A Late Summer Night’s Meal

I love Labor Day weekend. Even though it’s always slightly heartbreaking to see Summer go, I consider Fall the most energized season, especially this year as I embark upon my big journey across the pond.

Mostly what I miss about summer is cooking on the grill. Over the weekend, I planned this meal with the intention of packing it up for a picnic down on the Mall. Unfortunately, weather was not on my side, but this meal tasted just as delicious eaten at home.

I like to think these recipes honor a summer full of colorful fresh flavors. Among the tastes I’ll miss most: perfectly ripened tomatoes, sweet buttery corn, fresh herbs from the garden, and the crusty char goodness you get from grill cooking. Alas, there is no reason that despite the change in season that these recipes can’t be enjoyed year round.

Grilled Chicken Gyros
with homemade Tzatziki and fresh Tomato-Cucumber Salad

Big Bite o' Grilled Chicken Gyro

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups 2% Greek Yogurt (3/4 pounds)
  • ¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • 2 large seedless Cucumbers, divided
  • 2 Lemons, zested and juiced, divided
  • 4 Garlic cloves, minced, divided
  • 3 vine-ripened or heirloom Tomatoes
  • 1 small Red Onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Mint
  • ⅛ cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil plus 2 tbsps
  • 1 teaspoon Honey
  • 1 teaspoon dried Oregano, divided
  • ½ teaspoon dried Rosemary
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless Chicken Breast, butterflied
  • 4-6 large Pita Rounds, halved
  • Kosher Salt
  • Crushed Black Pepper
Preparation:
For the Chicken, combine the olive oil, honey, juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 minced garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon oregano, and rosemary into a large Ziploc bag. Generously season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper, then toss into the bag. Mix well until the chicken is thoroughly coated with the marinade. Refrigerate anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Once the tzatziki and salad are prepared (see below), remove the marinaded chicken from its bag and place on a medium hot grill. If you want grill marks, don’t touch for about 4 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Depending on thickness of chicken, the timing can vary, so slice open the thickest part of the fattest piece and make sure it’s cooked through and the juices run clear.

Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for about 5 minutes. Then, thinly slice on an angle and set aside on a platter covered with tin foil.

Before turning off the grill, brush the pita bread with a bit of olive oil and flash grill until it’s warmed through on both sides.

Homemade Tzatziki

For the Tzatziki, combine 1 minced garlic clove, 1 roughly chopped cucumber, ½ teaspoon oregano, and juice of ½ a lemon in a food processor and lightly chop. Add the yogurt and pulse until the ingredients are well incorporated. Add kosher salt to taste. Garnish with freshly chopped mint or a mint sprig.

For the Tomato-Cucumber Salad, chop the remaining cucumber and tomatoes into equal-sized, bite-friendly pieces.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad aside Lemony Whole Wheat Cous Cous

Combine with the thinly sliced red onion, the remaining lemon and its zest, 1 clove minced garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, a large pinch of salt and give it all a good toss. Add the feta cheese and the freshly chopped mint and gently mix.

This salad can be stuffed in the pita (as I like it), or can be served alongside the gyro.

Assembling the Gyros is easy. Create an assembly line that includes the warm pita bread, the sliced chicken, the tzatziki, and the salad. For those who don’t want to stuff the salad into the pita, you can also lay out a platter of whole mint leaves, extra cucumber slices, red onion and tomato.

Fixing Platter for the Gyros

Get creative with your gyro stuffings–if you happen to have garbanzo beans in your cabinet, those would make a delicious addition as would artichoke hearts or thinly sliced radishes!

SWEET TALK

Let’s talk dessert, which is something I’ll admit is neither my specialty nor my favorite part of a meal. I’m just not really a sweet tooth. Give me a bag of Cape Cod potato chips, on the other hand, and I could put it away in minutes. Still, there’s absolutely something about a summer meal that demands a tasty-sweet finale.

I found inspiration for this dish at Trader Joe’s, where they sell miniature peanut butter cups. Initially, I planned to just mix these precious little cups into a bowl of vanilla ice cream, but then it struck me. Why not use these cups in place of chocolate chips in my favorite cookie recipe, then sandwich those cookies around a luscious scoop of ‘scream? I always loved a Chipwich from the ice cream man, and this summertime treat is both nostalgic and really delicious. One bite manages to encompass those mixed end-of-summer emotions that always accompany my Labor Day weekend.
Peanut Butter Cup Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
cookie recipe adapted from Bobby Flay’s chocolate chip cookie recipe

Peanut Butter Cup Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plus 3 tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • ¾-1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • ¾  teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated Sugar
  • ⅓ cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • ⅓ cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup of Miniature Peanut Butter Cups–the diameter shouldn’t be more than a couple of centimeters (recommended: Trader Joe’s Super Mini Peanut Butter Cups). Of course, you can always substitute a cup of regular semi-sweet chocolate chips if you’re not into peanuts.
  • 1 quart Vanilla Ice Cream (recommended: Moorenko’s if you live in the DC area, otherwise Haagan Dazs is always quality)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.

Place the butter in the bowl and beat with a hand mixer, electric mixer, or arm muscle until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugars and continue mixing, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes longer. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the vanilla extract, beating until incorporated.

Add half of the flour and mix until just incorporated. Add the remaining flour, again mixing until just combined. Remove the bowl from the stand and fold in the chocolate peanut butter chunks.

Using a round tablespoon measurer, spoon the dough onto a baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each cookie and bake on the middle rack until the cookies are lightly golden brown and still soft in the middle, about 9 ½ minutes. Let cookies rest for 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a baking rack with a wide metal spatula.

Let the cookies cool on the baking rack for a few minutes until they are solidified, but still a tad warm. Grab two cookies and with an ice scream scoop, simply take a scoopful of vanilla and place gently between the two cookies. Smoosh the cookies together until the ice cream oozes between the cookies.

Eat right away and enjoy!