is perfect over this Yogurt Marinated Chicken. It’s also awesome served on a platter as a dip with fresh vegetables and fruit; sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, pita triangles. If making the grilled chicken kebabs, go ahead and add pita sliced in half, kalamata olives, sliced red onion, loose romaine hearts, pepperoncini peppers and even diced feta.

I tell my guests they can make a plate with whatever they like, a salad or sandwich. People go wild for variety! Try it over baked potatoes, too.

I do a couple of things differently to make it my own: 1.) Adding peel of the ridiculously easy to make preserved lemons for their pungent brightness. 2.) Using Persian cucumbers instead of the more commonly used English (hot house) because they tend to have less liquid, seeds, and are wonderfully fresh and crisp. However, traditional Tzatziki is delicious as is. This just kicks it up a bit.

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Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Greek whole milk yogurt (I swear by Cabot 10% Greek yogurt; It’s very thick and creamy. No need to strain)
1 English cucumber, or 3-4 small Persian cucumbers peeled, cut in half, seeded, finely grated (I prefer to use only the latter because they contain less water)
2 cloves garlic, smashed, pref. with mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I use preserved lemon rind and the juice in addition to fresh for big boost of flavor)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste. You might not need salt.

Peel cucumber. Cut in half and remove seeds. Grate cucumber using box grater. Add grated cucumber to strainer or colander and place over bowl. Sprinkle cucumber with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and toss throughout. After about 30 minutes (or up to several hours), use hands to squeeze excess water from cucumber.

In medium bowl add all ingredients and whisk together. Allow to sit in refrigerator for at least two hours before using. Drizzle with additional olive oil before serving.

Goes great with Yogurt Marinated Chicken

Yogurt Marinated Chicken Kebabs

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My favorite thing to serve to guests. Hands-down. I love how easily this meal multiplies. That I can do most of the prep work in advance. And watching people devour it. Which is one of the things you hope to accomplish when planning a meal like this: Utter delight. It hits all the right notes; Warm and creamy, and bright and exciting…Super flavorful. I could wax poetic, but I’d rather just get on with it already. It’s rude to talk with your mouth full, and I’m hungry!

This is the first of a several-part post. I’m starting with these absolutely delicious yogurt marinated chicken kebabs because they will need to marinate for several hours or overnight for full potential.

Serve with this awesome Tzatziki Sauce

Yogurt Marinated Chicken

1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons Hungarian (sweet) paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 Tablespoon Red wine vinegar

6 cloves Garlic, peeled, smashed; coarsely chopped

1 Tablespoon grated Fresh Ginger

Zest from one lemon

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon

1-3/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2-1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, or breasts, or a mix of each, trimmed of any excess fat and cut into just over 1-inch cubes

Vegetable oil, for greasing the grill

Add all of the ingredients, except chicken, to medium bowl and stir to fully combine. Add in chicken and coat pieces entirely. Cover and transfer to refrigerator.

Instruction:

Preheat Outdoor Grill to Medium-High Heat, or Oven with Cast Iron Grill Pan inside to 450 degrees F.

Thread chicken on to skewers (metal for outdoors) by pushing center of each piece of chicken down skewer. Divide chicken equally among skewers, making sure each piece is touching, but being careful not to crowd them too closely together. I generally put about 6 pieces on to each skewer. Depending on the length of your skewer, you may fit 8.

Use crumbled paper towel lightly dipped in oil to brush over grates of an outdoor grill. Use brush dipped in oil to lightly oil Indoor Grill Pan.

Place skewers on to grill. Grill chicken for approximately 10-12 minutes, turning chicken skewers (use tongs or wear gloves) two or three times to brown each side; Until chicken is cooked through.

*Note: This chicken can be grilled out or indoors. I soaked the ends of wooden skewers (since they would be exposed) and grilled mine in the oven on a cast iron indoor grill. Use metal skewers if you are grilling outdoors. Metal skewers can be used indoors as well.

*For guests and parties, I do this entire process a day ahead. After I’ve marinated and skewered the chicken, I place the skewers on a lined sheet pan, cover securely and place them back into the refrigerator until I’m ready to grill the next day.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

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I live in the last house on a one-sided dead-end street, adjacent to a cemetery. Every year, on the first morning the geese return to that cemetery in all their squawking glory, I know it has officially begun. No matter what the calendar says, fall has arrived. Without fail, and simultaneously, the air cools. The leaves turn. Early rising is met with a damp, church bell ringing, reach-for-your-thick-Pats-socks-and-sweaters reminder summer is over. It’s invigorating. It’s go-time!

Soon we’ll be in the throes of the holiday season. Here, that means baking. More than the usual amount of baking. I make homemade vanilla extract in double batches because I do not dare risk running out. For the vodka, I use the cheap stuff. If you happen to have a water filter pitcher at home, and the patience, you can pour the entire bottle of vodka into the machine–exactly as you would water–and let it filter.

