Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

When summer heats up, the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven. So let’s not. There’s plenty of delicious food to make without ever going near the oven.

This avocado cilantro sauce is my new go-to dressing for everything. And when I say everything, I really mean everything. I use it to make pasta salad with fresh corn, peppers, onions and feta cheese. We use it as a marinade and then later drizzle it on grilled chicken and flank steak, I even used it as a dip for quesadillas for my kids.

The sauce is an easy salad dressing and a little extra olive oil thins it into a nice vinaigrette. Just load up a bowl with some rotisserie chicken, greens, veggies, a hard-boiled egg, sliced avocado and a hearty drizzle of this dressing and you have an awesome cobb salad. Bright and fresh with a touch of heat and acidity; this avocado cilantro sauce is exactly what you need to make it through the dog days of summer.

I typically make a big batch of sauce at the beginning of the week and store it in my fridge in an air-tight container for at least a couple of days. I use it as needed and try and always make sure to have the ingredients on hand to make more when I run out.

Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 1 small walla walla sweet onion

• 2 cups tightly packed cilantro leaves (about two bunches)

• 2 cloves garlic, peeled

• 1 jalapeno, seeded

• ½ cup olive oil

• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 1 avocado

• Juice of 2 limes

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

Give the onion, garlic and jalapeno a rough chop. In a food processor, combine the onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and avocado. Pulse the ingredients a few times so they begin to break down. Add the red wine vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper. Turn the food processor back on and while it runs, slowly pour the olive oil in until the ingredients are well-combined, and you get to your desired consistency. I like my sauce on the thinner side, so I use the full half cup of oil but if you like a thicker sauce you can use less.

I’ve tried to grow corn in my garden for years now but somehow every year the bugs win and I am left with a couple ears of sad half-eaten corn. This year, I threw in the towel, corn is four for a dollar at my favorite fruit stand and I’ve never once found a bug. Problem solved.

I needed an easy side dish to go with grilled burgers and this recipe for a riff on street corn ended up being a family favorite. If you don’t feel like grilling your corn on the barbecue, you can always boil the corn cobs in a big pot of salted water for a couple minutes.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 6 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned

• 2 tablespoons butter, melted

• Avocado cilantro sauce

• 2 tablespoons Cotija cheese, crumbled

• Cilantro leaves

• Salt and pepper

Lightly brush corn with melted butter. Over medium heat, grill corn on the barbecue until the corn is lightly charred on all sides. Remove from heat immediately.

On a tray lined with parchment paper, drizzle or generously brush corn with avocado cilantro sauce. Sprinkle the corn with cotija cheese, cilantro leaves and a dash of salt and pepper.

Whole Chicken on the Barbecue

One of my favorite things to do on a hot summer night is walk the perimeter of our property, along the orchard easement road next to the tall cool grass that grows along the fence. The faint smell of the fruit trees in the neighboring orchard floats by and usually our farm animals, suddenly interested to see if they are getting fed, amble towards me curious, following along on their side of the fence. When I walk past the corral and their feeding station, they lose interest, turning their attention back to the grass they were eating.

The wind rustles the Poplar trees and brings the shouts and laughter from my kids jumping on the trampoline. They are wild and loud and burning off what feels like a never-ending well of energy and endurance.

As I loop the pasture and head back towards the house, I turn west and look at Mt. Adams peeking out from behind the rolling desert hills. The sky tonight is streaked with pink and orange, lighting up the sky and casting its warm glow on everything I see.

I’ve called Yakima home for 13 years now. When I moved here in my early twenties, I had no idea this place would capture my attention the way it has. It is more than the town I live in or where my children were born or where we work. These desert hills, the pink sky, that glorious mountain has become the backdrop to my creative endeavors. This Valley inspires the flavors in my kitchen, the words that tumble out onto the screen, my steps planted firmly in the dirt.

