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  • The Chopping Blog

A Perfect Night for Outdoor Dining

Posted by Quincy on Jul 26, 2018


I'll admit that I’m not a huge fan of hot weather, but one of the things I do love about summer is being able to use my deck for outdoor dining. Eating a grilled turkey burger with corn on the cob fresh off the grill and some old-fashioned potato salad has to be one of my favorite outdoor meals. The simplicity of that meal is what I enjoy the most about it because it gives you more of an opportunity to enjoy the evening on the deck.

We recently made a few design changes to our deck. We hung a roller shade on one side of the porch to block out the sun and shield the porch from the rain, and to also give the porch more of a private feel. We replaced old chairs with a couple of really comfortable patio sofas. Next, we added some new candles, strings of outdoor lights, flowering hanging plants and a new outdoor rug. It turned out that by getting rid of some things and adding a few others, we actually simplified the space's use.  


With these changes, I started thinking about a few design changes to a some old recipes as well. I began  redesigning some of the go-to outdoor meals I had previously prepared. 

I started keeping a close eye on the weather, waiting for the perfect forecast in order to have a couple of friends over for a night of dining on the deck. My original plan was to do a really extensive menu, involving lots of shopping, a ton of prep work and several items that were going to be grilled. But I soon came to my senses after the realization that the friends I invited over weren’t going to arrive until after work, which would be around 7:30. I realized that with the original menu, dinner and dessert probably wouldn’t be finished until sometime around midnight. So I made some changes that would free up a bit of time, allowing me to spend more time with guests and less time with kitchen prep and tending the grill.    


When having friends over for dinner, I always feel compelled to serve an appetizer and salad. I decided on a simple fruit and cheese platter. Instead of going to the local grocery store to purchase a variety of cheeses, I went to my local wine shop, where they sell these time-saving cheese packs. They are three small wedges or blocks of cheese of different varieties placed on a piece of heavy cardboard, with each cheese tightly sealed and packed in plastic. The coolest thing is that you can choose the right pack of cheese that is designed to go perfectly with whichever wine you’re going to serve. They also sell a delicious 8-ounce tub of a cellar-aged cold-packed cheese spread of Gouda. It’s always a huge hit whenever I serve it!  


With the appetizer out of the way, I was off to my neighborhood store for produce and the star of the entree: sea scallops. 

I knew I wanted to start the night with a Paloma cocktail: silver tequila, simple syrup infused with jalapeno peppers and fresh rosemary, grapefruit juice, fresh squeezed lime juice, shaken and served over lots of ice, in a glass that's rimmed with a blend of sea salt, spicy chili pepper and dried lime zest, garnished with a slice of grapefruit and a sprig of fresh rosemary.   

I got my inspiration for the salad from one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Kie-Gol-Lanee.  They specialize in authentic dishes from the region of Oaxaca in Mexico. I’ve done several versions of watermelon salad, with some having far too many ingredients. But after having dinner a few times this summer at Kie-Gol-Lanee and having theirs, I just knew that I had to create a similar version of it. The ingredients for the salad consisted of a mound of watercress, thinly sliced red onion, thinly sliced English cucumbers, dressed in a simple red wine and lemon vinaigrette, topped with cubes of watermelon, crumbled feta cheese, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, cracked ground black pepper and served on chilled salad plates. It was the perfect salad for eating outside on a warm summer night.  


The entrée I served was grilled sea scallops, served on a bed of charred tomatillo salsa. Usually whenever I’ve eaten this salsa it’s been served at Mexican taquerias. Several years ago, while on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, I was invited to a cooking class that was held at the restaurant of a well-known Mexican chef.  She taught the class on how to make a rich and complex mole. With Oaxaca being known as “the land of the seven moles”, it was a pretty awesome experience. She also taught the class a great use for the tomatillo salsa. She incorporated it into a shrimp cocktail, (“Coctel de Camarones”) with layers of salsa and poached and butterflied shrimp. It was topped with diced tomato, avocado and cilantro. I made my own version by charring the tomatillos, onion and serrano chilies.  


The trick to grilling sea scallops is to keep it nice and simple. Buy the biggest sea scallops you can find and look for dry-pack sea scallops. Scallops don’t need a marinade, which will hide their flavor. They’re grilled best naked, with only a touch of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper on both sides right before placing on the grill.  Make sure your scallops are dry before placing on the grill, so blot them with paper towels. Skewer the scallops using a couple of bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water for at least a half hour. Skewering the scallops will give them plenty of room to sit on the grill grates. Make sure your grill grates are well seasoned with either grapeseed oil or canola oil. Then gently place on a hot grill or grill pan. If you happen to own a grill pan that’s suited for an outdoor grill, I recommend using that. Grill for about 4 minutes on the first side, to get great grill marks. Cook on the second side only until the scallops are slightly opaque in the middle. Never use tongs to remove the scallops off the grill. Instead, use a fish spatula or the flattest spatula you own to remove them. I topped the scallops with a very simple salsa of diced honeydew melon, avocado, olive oil, lime juice and zest, with a bit of crushed red pepper and right before serving a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh cracked black pepper.    

I also wanted to keep dessert simple so I made a sour cream, lemon and cardamom-spiced pound cake. I served that with fresh berries macerated in limoncello to add to the lemon flavor of the cake. 


I'm trying to eat al fresco on the deck as much as possible because in two weeks, I’ll be back in San Miguel for the entire month of August. That will probably leave me only a month of valuable grilling and porch dining time after I return. If you want to try the tomatillo, avocado salsa recipe that can be placed on practically anything, here’s the recipe. 

Charred Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa

6-7 medium-sized tomatillos, husked and rinsed

¼ small red onion, diced

2 serrano chilies halved with the seeds removed (If you prefer more heat, leave the seeds and veins of the chilies and keep them whole as you roast them. You can use rubber gloves to handle the chilies, but if you decide not to, you should wash your hands after handling the chilies and also avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.)

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 large ripe avocados, halved and pitted. (If you’re unfamiliar with halving and pitting an avocado, watch The Chopping Block's Owner/Chef Shelley Young show you how to do it in this video on making guacamole.)

½ cup of water for thinning the salsa, if necessary 

Juice of two freshly squeezed limes 

  1. Place the tomatillos in a heavy cast iron skillet or on a griddle over medium heat until toasted, which should take around 5 minutes on each side. Once charred, remove and place in a bowl.
  2. In the same cast iron skillet or griddle, char the onion and serrano chilies until they are also nicely toasted, 3-4 minutes on each side. The onion should be lightly colored on both sides and not charred black, which can make the onion taste bitter.
  3. Place the charred tomatillos, serrano chilies and onion in the jar of a blender, along with the chopped cilantro and lime juice. Blend until very smooth for about one minute.
  4. With a large spoon, scoop out the avocado flesh, add to the blender and blend until smooth. If the salsa is too thick, you can gradually add the water if necessary. 
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Place the salsa into a glass or ceramic serving dish, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about an hour to let the flavors meld. It will also last for a couple of days, refrigerated tightly covered. Remove it at least 15 minutes before serving as it’s best served slightly chilled or at room temperature. 

This salsa can also be served alongside tortillas chips, or as a topping on grilled meats, chicken, fish and even vegetables. It’s uses are practically boundless, and once you try it, you’ll want to put it on everything. 

To get up to speed on your grilling skills to enjoy the rest of the summer outdoors, join us for an upcoming hands-on grilling class at Lincoln Square. 

Grilling Classes

Topics: al fresco, outdoor, Grilling, patio, entertaining, grilling classes

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