Warm weather has finally arrived in the Northeast. It’s always nice when spring shows up, but it’s especially welcome when the mornings at the end of April still carry the possibility of frost, or even a thin layer of morning snow on your car. So now that it’s sandal season in Saratoga, my comfort foods take on a lighter flavor. Don’t get me wrong, blueberry pancakes made with fresh, in-season blueberries are still on the top of my breakfast list . . . but warm weather makes eating lighter, fresher foods with crisp tastes just too good to resist. I can almost taste all my summer comfort foods just thinking about them!
I love all fruits, all year round, berries in particular. It’s true, we can get most fruit, including strawberries all year long at the supermarket. But there’s no comparison to the sweetness of summer fruits, especially strawberries. For breakfast with yogurt and granola, sliced into a salad at lunch, or with vanilla ice cream and blueberries for desert . . .
One of my favorite ways to enjoy strawberries sounds unusual to most people at first, but after their first taste, the vast majority are won over. I make a smoothie with fresh strawberries, some fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar. That’s usually where people say “Ewwww!”, but trust me, it’s well worth the experiment. While the strawberries and the juice are blending I slowly drizzle some balsamic in. The combination of sweet and tart is perfect.
For me, a chopped salad is the perfect choice for lunch on a warm day–especially if I’m running around between errands and appointments. And the beauty is, a chopped salad can really include any ingredients you like. Traditionally, romaine is the best lettuce to use; it’s crisp and crunchy and substantial enough to withstand the combination of ingredients added.
A good, classic combination includes: a protein (chicken, bacon, tuna), a legume (chick peas, black-eyed peas, kidney beans), a cheese (goat cheese, blue cheese, feta cheese), other vegetables (any combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and celery), and maybe a herb for some extra flavor (parsley, cilantro, dill). Top with your choice of dressing and seasonings and you’ve made a delicious lunch that will fill you up and give you lots of energy.
Grilled Meats and Vegetables
Once I no longer have to don a winter coat or down jacket just to step outside, I like to grill. Everything. Honestly, I’ll even grill bacon for breakfast rather than cook it in the kitchen! Not only is it easy, but the flavor of grilled food is just better. As the omnivore that I am, I enjoy grilled meats, fish, and vegetables from May until the first snow falls . . . sometimes even after.
While I love good southern barbecue, I’ve learned from living below the Mason-Dixon line that owning a grill does not a barbecue make! I’ve experimented with some good recipes for barbecue sauces, but I’m still a novice. I tend to go easy on my seasonings, making the flavor of the food itself take over.
For chicken, I like to make a light dressing of lemon juice with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and some rosemary and gently brush it on while grilling. The lemon juice can also be substituted with good white wine vinegar and the rosemary for dried oregano for an entirely different, but equally distinct flavor.
For steaks, I have two favorite methods. The first involves lightly coating the beef with olive oil and dressing with coarse sea salt and fresh peppercorns. The second way I enjoy my steak is to grill the steak without any seasoning, then before serving I dress itwith a “sauce” that I’ve pre-prepared with olive oil, sea salt, crushed garlic and chopped parsley. This sauce will be thick, but you can adjust the ingredients to your taste preferences.
I’m not terribly proficient (yet) with grilling fish, but I’m learning. I like to season salmon and flounder with lime or lemon juice (respectively) and dill. Personally, I think shrimp are best flavored with Jamaican Jerk seasoning and I love the easy way that skewers provide a whole meal of protein and vegetables on a stick!
With any or all of these grilled main courses, grilled vegetables are not only the easiest way to make an entire meal without having to wash one pan afterwards, but also the best accompaniments. You can use any marinade that you may be using on your meat, but I find that a simply made balsamic vinaigrette is delicious brushed on almost any vegetable.
I can go on and on (well, it seems I already have!) but you get the idea. The beauty of the grill is that it’s easy. You can cook anything on it, season your food as little or as much as you like–without a huge risk of over- or under-seasoning–and cleanup is super-fast. Rather than scrubbing pots and pans, you can sit back, enjoy the balmy weather, and drink a warm-weather classic . . . homemade lemonade. Enjoy!