You’d have to repeat this process about five times. See why you’d need patience? And you would want to use a filter that was nearing its end, and then only for the vodka. This process makes sense to me for homemade extracts and liqueurs because I use so much of it. Feel free to spend a little more on the “middle shelf” stuff.

When one bottle of extract is nearly through, I make another batch using the same bottle, leaving the beans from the previous batch in addition to the new beans–8 to 10 this time, for an even stronger vanilla extract. You’ll only do this once though, as all of the flavor from the first batch will be extracted. You can allow used beans to air dry and add them to a jar of vanilla for vanilla-scented sugar. Or grind up dried, used beans and mix the ground up beans into a jar of sugar for a more robust vanilla sugar.

Feel free to remove the beans entirely once the vanilla extract has fully steeped. I like to allow a full two months for an extract unlike anything you can buy. I wouldn’t short on potential here. You can pour the finished product into smaller bottles to give as gifts.

 

You can use any variety or mix of vanilla beans and quality you like. I used a mix of Bourbon Madagascar for its boldness, and what was left of my years’ old Tahitian beans for their slightly sweet and floral notes. Vanilla beans are expensive, but there are sources online where you can find them reasonably priced in bulk and fair trade. I would not recommend buying them from the grocery store.


Homemade Vanilla Extract

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10-12 Vanilla Beans
16 Ounces (2 cups) of Vodka
Bottle large enough to hold 2 cups vodka, plus a little extra room for volume of beans

Recipe can be reduced to half.


Use a sharp knife to carefully split vanilla bean pods down the middle. You can leave tops intact or split the bean entirely. Remove vanilla bean seeds from pods with knife. Add both seeds and pods to jar. Carefully fill with vodka. Store in cool, dark place. For the first two weeks, give your bottle a shake the one time you think of it a couple of times each week. Your extract will be ready to use as its height in about 8 weeks. Shake before each use so that your vanilla seeds dance around and distribute throughout the contents of bottle.
–Ree

Tomato + Mozzarella + Avocado Sandwich

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Of What Becomes

In the midst of these waning days of summer, this begins the two weeks of the year I feel most torn about. When those summer crops rebel against the changing winds, and reward a gardener’s harvest with last tomatoes, peaches, squash that require no peeling and slice like butter, berries, sugary corn
All the things only a warm sun and breezy, lusty air could grow so sweet, so delicate, so…pluck-from-the-garden and eat as-is perfect. Never does nourishing that which I crave; savor, feel more symbiotic a relationship between my sense of taste, the earth from where that bounty began, and every hand that watered, shaded, pruned, picked and provided for its growth. Better still when they were my very own.
But then again, I’m a New England girl through and through. I live for the magic of fall here. Look forward to warming soups with crusty bread. Being enveloped by deep, rich, heady flavors. When lingering salt-filled remnants find their way through the window beside me and take shelter in my olfactory. So it begins…nights, brisk in stark contrast to fleeting swelteringly hot days.
It happens ostensibly in an instant. The morning you wake up, and are taken with the sky ablaze in jewel-toned leaves. Trees whose branches dance, and battle with the vigor and smoky swell of swirling winds. Only to relent the inevitable and surrender.
Rubies, garnets, topaz rain down from the sky like a twisting kaleidoscope in slow motion; wistfully landing on a soil brimming with fertility. The air itself breathes differently. Unlike summer humming fire and flora upon your skin, fall is the point at which things are ceasing and creating in the same place, and at the same time. This occurrence radiates every atom of my being. It is not merely felt or endured.
It is inhaled. It becomes you.
Therein lies the tear…Every season has its toll. Both what one takes, and what remains as each is ushered out. The days, just like the leaves, are numbered before my favorite season for filling my plate are withered empty vines; Dead and taunting with yesterday. And my favorite season for life; To be alive; To live on fire– makes its debut.

Tomato + Fresh Mozzarella + Avocado Sandwich
Makes 2
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1 large heirloom tomato, or other flavorful variety
1 avocado
8 fresh basil leaves, not too large
4 slices fresh mozzarella, thick cut
4 slices sourdough bread, I used sourdough frencese
1 Tablespoon each, Balsamic vinegar and Olive Oil
Pink or Sea or Kosher Salt + Freshly Cracked Black Pepper (I used pink Himalayan salt)

Mix vinegar and oil in small bowl with 1/8 teaspoon of salt and pepper, set aside. I buttered then lightly toasted bread buttered side down in a 380 degree oven for 6 minutes. You could leave it unbuttered and toast bread in toaster. While your bread is toasting, mash avocado with a pinch of salt and pepper in bowl. Remove bread from oven and spread one piece per sandwich with mashed avocado. Add slices of mozzarella,  tomatoes, basil, then drizzle with balsamic and olive oil. Cover with top slice of bread and enjoy.
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I wish you the best of all the little Of What Remains of summer.
–Ree