Summer is upon us, friends. This is an exciting time for many people, such as: elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, college students, LFO. For everyone else, though, it doesn’t really matter so much because we realize that “summer vacation” is not really a thing and all the changing of the seasons means is that you and everyone you know get to walk around all day sweating like Joel Osteen at a drag show.
There are still some exciting aspects of summertime for me though, namely: entertainment and food. (I know, these are pretty much the only things I care about year round, but in the summer they are particularly exciting.)
You have your summer blockbuster movies, of course, but I have to say that I’m even more jazzed about the upcoming television right now. It’s important to note that in ancient times, they didn’t even have good TV during the summer; it was all reruns. Thankfully we have progressed as a society since then. Even though we face crippling national debt, a broken social security system, and global warming that threatens the future of our planet, we live in an era where we can watch decent television year round, so I’d say it about evens out.
In anticipation of the summer, I have compiled a list of the Top 5 TV shows that I am most excited about. Here is that list. (In no particular order.)
1) Real Housewives of New Jersey (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET on Bravo)
I have to make a confession: I was a late-comer to the Real Housewives bandwagon. Like, a real late-comer. Like 4 months ago. I always thought I was too cool for it, which I now recognize is embarrassing for me because honestly it’s everything anyone could ever want in a television show. It took two days of food poisoning for me to give in and watch an episode of Beverly Hills, and from the moment I saw the morally corrupt Faye Resnick utter those fateful words to (New York Times best-selling author) Brandi Glanville, I knew my life would never be the same.
Incredible. I had created a monster, and I binge watched every season of RHOBH in two weeks. At this point, I could give a TED Talk on the recent history of Kyle Richards’ Annual White Party.
But that’s not why we’re here. Last Sunday was there premiere of a different massive Housewives franchise, the classy ladies of New Jersey. I did my homework before the premiere and went through all the highlights of the previous seasons (namely the table-flipping scene) so I would have an idea of what’s going on this season. I’m still a little in the dark, but I definitely dig it. If there’s anything I have learned from them so far, it’s that family is all that matters, and if you really love them, you will get paid to get in physical fights with them on national television.
2) Food Network Star (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET on Food Network)
Another reality show that debuted on Sunday is Food Network Star. The term “star” is used very loosely here, the winner is usually lucky to have a show that lasts longer than one season- but whatever we love it anyway. Because it is fun. And really because of this woman:
O-M-Giada, she is so lovely.
So far, most of the contestants are not great, but there are 3 standouts that I’m calling for the finals right now: Nikki Dinki, a mostly vegetarian chef with a ridiculous/amazing name and hella good camera presence; Chad Rosenthal, a self-proclaimed “BBQ Jew” (not sure if there’s a legit demographic for this); and this other dude named Viet whose claim to fame is having beaten Bobby Flay on Iron Chef. These will be the Top 3. And Nikki Dinki will win. Mark my words. (I’m not conceited or anything, but one time I correctly predicted the winner of Bridalplasty within the first 5 minutes of the first episode, so uh yeah I guess you could say I kinda know what I’m talking about here.)
3) Mistresses (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET on ABC)
This new drama stars Alyssa Milano and follows the lives of four women as they all deal with infidelity in different aspects and from different perspectives. It’s basically like Sex and the City if they all lived in the suburbs and didn’t make horrible puns all the time and hung out with people who aren’t white. Okay, so it’s really nothing like Sex and the City except that it’s about 4 women.
Based on the first episode it’s not gonna be an Emmy-winner or anything, but it’s pretty intriguing in a scandalous sexual way. I’ll keep watching because it’s on Mondays and what the hell else am I gonna do?
4) True Blood (Season premiere Sunday, June 16 on HBO)
AHHHH praise the Lord, True Blood is back. I feel like we have been on such a ride with this show; I can hardly believe it’s still on. Sure, it’s not quite as exciting as it used to be and, like many shows of its type, it’s gone a little over-the-top and ridiculous, but I will stick with it until the bitter end. And if I remember correctly, Bill reincarnated into some creature called “Billith” at the end of last season so I really have to stick around for that, because, lol.
