Keeping my cool

I'm getting ready for a weekend in New York for my birthday, and in the mean time, I'm trying to keep my cool. I'm the kind of gal that doesn't mind sweating if that's what I intended to do. Chicago has turned up the heat and we're having the best summer since we moved back to the US. Our thermometer hit 100 degrees this weekend, just as we finished a meltingly hot round of golf Saturday afternoon. We've made the most of the weather by seeking shade during the day and heading outdoors just as the early evening kicks in.

Lately, evenings in our neighborhood have been filled with people piled on their front porches, a slow stroll with the dog, and a nice cold drink underneath a cloudless sky. The thought of eating when the sun is still glaring is all but impossible, but here are a few of my favorite treats for sweltering summer evenings:
Last, but not least, is a chilled summer soup that is so shockingly pink, you may well think you should be sitting next to Barbie at the dinner table. Chilled summer borscht, is a cold beet soup. It is an old Lithuanian or Russian recipe, popular in Eastern Europe. If you like beets, this soup is for you. It's a perfect start to a meal, so serve it in small cups to brighten your guests palates and cool them right down.

You can make this soup with a clear broth, like this one from the NY Times or Martha's, but I prefer it when it has the yogurt incorporated into the soup. Ina Garten's is the best I've ever made. It's a cool and creamy combination of cooked fresh beets, cucumber and dill. I love watching the pink soup develop its color in the fridge. I prefer to let it sit overnight so that it turns a deeper shade. You can peek at it every so often and give it a stir and watch the beets work their magic.

Summer Borscht
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten
Serves 6

5 medium fresh beets, tops trimmed
kosher salt
2 cups chicken stock, homemade if possible
16 oz sour cream, plus extra for serving
1/2 plain yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp champagne vinegar
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cups medium-diced English cucumber, seeds removed
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, plus more for serving

Place beets in a large pot of boiling, salted water and cook for 30-40 minutes until tender. Remove the beets with a slotted spoon and let cool. Strain the beet liquid through a fine sieve and reserve.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of beet cooking liquid, chicken stock, sour cream, yogurt, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, 1 tbsp salt, and freshly ground pepper. Peel the cooled beets (use gloves unless you want pink fingers) with a knife or rub them off with your hands.

Cut the beets into a small to medium dice and add them, the cucumber, scallions and dill to the soup. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight (minimum 4 hours).

Season to taste and serve cold with a dollop of sour cream, a few chopped scallions and some dill.


Napping before dinner

I've only just come to the conclusion that the 4th of July is my favorite holiday of the year. Unlike Christmas or Thanksgiving, Independence Day adds the all important ingredient of sunshine to a food-filled holiday. Just as we intended, we spent our long weekend in Michigan with very little on the agenda. I spent some well earned cash at Symons General Store's cheese counter as a crate of Piper's Pyramid was being delivered and could not be denied. Highlights included a sunset boat cruise with my Aunts and Uncles on Walloon Lake, a very hot bike ride, and a romantic glass of pink bubbly with my hubby that left us both napping on the back deck before dinner.

That said, I had very little energy left for cooking, but knew a Tomato Pie was on the cards. I'm usually depressed by the tasteless tomatoes found in the supermarket, and even though we're not on the height of tomato season when you can easily find yourself with a surplus of red fruits, this is a great way to kick of the summer tomato season. I was able to get some great tomatoes from Bill's Farm Market and couldn't wait to get this pie in the oven.

This recipe comes from my Mom's friend, Linda Priddy, whose genius recipes have been mentioned previously, and this is definitely one of my favorites to date. Jen, her daughter in-law, sent me this recipe, and I've been anxiously awaiting the summer to give it a try. It's a tomato pie and it's extremely quiche-esque, but I'd prefer to keep the name pie attached to it. It's perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and I ended up making four of them to take to my Aunt and Uncles as a contribution to our over night spent with them. You can make your own pastry, or you cheat and use frozen pie shells from the supermarket. Either way, I can guarantee this pie will be part of your summer must-have meals for the months ahead.

Tomato Pie
Adapted from Linda Priddy

9 inch pie shell:
(make your own and pre-bake or pre-bake a frozen shell according to instructions)
3 large tomatoes, peeled cored and sliced thick (blanch quickly in boiling water to peel easily)
3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp real mayonnaise
3 tbsp chopped green onions
1-2 cups shredded sharp cheddar and gruyere cheese
salt and freshly cracked pepper

Preheat the oven to 375F. Fill pie shell with layers of tomatoes and green onions, seasoning the tomatoes well in between the layers. Combine the basil, eggs, garlic and mayonnaise and pour over the layers. Top everything with the cheeses and bake for about 35 minutes until lightly browned.

Serve with a herb salad, shaved carrots and topped with a honey-mustard vinaigrette.