Whether you call them cookouts, picnics, or outdoor barbecues, summer is the time to cook and eat outdoors. Down south, folks begin cooking outdoors much sooner, but even in the cool north the time to take out the grill has arrived. Summer is here!
Summer outdoor fare comes in many variations. While a picnic can be as simple as sandwiches eaten in the park or family suppers on the patio, or as fancy as an outdoor wine and cheese, more often gatherings around the grill come to mind. Salads and ice-cold beverages accompany grilled meats and veggies. Light breezes on balmy summer days waft the delicious aromas of charcoal and roasting meat. Fruity summer desserts or fluffy white marshmallows toasted on a stick over the glowing coals to a golden brown add a final touch.
Independence Day is one of the most revered holidays in the American calendar. It is inclusive - a party for all, complete with fireworks, parades, demolition derbies, and lots of outdoor fun, like cookouts with friends and family.
Traditional 4th of July fare is simple yet scrumptious, familiar and filling. On this day most pull out the grill to dine in the great outdoors. Grilled meat is accompanied by relishes and mustards, Indian chutneys and Mexican salsas. There are salads of every description, from German potato to classic macaroni, Greek salads with feta or salads with Oriental greens like Bok Choy. Summer slaws and grain salads like Tabbouleh also have their place. Baked beans, chips, iced tea and soda help to round out the meal.
Red, white and blue are the day's colors. Snacks and desserts are where the red, white and blue theme can truly shine. For appetizers, try blue cheese dip with red pepper strips, or blue tortilla chips with sour cream and salsa. Even a simple dessert of strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream can have patriotic colors! Sugar cookies with blue, white and red icing or sprinkles or cakes decorated red, white and blue end the outdoor feast on a patriotic note. The summer heat calls for ice cream desserts, a favorite treat at Fourth of July celebrations since before the Civil War. Even though it is not white, red or blue, iced tea is a great thirst quencher on a hot summer day, as well as an American tradition.
Gathering together to share food and drink has been a tradition since the holiday was established. But the Fourth, marking the beginning of summer, is unlike most other major holidays. There are no gifts to get or cards to send. There are no sit-down dinners with starched white napkins and formal dress, but outdoor picnics in a fun, casual atmosphere where shorts and tees win over suits and dresses. Unlike more formal holidays, it is a happy, lazy day to relax with family and friends, share memories, and discuss events. It is summer, so all the festivities take place outdoors -?picnics, barbecues and parades during the day, with fireworks after sundown.
People have cooked over the fire for millennia. American Indians cooked meat over fires, and Western cattle ranchers perfected the art of the barbecue. Today, three out of four American homes own a grill. Often it is men who watch the steaks sizzle while women prepare the salads, beverages, and desserts, and make sure all condiments are on hand.
Barbecue festivals have become popular events. With music, good food, and children's activities, they're ideal family outings. From July 4th 6th the annual Best of Barbecue festival takes place at the speed skating oval in Lake Placid with proceeds benefitting the Thomas Shipman Youth Center.
Technically, there is a difference between grilling and barbecuing. Grilling is simply cooking meat on a grate directly over an open fire. Barbecuing, on the other hand, is cooking meat over wood or charcoal at a lower temperature for a longer time. Both methods use dry heat, so tender cuts of meat give best results.
Scoring the meat by cutting shallow, parallel slits helps thick, uneven pieces like chicken breasts cook more evenly, and allows the marinade to penetrate.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, steak or fish all can be cooked on a grill - as can vegetables and polenta. Skewers threaded with bits of meat, vegetables, and fruit can also be used.
While an oven heats evenly, wind gusts, air temperature, grill height as well as hot and cold spots can make outdoor cooking a bit tricky. You don't want to serve your family or guests crispy critters.
For best results, light the fire a half-hour before you begin to cook to provide a nice bed of coals. Make sure the grill is clean and oiled before heating to prevent food from sticking. If you're cooking large cuts of meat, use a meat thermometer to ensure doneness. Fish and chicken are delicate and often stick to the grill, overcook quickly and dry out easily, so use pieces at least an inch thick. Vegetables like corn, peppers, eggplant, or mushrooms cook quickly, so be careful not to overcook and scorch. Grilling brings out their natural sugars but the higher the sugar content, the faster they will cook. Coat tender meats like chicken or fish and vegetables with oil or an oil-based marinade to keep them moist and prevent them from sticking to the grill. Too much oil can cause grease flare-ups, however, so use caution.
Marinades tenderize the meat while adding variety and flavor. A basic marinade has three parts: the acid, the oil, and the seasoning. The acid's role is to break down long protein strands, which are responsible for the toughness of meat. The oil helps the acid to penetrate the meat, and keeps the meat from sticking to the grill. Herbs and spices add flavor. You can use bottled marinades or dressings, or combine ingredients you have on hand to make your own, creating an endless variety. Experiment with different oils, flavored vinegars, and fresh herbs. Steak sauce blended with an Italian salad dressing makes a quick and simple marinade. Or, go ethnic: Greek, with the trio of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic; Indian Tandoori, with yogurt, lime juice and garam masala; Hawaiian, with pineapple, soy sauce, oil and rice vinegar; or Jamaican jerk which blends hot peppers with the sweet spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
It's easy. Combine ingredients in a jar or mixing bowl, and pour into a shallow glass dish, such as a 9-inch-by-9-inch pan. Place the food in the marinade, and stir to coat. Cover, refrigerate, and turn occasionally. When you're ready to grill, remove the pieces from the marinade and place on the grill.
Prepare the salads, desserts, drinks and marinades in advance, so that you can enjoy your guests. Store food in plastic containers to prevent insects and chipmunks from disturbing it, and keep perishables cold with ice or gel packs. And enjoy the great outdoors of summer.
Minty Citrus Marinade
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
Place all ingredients in a 1 cup jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well. Pour over chicken, fish, or other food to be marinated. Keep in the refrigerator, turning occasionally, at least an hour.
Main Dish Pasta Salad Three Ways
This picnic salad recipe will serve a crowd of friends or family this holiday and can be adapted to different ethnic tastes.
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
2 teaspoons minced onion
2 teaspoons basil
1 Tablespoon parley
1 pound whole grain pasta
10 oz. tri-colored pasta
1 can garbanzo beans
10 ounces sugar snap peas or green beans
10 ounces Romaine lettuce
1 small bunch celery, sliced
2 cups diced zucchini
2 cups diced summer squash
This is your basic pasta salad. Now, here are four ethnic varieties:
For Mexican, add:
1 can corn kernels
1 can black beans
2 green peppers, diced (or red or yellow bell peppers)
jalapeno peppers (optional)
8 oz. grated Cheddar cheese
For Greek-style salad, add:
1 can black olives
8 oz. crumbled feta cheese
For an Italian touch, add:
2-3 tomatoes, diced
3 cups broccoli flowerets
6 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
For Hawaiian flavors, add:
2 cups diced pineapple
1 tart apple, cored and diced
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine dressing ingredients. Shake vigorously. Combine with pasta. Stir in beans, lettuce, zucchini and squash. Divide in three bowls. Stir in additional "ethnic ingredients."
Yvona Fast's Garden Gourmet cookbook is the winner of multiple awards.
She lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking
She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.