Summer Entertaining Made Easy

June, July and August are full of holidays, entertaining and festivities. I love summer entertaining, sitting outside minus the gnats and mosquitoes and enjoying my family and friends.

I love to cook ahead, so I don’t have any last-minute cooking to do. Here are some great new recipes for anything and everything.  Enjoy.

Soft Chocolate and Almond Cherry Cookies

This award-winning cookie recipe is from “A New Way to Dinner” by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (10 Speed Press). These ladies are the founders of the online kitchen and home destination Food52, and their secret to pulling together a smart and inspiring dinner on a weeknight with stunning regularity (and mine) is cooking ahead.

I did NOT chop the cherries, and used tart dried cherries. Makes about 36 cookies.

1 heaping cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 g) almond flour

6 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup sugar, divided

1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1/3 inch or smaller pieces)

2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped

Whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Add the brown sugar, 1/4 cup of the sugar, salt, and vanilla, and beat for 2 minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer, and pulse on low speed for 2 seconds at a time, about 5 times.  Remove the towel and beat at low speed until everything is just combined.  Scrape down the bowl again.

Add the chocolate and cherries, and mix, just to incorporate.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350°F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pour the remaining 3/4 cup sugar onto a large plate.  Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls.  Roll the balls in the sugar and place them about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. (Or refrigerate them in a sealed container and bake as you need them.)

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  The cookies should look dry on the surface, but still be soft to the touch. Do not overbake.  If they don’t look completely done, they will continue to cook out of the oven, so resist the urge to leave them in for “just one more minute.”

Cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks.  The cookies will keep for a week in a tin on the counter, or freeze them in a freezer-friendly zipper plastic bag for up to a month; thaw them at room temperature.

Quick Beef Pho (phở bò nhanh)

Serves 2

Takes about 40 minutes

When a fast beef pho is in order, try this recipe with bold spices from “The Pho Cookbook” by Andrea Nguyen (10 Speed Press). To let pho aromatics and spices shine, mix beef and chicken broth. The combination creates a lighter, appropriate canvas for painting a pho profile. Broths that taste like beef or chicken and not much else work best.   Thinly sliced roast beef sold at deli counters is fabulously convenient, and because it’s minimally seasoned, it plays well with the pho flavors. Leftover cooked steak is terrific, too.

3⁄4-inch section ginger

2 medium-large green onions

1 star anise (8 robust points total)

1 1⁄2 inches cinnamon stick

1 or 2 whole cloves

1 3⁄4 to 2 cups low-sodium beef broth

1 3⁄4 to 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups water

About 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt

5 ounces dried narrow flat rice noodles

4 to 5 ounces very thinly sliced roast beef or cooked steak

2 to 3 teaspoons fish sauce

About 1⁄2 teaspoon organic sugar, or 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only

Pepper (optional)

Peel then slice the ginger into 4 or 5 coins. Smack with the flat side of a knife or meat mallet; set aside. Thinly slice the green parts of the green onion to yield 2 to 3 tablespoons; set aside for garnish. Cut the leftover sections into pinkie-finger lengths, bruise, then add to the ginger.

In a 3- to 4-quart pot, toast the star anise, cinnamon, and cloves over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ginger and green onion sections. Stir for 30 seconds, until aromatic. Slide the pot off heat, wait about 15 seconds to cool a bit, then pour in the beef and chicken broths. Return the pot to the burner, then add the water and salt. Bring to a boil over high, then lower the heat to gently simmer for 30 minutes.

While the broth simmers, soak the rice noodles in hot water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse, and set aside. Bring the beef to room temperature.

When the broth is done, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer positioned over a 2-quart pot; line the strainer with muslin for super clear broth. Discard the solids. You should have about 4 cups. Season with fish sauce and sugar (or maple syrup), if needed, to create a strong savory-sweet note.

Bring the strained broth to a boil over high heat. Put the noodles in a noodle strainer or mesh sieve and dunk in the hot broth to heat and soften, 5 to 60 seconds. Lift the noodles from the pot and divide between the 2 bowls. Lower the heat to keep the broth hot while you arrange the beef on top of the noodles and garnish with the chopped green onion, cilantro, and a sprinkling of black pepper.

Taste and adjust the broth’s saltiness to your liking one last time. Return the broth to a boil and ladle into the bowls. Enjoy with any extras, if you like.

Notes: To take a shortcut for rare steak pho, buy about 5 ounces of thinly sliced beef carne asada. Pound the meat a few times with a meat mallet to thin out further, then cut it into bite-size pieces for a quick pho topping.

Editor’s Note: Find more of Sheilah’s culinary treats at www.cookingwithsheilah.com.

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