Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Last Calls to the Grill!

July on Long Island proved to be a scorcher, second hottest on record they say. So far August has mellowed just a bit as summer prepares to make a graceful exit. Soon the kids are back in school, then before we know it the holiday mayhem presents. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, you cry, we still have a month of those lazy days of summer to go! So how are you going to spend those days of summer bliss? What are YOU going to be eating?

The farm stands are now at their peak for fresh produce, and the colorful fruits of summer beckon us to devour our fill now while we still can, before the oh-too-short lived season of peaches, cherries and berries gives way to apples, oranges and pears for eight months! Now that the days are less stifling, it's a perfect time to bake some summer fruit pies, tarts and crumbles. This week I'm making a luscious summer berry pie which includes blueberries, blackberries and raspberries in the filling. I recently saw a recipe in a cooking magazine for a peach ice cream pie in an amaretti crust, only need to fire up the oven long enough for the crust on that one. Tarts are simple and can be topped with a combination of fruits, such as sliced plums and nectarines. The least amount of prep time in your kitchen is the fruit crumble, another dessert that can be made with any combination of fruits that you like. Personally, when I'm spending a day at the beach or on a picnic, there's nothing like a big, ripe, juicy farm fresh peach. Simple, summer, sweet. Fruit salads are also refreshing ends to a meal, whether you mix as many varieties of berries as you can in one bowl, or combine various bright colors of peaches, strawberries, green grapes or kiwi, golden pineapple, plums and oranges it's all delicious. Make it special by whipping up some heavy cream with mascarpone cheese and a little sugar and vanilla to serve as a topping. Then there is always that favorite classic summer basic: the cool crispness of a moist and juicy watermelon. Try picking up melons of varying colors, such as red watermelon, green honeydew and orange cantaloupe. Attack all three with the melon baller and the finished product will be a trio of sorbet colored melon. Spike it up with a light drizzle of good vodka and allow to sit in the fridge until dessert.

Many of us are spending the final summer month huddled around the grill. Although barbecues can certainly be enjoyed into October, with drinks around the patio fireplace to keep warm, summer fare on the grill is one of those special pleasures unique to the season, like that of days spent on the beach. There are countless recipes for grilling these days. The beginning of the barbecue season has everybody craving those original classics like burgers. Spruce up your burgers, be creative with toppings. Anything goes. I love burgers topped with things like bacon, mushrooms, melted blue cheese - yes, all on one! While ribs are always a winner, few meats are shunned from the grill. Chicken, pork chops, pork tenderloin, steaks, fish and seafood, lamb, sausages, etc. In one week I made a cumin-rubbed pork tenderloin topped with peach salsa, tequila-lime chicken, and shrimp and scallop kebabs. There are enough recipes in books, magazines and online for homemade barbecue sauces, rubs and marinades for every day of the year never mind just the summer months. There is no excuse to buy bottled products that are over salted and over processed. There's a reason these products have long shelf lives, and you do not want to know those reasons. Let them live out their lives on the store shelf and instead whip up your own. You'll notice a difference right away when you taste it, believe me.

By now everybody is getting sick of the basic classic barbecue sides. How much cole slaw can you eat? A fair amount, actually, if you break out of the mayonnaise-based dressing mold. You can make a southwestern slaw by adding some cumin, scallions, jalapenos and a very basic southwestern vinaigrette. There are bags of precut vegetables for making an Asian slaw, I usually add to that peanuts, red peppers, scallions, bean sprouts and an Asian dressing and it's spectacular with any Asian grilled meats like pork chops with hoisin. The possibilities of what to add to a mound of shredded cabbage to make it exciting are endless. Likewise, potato salad doesn't have to always mean potatoes-eggs-onions-celery-mayo dressing. Change things up. Make an aioli for the dressing (a very garlicky mayonnaise to which I like to add a little saffron to as well) and toss some red potatoes with that and add some peas and chives. Easy, elegant and different. Make a vinaigrette to use instead of a mayonnaise-based dressing, then stir in some crumbled blue cheese and bacon with the potatoes. Or some green beans, red onion, yellow peppers and chopped tomatoes. Pasta salads can have more wow factor by using pesto instead of mayonnaise-based dressing and adding other Italian ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes and cubes of fresh mozzarella. Other nice salads for summer barbecues include layering some sliced heirloom tomatoes of different sizes and colors, drizzle with a vinaigrette and then sprinkling with blue cheese, chopped red onion and sliced celery. Thinly sliced fennel would be a fine change of pace from the blue cheese, onion and celery. Or instead of the vinaigrette for the heirloom tomatoes, make a homemade blue cheese dressing. I made a nice salad last weekend out of steamed-then-cooled green beans and yellow beans, halved grape tomatoes and a vinaigrette. You can roast a combination of summer produce, such as eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onion, peppers and garlic, then toss with a balsamic vinaigrette and chill.

You can also get your veggies in by grilling them. Just about any vegetable can be grilled, and the farm stands are exploding in gorgeous specimens of summer vegetables. Sliced eggplants, zucchini, yellow squash, and halved patty pan squash. Corn on the cob needs little prep work, just whip up a seasoned butter and you're all set. Skewered large cherry tomatoes simply brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper are a quick and easy side to throw together. Steak-fry- cut wedges of sweet potatoes are great accompaniment for steaks or pork chops. Best thing to do: visit your local farm stand or farmers' market and browse. When you see something that calls out to you, take advantage and then plan the meal with that.

Getting tired of the same old baked beans? Toss together a salad with beans as an alternative. Black bean salad with chopped tomatoes, jicama, corn and scallions with a chili vinaigrette is perfect for any Mexican fare. Southern cooking screams for a salad of black-eye pea and corn salad with chopped bell peppers. Go Mediterranean with a salad of couscous, chick peas, scallions, kalamata olives and a balsamic vinaigrette. Two American classics include succotash salad which consists of corn, lima beans and bell peppers and can be made with either a creamy dressing or a vinaigrette, and the three bean salad which contains green beans, chick peas and red kidney beans in the mix.

Remember, ladies, the grill isn't just man's territory anymore, girls can grill! Next time your man is due to arrive home later than you, show him up one by having him walk into the backyard where you pull a perfectly seared steak, brushed with your own barbecue sauce, right off the grill and into his awaiting plate. Then set the plate down on the table which is complete with an heirloom tomato salad platter and a three bean salad. He won't know what hit him. Then again, once you demonstrate your skill with the grill, this welcome home may be an expected regular occurrence! Maybe you'd better just stick to teamwork on grill nights. Either way, ladies and gentlemen, choose your spatulas (or tongs, or forks), grab your cold drinks and get fired up. You've got some time left to grill it up hot.

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