5) Breaking Bad (Season premiere Sunday, August 11 on AMC)
Here’s another party I’m late to- I just started watching Breaking Bad from the beginning a couple weeks ago and I’m like 5 episodes in. I know, I know, and while we’re at it, I’ve never seen The Wire. Let’s just get all the cards on the table, you fucking hipsters. Anyway, it’s obviously an amazing show so far, and I look forward to spending the vast majority of my summer free time trying to catch up before the premiere of the final season in August.
Now, moving on to that other thing I love about summer: simple, light, easy-to-prepare meals. While I definitely mourn the passing or winter braising, which is my favorite cooking method, I do get a little titillated at the idea of breaking out the grill. While I love cold weather food for all its richness and deep flavors, there’s something to be said for grabbing some meat, tossing in on a fire, and having dinner 20 minutes later. And even though lots of grilled foods can be bland or flavorless, that’s not how I roll.
Take the boneless, skinless grilled chicken breast, for example. This is the absolute most boring food on earth. It’s like what I imagine Dr. Oz eats for dinner every night because everything else causes hepatitis or something.
This grilled chicken breast is not like that. It’s not dry. It’s not flavorless. People will flip their shit over it. It’s basically cajun chicken with a pocket of spinach artichoke dip inside. How incredible does that sound? And all this can be YOURS if you act now! Or whenever, really, you don’t have to do it now, but just try to do it soon because it tastes pretty awesome and is fun to make.
Start by sauteeing up some spinach just until it wilts.
Transfer to a paper towel and squeeze of excess water.
Then you put it in a food processor with some artichoke hearts, 3 kinds of cheeses, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and pulse until smooth. (not pictured because oops.)
Now here’s the tricky part that’s not even that tricky. Just make an incision into the chicken breast with a paring knife to create a pocket. Try not to poke a hole through it.
Really move that knife around and even get in there with your finger if you have to. It’s not glamorous or delightful but I promise it’s worth it and just like wash your hands like crazy afterwards obviously. Then pipe the filling into each one. (If you don’t have a piping bag, you can use a ziploc and cut the tip off.)
Now heat up your grill or grill pan, rub them on both sides with cajun seasoning (I use Tony’s), and get grillin’. (You can also just use a saute pan and finish them in the oven if you prefer.
See? Grilled chicken breast can be pretty sexy.
And because I can’t limit myself to just one summer recipe, let’s serve it up with my spin on Caprese salad. Here I added a balsamic dressing with dried oregano, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes for extra flavor, and tossed in some fresh mint along with the traditional fresh basil for some added surprise and excitement.
The key here is getting really good fresh mozzarella cheese. Some of the manufactured stuff can taste rubbery, so you want it as fresh as possible. I got mine from Whole Foods. Brian made it. It was delicious.
I’m not saying you have to go out and get an authentic Brian-stretched cheese yourself, just don’t cheap out on me, ya know?
Here’s the final product in all it’s glory.
Oh yeah, and you should probably just serve them together.
Cajun-Spiced Grilled Chicken with Spinach-Artichoke Stuffing
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3 oz. baby spinach
5 artichoke hearts from a jar, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
6 0z. mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons cajun seasoning, preferable Tony’s
Non-stick grill spray
Coat a medium saute pan with olive oil over medium heat and add spinach with a pinch of salt. Let cook for about a minute until it is completely wilted. transfer to a paper towel or clean kitchen towel and squeeze the excess water out of it.
In a food processor, add cooked spinach, artichokes, garlic, all 3 cheeses, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt pulse to combine into a smooth mixture.
Now for the chicken. Carefully insert a paring knife horizontally into the thickest end of each chicken breast and slide it all the way in. Move it up and down, back and forth, to create a large pocket in the breast. You may want to get in there with your finger to make sure the pocket is big enough. (Try not to poke a hole through the top or bottom of the breast, but it’s not the end of the world if you do.)
Insert the filling into a piping bag (you can also use a ziploc bag with the tip cut off), and pipe the filling into each piece of chicken.
Coat a preheated grill or grill pan with non-stick spray. Season each chicken breast on both sides with cajun seasoning. Place them on the grill for about 8 minutes on each side. Take them off the grill and let them rest for about 10 minutes.
Herb-Balsamic Caprese Salad
16 oz. grape tomatoes
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
In a large bowl, combine tomatoes and mozzarella. In a smaller bowl make a vinaigrette by combining oil, vinegar, oregano, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and salt. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, and add in fresh herbs. Toss to combine.