Today, in Colorado Springs, we have a high of 68 degrees F (20 C) with (praise God) rain. It’s by no means the end of summer, but is for sure the harbinger of fall. Our jeans and fleeces never get put away as they do in Chicago or Minneapolis because we never know if we’ll have that bizarre August snow or just the run of the mill welcome and chilly summer evening when we sip a little stronger something out at the fire pit watching the stars. (Remember watching the stars?)
This time of the year, we’re so happy with our Palisades peaches, Rocky Ford cantelope and watermelon, Pueblo or Hatch chiles, jalapeños, home grown tomatoes, fresh herbs, and Olathe sweet corn that sometimes we celebrate our soon-to-end warm weather by making dinner out of just those ingredients. A few additions like salt and pepper, arugula, Sherry vinegar, goat or mozzarella cheese, and maybe a little oil make the meal just what it ought to be. One night there’s a version starring ruby red watermelon and the next day it’s Halloween-orange cantelope instead; sometimes a berry of some sort gets thrown in. I call it, “The Ever-Changing Salad,” not because it must change, but only because by nature, it just does. And we’re so glad of that.
On long days of cooking or testing recipes, I’m blessed to have a TV in my kitchen and I often have it tuned to PBS: Create TV. I’m not that picky; I leave it on and whatever happens happens. It may be Rick Steves. A stellar quilter whose name I can’t quite remember. Sicilian chef Nick Stellino. Cool travel woman Samantha Brown. And if God is good– really good — Jacques Pépin may make an appearance. Of course, I live for that moment and stop what I’m doing to watch. So maybe I AM picky. One day, making dinner awaiting my husband’s return from building a house for Habitat for Humanity , my friend Jacques came on making a duck breast salad. (Don’t we all feel we’re friends with Chef Jacques Pépin?! I know I do.)
If it’s high summer and there are tomatoes (and it wouldn’t be summer without tomatoes), I’m making caprese of some sort. Maybe every week. I don’t stir up chimichurri quite that often, but unlike caprese it shows up throughout the year mostly with pork (love it with ribs!), but sometimes on beef or shrimp or ________. A couple of weeks ago I made three of my Chimichurri Pork Chops only because the package had 3 in it–weird, I know. What to do the next day with the lonely fellow left on the platter? I had fresh mozzarella, zucchini to grill, plenty of tomatoes, and why not serve a hybrid of caprese and chimichurri pork layered with grilled zucchini? Since chimichurri is packed with other fresh herbs, the basil could be skipped. A big handful of fresh greens at the center would set the seal on this stunning deal. I’m wanting it again already.
Being known as a cook within your varied social circles has its distinct advantages. You get to bring what you like ( or make best) to the neighborhood potluck, the family birthday, or the church funeral lunch. Not terribly long before Covid (Are we saying that now?), I catered a funeral meal. The family involved was generous about letting me know their much-loved patriarch LOVED things like ham salad, chicken salad, etc. To keep the buffet interesting, I included CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICHES. One lady — someone I’d trust — approached me to allow that my CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD was better than a top-shelf local restaurant’s version. I didn’t forget that. Who would, huh?
So many memorable old phrases I enjoy using, fine writer that I am. One is, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Another might be, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Which must, of course, be followed by, “Opposites attract.” Following those for no reason at all is, “Great minds think alike.” Which is what I say when I make a dish off the top of my head and begin to write the recipe before realizing I cooked the same (or nearly the same) thing 10 (5 or 15) years ago. Thank goodness “Love is Lovelier the Second Time Around,” (a favorite wedding song of mine) and I absolutely don’t mind “reinventing the wheel.” Roll your eyes now or forever hold your peace. Ok, I’m done. But I really did make almost this very same salad in 2014, though its current appearance is quite distinct from the first and today’s recipe title is “Asparagus-Potato Salad” rather than, “Roasted Potato-Asparagus Salad with Mushrooms and Sweet Onions.” Same difference. Just about.
I’ll admit that when I grabbed a bunch of organic golden beets at our local grocery, King Soopers, the other day, I hadn’t a clue what I’d do with them except my main squeeze loves beets and I was bringing them home no matter. They looked all gorgeous, fresh and brightly colored with crisp whole greens attached, despite the healthy dirt around the edges. So whatever happened in that kitchen with those beets, it was going to make him happy. When folks say, “Food is love,” there’s something to it. More on that at the end. Because I regularly make goat cheese spread for our summer appetizers or even lunches while our herbs are plentiful, I always have a big log or two of chèvre (the plain white fresh goat cheese sold in nearly any grocery store) in the fridge. I had no problem considering a riff on the quintessential beet and goat cheese salad made by lots of cooks and in many restaurants worldwide. (Is that something you make or order if it’s on the menu?) What I didn’t like the idea of was turning on the oven for the hour it takes to roast those beets. Boiling them sounded worse, messy, and way too steamy for July. Why couldn’t I grill them in a grill pan on the stove? I thought about grilling them whole or in quarters, but that would take just way too long. Do people grill sliced beets? It seems they do according to google and I thought I’d just do it, too. A quick look-see into the fridge showed a bunch of fresh greens; radishes, scallions, red bell peppers and a single, lonely leftover roasted chicken breast I soon shredded within an inch of its life (always tastier than chopped — try it and see). Soon we were about to feast on one more whole meal salad outdoors. Thank you, summer!