This recipe for a whole roasted chicken, barbecued to a crispy golden brown, served hot off the grill, directly to hungry bellies waiting patiently at the patio table is my ode to summer nights. The recipe itself is simple, adapted from a wonderful cookbook called What’s Gaby Cooking. It’s the kind of easy summer dinner that you go to again and again. I recommend an ice cold hoppy Yakima Valley beer or a lovely glass of Yakima Valley rose (might I recommend Gilbert Cellars, it’s one of my favorites) to enjoy while you supervise the grill.

Here’s the only tip I have to offer for the actual barbecuing: low and slow is your friend. This recipe works particularly well if you have a charcoal barbecue or a Traegar grill. It’s certainly not impossible on a gas grill, but you’ll need to make sure the heat doesn’t go to high. You want to shoot for around 350 degrees.

A big salad with corn fresh off the cob, crunchy bell peppers and lots of fresh herbs to go with the chicken make for an excellent and easy dinner. A ripe cantaloupe and a pint of raspberries picked up at your local fruit stand finishes the meal.

For the BBQ Chicken

• 1 ½ tablespoons paprika

• 1 ½ tablespoons garlic powder

• 2 teaspoons kosher salt

• 1 teaspoon black pepper

• 2 whole chickens, giblets removed

• Cooking spray or vegetable oil for the grill

For the BBQ Chicken Baste

• 6 tablespoons butter, melted

• 1 teaspoon paprika

• 1 teaspoon garlic powder

• 1 teaspoon dried parsley

• Juice of 1 lemon

• ½ teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

In a small bowl, combine paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Put chickens on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use paper towels to pat the meat dry. Sprinkle the rub over the chickens, massaging the spices into the skin on both sides of the bird. Allow the birds to rest on the counter while the grill heats.

Preheat your grill to about 350 degrees or a medium-low heat. Lightly oil the grill rack. Place chickens directly on the grill over indirect heat, breast side up to start. Cover the grill and cook for 30 minutes. Flip the chicken over, and using a basting brush, liberally coat the chicken with butter mixture.

Cook for 15 more minutes with the grill covered. Flip the chicken again, baste again and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Continue to cook, flipping the birds and basting the meat with butter mixture every 15 minutes for a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes cooking time OR a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone, reads 165 degrees.

To serve, transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Carve the chicken and serve immediately. For an extra burst of flavor, serve with lemon wedges. Squeeze lemon juice over the chicken.

The Best Summer Salads

It’s hot this week. And I don’t know about you but when it gets hot like this, the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven or even the barbecue. I want meals to be simple and fresh. And as much as I would like to eat ice cream for every meal, I grudgingly accept that’s probably not the healthiest choice, even on the hottest days.

This week I’ve got three salads to share with you. These are my go-to summer salads. Chances are if you invite me to a barbecue at your house I’ll show up with one of these recipes. All three salads are light and delicious. They use the best of the produce that’s available locally right now and chances are, you probably have almost all the ingredients at your house right now.

The fresh corn salad is a crunchy, slightly sweet salad that just gets better and better the longer it sits. Use this recipe as a guide but make it your own. The watermelon feta salad is one of my favorites. I make a riff on this recipe probably once a week and even my kids have started eating it. I love to swap the fresh red onion for pickled red onions if I happen to have a batch in my refrigerator. And finally, the cucumber salad is one of my husband’s favorites. I keep a batch in the fridge for him and he snacks on it all week. It’s cold and refreshing and easy to throw together in just a couple minutes.

Fresh Corn Salad

• 6 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob

• 1 red pepper, diced

• ½ walla walla onion, diced

• ¼ cup fresh basil, minced

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• Salt and pepper to taste

Shuck the corn and using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cob. No need to cook the corn, if you buy it at the farm stand it’s so fresh and sweet, it doesn’t need to be cooked. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, stirring well. Leave on the counter or cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to intensify. This salad tastes best when made a few hours ahead of time. Cherry tomatoes are an easy swap for the red pepper and a sprinkle of feta cheese is delicious with this salad.

