Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Easy Summer Dinner Winners

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get back to cooking on the grill, eating cold foods, and simplifying meals for the summer. As much as I love me a hearty casserole, throwing a slab of meat and some vegetables on the grill is a dinner winner in my book. Here are a few of my favorite summer recipes, both main meals and side dishes (most of which can also serve as main dishes, too).

Ina Garten's Asian Grilled Salmon
Salmon is a great fish to cook on the grill, since it has some body to it so it won't fall apart and it's very easy to tell when it's cooked just by looking. This recipe is very simple, without a lot of ingredients, but adds just enough flavor to not overwhelm the fish. It's great with a side of sticky rice and fresh green peas.

1 side fresh salmon, boned but skin on (about 3 pounds)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons good soy sauce
6 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Brush the grilling rack with oil and preheat. While the grill is heating, lay the salmon skin side down on a cutting board and cut it crosswise into 4 equal pieces. Whisk together the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, and garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle half of the marinade onto the salmon and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.

Place the salmon skin side down on the hot grill; discard the marinade the fish was sitting in. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Turn carefully with a wide spatula and grill for another 4 to 5 minutes. The salmon will be slightly raw in the center, but it will keep cooking as it sits.

Transfer the fish to a flat plate, skin side down, and spoon the reserved marinade on top. Allow the fish to rest for 10 minutes. Remove the skin and serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. 

Giada de Laurentiis' Lamb Sliders
This is probably the third or fourth time I've posted this recipe, but it really is just that good. Burgers are a fun summer meal, but these lamb sliders, with their delicious contrast of garlicky spiciness, sweet soft roll, and creamy cheesy centers brings burgers on the grill to a whole new level. 

5 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 ounces Swiss or gruyere cheese, cut into eight 1/2-inch cubes (I used Havarti)
8 small hamburger or slider buns, such as King's Hawaiian, halved
Place a grill pan over medium-low heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, 1/2 teaspoon salt* and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the shallots are soft (about 3 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until aromatic (about 30 seconds). Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.

Combine the shallot mixture, lamb, cumin, ketchup, 1/4 teaspoon salt* and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form the mixture into 8 patties each 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Press a cube of cheese into the middle of each patty and form the meat around the cheese to cover. Brush the patties with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and grill until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Let the patties rest for 2 minutes. Place the patties in the buns and serve. 

*The amount of salt in the original recipe is 3/4 teaspoon in the shallot mixture and 1/2 teaspoon in the combined mixture, but I found this a bit too salty for my taste. The garlic and cumin provide a strong enough flavor that the salt isn't really needed. So feel free to adjust to your personal taste. 

Chickpea Sandwich Filling
I love steak in the summer, but sometimes I like to lighten it up with a vegetarian meal. This chickpea sandwich spread is great on a hearty bread or a soft, fluffy roll. I like it with just the filling and the bread, but you can add sliced tomatoes, onion, lettuce, or any other condiments you like. It's also great with a side of corn on the cob with a bit of dill sprinkled on it to tie in the flavors. 

1 (19 oz) can chickpeas
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 tbsp mayo
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried dill weed
Salt & pepper

Drain and rinse chickpeas; mash in bowl with fork. Add remaining ingredients. Keep chilled. 

Balsamic Marinated Portobello Mushrooms
Another hearty vegetarian meal I love in the summer is marinated portobello mushrooms. You can make them into a burger, but I love eating them like a steak, with a side of potato or pasta salad to complete the meal.You can marinade them in just about anything, but I love the kick of balsamic vinegar, and this recipe is a favorite in my house. 

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive (or vegetable) oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic (or 3 fresh cloves, minced)
1 teaspoon finely minced thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients except mushrooms. Place mushrooms in a large ziploc bag, pour marinade over, seal, and toss until well coated. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oiled grill and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side, until tender. 

If desired, serve burger-style on buns with lettuce, onion, and tomato. 

Roasted Herb Potatoes
The type of herbs I use in these potatoes usually depends on what I have a lot of in my backyard herb garden at the time. Rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, oregano, parsley, chives - just toss it right in! Dried herbs are fine, too. I've yet to find a combination that doesn't taste great. 

2 lbs. small potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
several tablespoons of whatever fresh or dried herbs you have on hand
1/3 sweet onion, chopped (optional)

Scrub potatoes and cut into 1" chunks (skin on). If time allows, soak in cold water for 1 hour (this makes the potatoes nice and fluffy), then drain and dry well. Arrange on a large piece of non-stick foil. Add onions, if using. Sprinkle evenly with garlic powder, salt and pepper, and herbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Seal tightly into a packet, keeping the potatoes in a single layer. Roast on the grill over medium-high heat until tender (20-30 minutes), flipping packet over halfway through cooking. 

Rainbow Pasta Salad
There's nothing like cold pasta salad on a hot summer day, and this version is hearty enough to be a meal in itself - or a great appetizer or side dish. And this recipe is a fun base to play around with - experiment with adding onions, different types of cheese, and different dressings for variety. 

16 oz. tri-color rotini pasta
1/4 lb. pepperoni, cut into sliced or small chunks
1 cup fresh broccoli florets
1 (6 oz.) can black olives, drained and sliced
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
16 oz. Italian dressing

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and toss together with remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Chill for at least one hour before serving. 

Triple Threat Salad
This recipe is really called "Triple Treat Salad", but since I misread it initially, and since it's practically my trademark at summer parties and picnics with my theatre friends, I've renamed it. It's best made the night before so the dressing can really soak into the broccoli. 

3 medium heads broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (florets only)
1 package bacon (I use precooked because I'm lazy), crisped and crumbled
2 cups shredded cheddar
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use light)
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Toss together the broccoli florets, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheddar in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients and adjust to taste. Pour dressing over salad, mix well, and refrigerate several hours to overnight, tossing occasionally if possible.

Three-Bean Salad
This recipe is really just for the dressing, because the list of beans and other ingredients (like white or red onions) you can use is endless. I like it best with wax beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas, but you don't even have to limit yourself to three kinds of beans. Like the broccoli salad above, the longer it marinates, the better it tastes!

3 cups total of any combination of 3 kinds of beans, cooked and drained (kidney, green, lima, wax, chick peas, etc. - no need to cook if canned, but thaw if frozen) 
¾ c sugar
2/3 c cider vinegar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients and marinate overnight or longer.

Caprese Salad
Juicy summer tomatoes fresh off the vine, fresh basil leaves right from your garden, and high-quality buffalo mozzarella give the best results, but pesto is fine if you don't have fresh basil, and any kind of mozzarella slices will do. Dress up this dish with yellow heirloom tomatoes to impress company, or cut the tomatoes and mozzarella into cubes on toothpicks for party appetizers. Plain balsamic vinegar is fine, but Costco carried a balsamic glaze with just a hint of sweetness that really ups the ante on this dish. 

Fresh tomatoes, sliced
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Fresh basil leaves (or pesto)
Olive oil (I omit if using the balsamic glaze)
Balsamic vinegar (or glaze)

Lay the tomato slices on a plate; top each with a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf or two (or spread with pesto - or both!). When ready to serve, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or balsamic glaze. 

 Happy Summer Eating!

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