Monday, July 20, 2015

UnRecipe: Summertiiiiiiime.... and the Livin's Easy....

I don't know about you, but Summer Lovin's got me lazy as hell. The heat doesn't help inspire energy, but even when the blessed mild summer days (and by mild, I mean mid 70's -- anything beyond that, and we all turn into big PNW crybabies, myself being the crybabiest of the crybabies.) I'm still keeping up with our weekly produce delivery, as well as our happily flourishing herb garden in the backyard. So the menu this summer has been fresh stuff, grilled stuff and anything you can enjoy while sitting outside.

Summer pizza? Why not, especially when you've got fresh herbs aplenty - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Another rule of summer eats should be, make friends with people who own smokers. We now have two friends who bought Traeger smokers, and aside from the obvious choices like meat, meat, and more meat, did you know you can smoke a pizza? Before you picture someone rolling up a pepperoni and cheese like a fatty blunt, here's some pics from the last time we made smoke-grilled pizzas. HOLY CRAP, IT WAS DELICIOUS, YO!

Yes, we can smoke a pizza! Don't forget the drinks. - Photos by Wasabi Prime
When I don't have access to friends' smokers, baking a pizza in the regular ol' oven is fine, even if it brings up the temperature in the kitchen a bit. High oven heat on a topping-filled rectangle of dough cooks fast, perfect if you don't want to fuss with stirring something over a stove. You can also grill pizza dough on the outdoor grill, I just like having the crispy crust with everything all melted together. The reason why I mention pizza specifically as a summer food is the versatility of toppings. Skip the classic tomato sauce, why not make a savory apricot and caramelized onion spread, dotted with blobs of goat cheese? A sprinkle of fresh arugula and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and that's dinner. You can put almost anything on pizza, even fruit, and with a balance of savory ingredients like charred or caramelized onions, bacon, prosciutto, and whatever cheese you like, it doesn't have to taste like dessert.

Another summer staple has been drinking shrubs, aka drinking vinegars. I know, sounds weird if you've never had one before, but don't turn your nose up at the idea of a tart/sweet herbaceous and fruity flavor that perks up a summer cocktail. Traditionally a way to preserve the flavor of summer fruits, drinking vinegars perk up the palate; the sharpness of the vinegar really refreshes you. My shrubs are typically a half/half of simple syrup and an apple cider or plain distilled vinegar, with a ton of muddled herbs like lemon balm and mint. It's a grand way to keep up with your herb garden, if you want to keep the plants pruned and rejuvenated on a weekly basis. It all sits in a big glass jar to allow the herbs to release their essence, and then it's strained off to mix in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Putting an ounce or two of the shrub in some seltzer is an easy option, or adding it to a mix of vodka, gin, some fresh citrus, and seltzer makes an instant party pitcher drink. If you're feeling inspired, check out these shrub recipes on The Kitchn. 

Eat yer greens! Get inventive with salads - the more color, the better! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Summer dining is also the Season of Salads. And no, I don't mean some lackluster iceberg leaves tossed with shreds of carrots. Salads can, in fact, be hearty and delectable. And the more color, the better. I've been playing with salads a lot -- grilled veggies tossed with chilled quinoa or bulgur to make a Mediterranean-inspired dish. Add some chopped olives and chickpeas, with a crumble of feta and mint for freshness -- BOOM, instant summer meal. And I like mixing grilled meats with raw veggies -- grilling marinated chicken thighs and chopping them up to mix into a Thai-inspired salad makes it a main course. Chopped bell pepper, carrots, slivers of red onion and peanuts add crunch and texture, and spinach greens are a good filler, or serve all of that over chilled vermicelli noodles, Vietnamese-style. It's all about using what you've got, and there's a surplus of colorful goodies every week at the farmers markets, so let the season inspire you.

Hot diggety pretzel-dog - Photos by Wasabi Prime
And because it's the season of outdoor dining, why not make it easy and enjoy hot dogs wrapped in a pretzel bun? You don't need a grill for this, which is handy since News Flash -- not everyone has grills! I'd be perfectly happy with eating hot dogs like this for the rest of my life, frankly, no grill needed. Inspired by the classic Pig in a Blanket, I made Hog in a Comforter! Okay, I didn't really call it that, but these were not wee little piggies -- they were full sized hot dogs, wrapped in homemade pretzel bread dough, and boiled/seasoned/baked the same way you would pretzel buns, but with the meat already inside! I started experimenting with pretzel dough last year, in an Oktoberfest-themed post, and there's a link to an easy recipe from AllRecipes in the post, which works great for wrapping hot dogs. For the days when you want an easy meal enjoyed outside, or something you can take with you with minimal fuss, pretzel-wrapped hot dogs are truly Man's Best Friend.

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