Like many of you, I have probably for most of my life made tuna salad pretty much like my mother did. A can of tuna, a few spoons of mayo, one chopped hard cooked egg, a little onion, pickle and celery and — Fanny’s your aunt — hot weather lunch was served with little or no stove time. Over the years, though, as my cooking developed, so did my tuna salad. One year I was shocked to see that a happy little bit of lemon zest had slipped into the mixing bowl by “mistake.” Whoa! Another time a dab of perky horseradish became a sudden, but happy addition. Soon, though not always, cucumbers/fennel/carrots/bell peppers joined the party along with a good healthy spoonful of Dijon-style mustard, cornichons leftover from a wine and cheese event I catered, and —wait for it — a big splash of red wine vinegar. The biggest change was the consistent use of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, along with the occasional herbs, no matter what else I dumped in. Why didn’t I ever season my tuna salad before? (Mom, you didn’t tell me.) Of course I often ate it on toast, but sometimes I went with the old school ladies’ lunch counter lower-carb style: spooned into the middle of a quartered tomato, hopefully ripe. Other weeks, I thinned it out and ate it scooped up with potato chips or Triscuits (HELLO, TUNA DIP!!) — Triscuits being one of my most unknown addictions. (The rye were the best, but they discontinued them–sob, sob. Now I’m even more stuck on the organic thin variety. Try them and see. Nope, I’m not on Nabisco’s payroll.) After a while, my tuna salad was never the same twice in a row. Who knew what would happen next to my trusty, inexpensive summer fun food? And, by the way, how did we come to eat so much tuna fish??
If you’re a longtime More Time reader, you’ll have seen more than your share of caprese salads on the blog. While I’m not as addicted as it might appear, I’ll admit I make several during the warm months and…they are definitely photogenic. I mean. Red. Green. White. The colors are made to go together and not just in the garden or at the table. For instance, how many countries boast flags in those colors? Ok, I checked. Here they are (scroll down a while!). You have to admit, though, that this is actually a salmon salad; it just happens to be nestled into asparagus, greens, and yes, ok … caprese around the edges.
“If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper…”
―Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
What’s life without bacon? A dog and a beer at the ball park? Brats on the 4th of July? Just a ham sandwich for supper, for goodness’ sake? Luckily I have this guy in my life who smokes meat like he was born to it, so we can skip A Lot from the store and leave the nitrates right where they sit. But once in a while…you have to let up. Go for the gold. Grab the salami, as it were. Scratch that. Insert eye roll. And so we, every once in a while, splurge on something like salami and cheese with crackers and a cold beer or a “Chopped Salami Salad” along with a glass of rosé. No stove. No grill. Thank you very much. In the summer, I’m fond of what I label, “Shop and Chop” meals. It’s a hot day. You go to the store, buy what looks good, come home and — with no or nearly no cooking — make big with your chef’s knife and create “dinner” out of whole cloth. This is one of them.
SUMMERWEEKNIGHTMEAL PLANNING IS DONE. MAKE THESE 20 FUN RECIPES 3X EACH. Print them, along with a shopping list, place in a 3-ring binder or save them to a word file so you know just where they are for the next couple of months. Then make them again…and again!
Tired of trying to figure out what’s for dinner on any given night in June, July, or August? The summer struggle is real even if you sometimes take the time to write down the week’s menu and make a grocery list. Cooking at home for yourself, friends, or a family is a big commitment, but it’s also a wonderful thing to do to focus on health and togetherness; improve the use of your time; and rein in that food budget. Here’s a post highlighting 20 fun, MORE TIME AT THE TABLE lighter/easier recipes you can make over and over again — or with variations. I had an awful time choosing between so many yummy dinners and had to leave out things like Shrimp Ratatouille and BBQ Chicken Grilled Veggie Stack — next time, right? You can be sure your planning, shopping, prep, and cooking will become simpler/faster as you become better acquainted with each meal. Just click on RECIPE HERE to take you to the post, then scroll down to the recipe (there is sometimes a “jump to recipe” button) and print. Do throw in a COOK’S OFF! night every now and then so you can order pizza, go out, or let someone else make eggs and toast when you’re tired. If you like, make a big batch soup or extra chicken breasts once a week you can then also use for lunch. After the recipes, I’ve included some seasonal desserts, meal-planning basic information, cooking with kids ideas, and a few great links to get you going. So choose your favorites, make that grocery list (keep it on your phone from month to month?), and then it’s time to get busy with happy summer cooking!