Watermelon Feta Salad

• 3 cups seedless watermelon, diced into bite size pieces

• 8 cups spring greens or arugula

• ½ cup crumbled feta

• ¼ red onion, sliced thinly

• 2 tablespoons fresh mint

• Juice and zest of two limes

• ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

• ½ cup olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl layer the watermelon, feta and red onion over the greens. In a separate bowl combine the lime juice, zest, vinegar and olive oil. Dress the salad, sprinkle with fresh mint and salt and pepper. Serve immediately. I’ve made this salad many many times and sometimes I add avocado and crumbled bacon as well. Adding fresh basil along with the mint and swapping the feta for goat cheese is lovely too.

Quick Cucumber Salad

• 2 english cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices

• ½ yellow bell pepper, diced

• ½ red onion, diced

• ½ cup rice wine vinegar

• 1-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

• Dash of red pepper flakes

• Salt and pepper

In a bowl toss the cucumbers, bell pepper and red onion together. Pour the vinegar over the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the toasted sesame oil and gently mix the vegetables with a spoon. The oil has a very strong flavor and can quickly overpower the dish. Consider adding the oil a teaspoon to get the flavor just right for your taste buds.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Summertime in Yakima is easily my favorite time of year; between weekly trips to the Farmers Market to outdoor concerts at Gilbert Cellar’s Hackett Ranch, hiking in White Pass under crystal blue skies and the many impromptu dinners with friends; summer is all of my favorite things: food, friends, sunshine, and fun.

My husband built a huge farm table for our back-patio years ago. These days it’s getting little rickety but nothing makes me happier than to see family and friends gathered around it. Summer just makes it all a bit sweeter, the days stretching out long, making it possible to linger around the table.

Flank steak marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and fresh herbs grilled on the barbecue to medium rare and sliced over a bed of crunchy greens is probably my favorite go-to summer dinner party meal. It’s easy and fast and doesn’t break the budget. Marinate the steak for a few hours or up to a full day before grilling it for the most flavor.

Inspired by my favorite salad at Cowiche Canyon Kitchen restaurant, I played around with a chimichurri dressing. Full of fresh parsley and oregano with a hint of heat from a splash of hot sauce, it makes the perfect steak sauce or salad dressing.

Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri

• 2-pound flank steak

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

• Juice of a lemon

• 1 tablespoon Worchester sauce

• 1 tablespoon kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

In a large baking dish combine all the ingredients except the flank steak, salt and pepper. Mix until combined and then place steak into mixture, turning several times to coat the entire piece of meat. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper making sure both sides are covered. Cover dish in foil and set aside for several hours or even overnight. The longer the meat marinates, the better it will taste.

Heat the barbecue to medium heat and grill each side for about 8 minutes or until desired doneness. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly to serve.

Chimichurri Dressing

• 1 large bunch flat leaf Italian parsley

• 2 tablespoons fresh oregano

• 3 garlic cloves, peeled

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ¼ cup red wine vinegar

• 1 teaspoon hot sauce

• Juice of one lemon

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the ingredients together until smooth. Taste and salt and pepper if necessary. To thin the sauce to make salad dressing, add additional olive oil.

To make the steak salad combine organic greens, cucumber, red bell pepper, mango slices, crumbled goat cheese and pickled onions.

For pickled onions slice a red onion thinly. In a bowl combine ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons salt with 1 cup water. Pour mixture over onions and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Top the salad with slices of flank steak and drizzle the entire dish in chimichurri sauce.

Grilled Pork Ribs

It’s official, summer is here and with it comes grilling season. Anything I can think of goes on the grill: salmon, vegetables, every cut of steak and chicken, sausages, hot dogs and, of course, hamburgers. I look forward to the long warm early-summer evenings all year long. I think the memory of them is what gets me through each winter.

We love to entertain in the summer, inviting friends and family to barbecue with us, sitting on the back patio watching as our kids play baseball or fly down the slip and slide. I like to keep the meals easy. I choose a cut of meat and prep it early in the day. I look for a vegetable in season that I can throw on the grill as well. Some of my favorite sides are asparagus, zucchini, onions and peppers or romaine for a grilled ceasar salad.

But I do have a tiny little confession to make: historically, I don’t handle the actual grilling of our food. I do the prep; the seasoning, the marinating, the chopping and then I hand the actual cooking off to my husband. He mans the grill and in a perfect world I lounge on the patio with a cold beverage while our meal cooks.

This has never actually happened before, but you never know, it could happen one day. These days my lounging looks more like dodging a stay nerf gun war as my boys run past me, or watching my daughter do a dance or gymnastics routine. ‘Mom, watch this, Mom! Watch this.’

But in the last year or so, I got it in my head I wanted to learn the art of grilling. I started with pizza and moved on to hot dogs and sausages before finally trying my hand at a few cuts of meat. Initially, it was a disaster. I torched a few dinners before I got the hang of it. But once I learned the secret of the grill: low and slow, there was no turning back.

Country style pork ribs are perfect for an easy dinner on the grill. The cut of meat is, confusingly, not from the ribs at all. These meaty, boneless strips are from the blade end of the loin, close to the shoulder. They can be slow-roasted until fork-tender or quickly grilled. A dry rub seals in flavor and ensures the meat is tender and flavorful. I am always drawn to a sweet and savory flavor profile and this dry rub is no exception. Brown sugar, smoked paprika, onion, garlic and a hint of cayenne combine to give these ribs big flavor. While the ribs grill on the barbecue, I like to baste them a few times with my favorite barbecue sauce. The result is a tender juicy cut of meat everyone goes crazy for. Some grilled corn slathered in a little butter and lots of salt and pepper and a big juicy watermelon are all you need for the perfect summer dinner with friends.

Grilled Pork Ribs

• 4 pounds country-style pork ribs

• 4 tablespoons brown sugar

• 2 tablespoons kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

• 1 tablespoon smoked paprika

• 1 tablespoon granulated garlic

• 1 tablespoon onion powder

• 1 tablespoon mustard powder

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1 tablespoon dried parsley

• ½ teaspoon cayenne powder

• ½ cup prepared barbecue sauce

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the pork ribs evenly on the baking sheet and set aside. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, salt and pepper and all spices. Use a spoon to combine the ingredients.

Liberally cover the pork ribs in the spice rub making sure to massage the rub into both sides of the meat and on the sides. Let the meat marinate at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or cover with foil and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours. Discard any remaining dry rub.

When you’re ready to grill, pull the meat from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Set your grill to medium heat (about 350 degrees). Place the ribs on the grill and allow them to cook for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Turn the ribs halfway through the cooking time and baste both sides of the meat with barbecue sauce three to four times while they cook. When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155 degrees, pull the ribs off the grill and cover with aluminum foil for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Ribs serve 6 generous servings.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

I had a rare and blissful night last week where the only person who needed dinner at my house was me. My kids had bounced from one end-of-the-school-year party to another all afternoon and evening eating their weight in hot dogs and chips. They were so amped up on sugar and their new-found summer freedom they couldn’t be convinced to come in for a real meal. My husband was working late which gave me two options: make something special just for me or skip dinner altogether.

I finally corralled my kids inside, threw them into showers and settled them in front of a movie. I surveyed the kitchen for something to eat and was just about to pour myself a bowl of cereal when the pint of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter caught my eye.

Instantly I knew I wanted to roast the tomatoes in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If I had a loaf of sourdough bread, I probably would have just scooped the tomatoes onto toast and called it dinner. But I didn’t so I went to the next best thing, pasta.

Fifteen minutes later I had a pot of spaghetti noodles tossed with tangy and bright roasted tomatoes. A big pile of chopped basil from the pplant growing on my patio and swirl of goat cheese made for a decadent but light dinner. A little glass of red wine and eating my dinner in (relative) peace outside in the warm evening sunshine made my simple meal absolute perfection.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

  • 8 ounces spaghetti noodles
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons (or more) chopped fresh basil
  • 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven preheats, start a pot of heavily salted water to boil over high heat. When the water boils, cook spaghetti to package instructions (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the tomatoes evenly on the tray. Mince garlic and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Toss the tomatoes and garlic in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to burst and are very fragrant.

In a pot, combine the cooked spaghetti and roasted tomatoes, scraping the pan to add the juices and garlic. Toss gently to combine. Mix in chopped basil and goat cheese. To serve, portion the pasta onto a plate. Garnish with any leftover basil and goat cheese as well as a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Hummus with Jalapeño Pesto and Marinated Olive And Feta Salad

Almost like clockwork, every spring, I forget we ever had winter at all and decide with unrelenting enthusiasm that the only things I want to eat are fresh vegetables and berries, preferably grown in my own garden or picked up at the farmer’s market during one of our leisurely Sunday strolls. I look forward to the farmer’s market (and my favorite fruit stand) opening all year long. In the 13 years I’ve called Yakima home, it’s been a regular weekend tradition and somehow signifies to my brain ‘summer is just around the bend.’

This idea, of course, is ridiculously preposterous for multiple reasons, the main one being my garden is hit and miss on its very best year, not to mention not too much is harvest-worthy in May and June. But never mind that. My point is that my adoration for our wonderful agriculturally rich Valley goes into overdrive and only ramps up each month as the sun stays out a little longer, growing and ripening all my favorite things that grow in the dirt.

And while I wait for lovely produce to become readily available, I’ll make batch after batch of easy and delicious hummus. This hummus is smooth and hearty all on its own, perfect for dipping vegetables or pita. Typically made with garbanzo beans, hummus is a versatile Middle Eastern dip and a wonderful canvas to add additional flavors. The cilantro jalapeno pesto I’ve included here is bright and flavorful without being overly spicy. You can add as little or as much of the pesto to the hummus and save the rest for another time. Paired with the smokey, salty and rich olive and feta salad, these dishes can be served together as a hearty appetizer or separately.

One of my favorite ways to serve hummus is to spread it evenly in a shallow dish. I pile toppings high and make sure to have lots of bread for dipping. Last year I was on a cucumber and tomato salad kick but this year my go-to is this olive and feta salad.

Sometimes I’ll toss salad greens like peppery arugula and spinach with a little olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I garnish the entire dish with the salad greens and call it dinner. With a bottle of crisp buttery chardonnay and a loaf of crusty bread, this dinner is the perfect late spring, eat on the patio, watch the sun set behind Mt. Adams meal I can think of.

Hummus

• 2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans

• ½ cup fresh lemon juice

• ½ cup tahini

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 3 cloves garlic

• Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper

Drain the garbanzo beans, reserving half a cup of the liquid. In a food processor, combine the garbanzo beans, reserved liquid, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, garlic and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix for a minimum of 2-3 minutes. Add an extra splash of water or lemon juice if the hummus is too thick. When the mixture is very smooth, turn the food processor off and scoop hummus into a bowl. Taste and add an additional pinch of salt if needed.

Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto

• 1 bunch cilantro

• ½ bunch parsley

• 2 green onions, trimmed into 1-inch pieces

• 1 jalapeno chili, stem and seeds removed

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 2 cloves garlic

• Juice of 1 lime

• Salt

Combine the cilantro, parsley, green onions, jalapeno, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break the herbs and vegetables down. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil and lime juice. When the mixture is well-combined, using a rubber spatula, transfer to a small bowl. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

To serve the hummus and pesto, make an indentation in the center of the hummus. Spoon the pesto into the indentation and swirl gently. Serve with toasted baguette, pita bread or tortilla chips.

Marinated Olive and Feta Salad

• 1 tablespoon cumin seeds

• 2 teaspoons fennel seeds

• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 3 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 teaspoons lemon zest

• 1 ½ cups olive oil

• 2 cups mixed Greek olives (drained and pitted)

• 8 ounces feta cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes

• 1/3 cup minced parsley, basil and cilantro (you can use any fresh herbs you prefer)

Place the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes in a small skillet. Heat gently over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring once until the seeds are fragrant and lightly toasted. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Add the garlic, lemon zest and olive oil. Stir to combine. Add the olives and feta to the bowl and gently stir. Add the fresh herbs and gently stir one more time. Cover with plastic wrap and store up to three days in the refrigerator.