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Food for Thought
Barbecues and Picnics
Sizzling burgers, corn on the cob, berry pies, and icy beverages herald July, the beginning of picnic and barbecue season.
Ask any man who is wielding a spatula, and he will tell you that he is "cooking dinner," when what he is actually doing is standing by the barbecue, beer in hand, flipping meat around with panache, while behind the scenes a woman is pressing burger patties between waxed paper, husking corn, organizing condiments and utensils, and making side dishes and a dessert. You may consider this an unjust stereotype, but I promise it is true in my household!
And yet, I look forward to summer dining.
The casual atmosphere of outdoor cooking is perfect for entertaining. People are comfortable and relaxed, and conversation flows more naturally. Simple foods taste better in the fresh air, and no one has to worry about dripping salad dressing or wine onto a white tablecloth.
Steaks, burgers, hot dogs, ribs . . . these are all traditional favorites. For some reason my husband and I don't seem to be able to grill edible chicken, and since I don't find pink chicken with black skin very appetizing, my favorite way to barbecue it is on sticks, à la shish kabob. I prefer wooden skewers to stainless because the chunks of meat and vegetables stay in place better when you turn them. Some people use two skewers for each shish kabob to make turning them easier, but I have issues just getting one skewer through the mushrooms and pineapple chunks without breaking them; two would test my patience. For best results, make sure to soak the skewers in water for 30 minutes before use.
I use Spicy Teriyaki Marinade for either chicken or beef kabobs.
I slice the raw meat into thin strips and marinate them for an hour, then thread them back and forth on the skewer. They cook quickly and evenly this way. Add vegetables and fruits to add interest and flavor: mushrooms, chunks of fresh corn and pineapple, cherry tomatoes, and juicy morsels of sweet peppers. They are all delicious, nutritious, and colorful. I especially love mushrooms. Try to find little ones to avoid the need to cut them. Toss them in a generous amount of olive oil (with a sprinkle of seasoning salt stirred in) and let them sit for an hour before putting them on the skewer.
If your plans are ruined by rain, shish kabobs can easily be cooked in the oven. Simply put them on an oven-safe rack or a roasting pan that lets the juices drip into a pan below, and broil them on the center rack of your oven for five minutes on each side. You can keep them on warm for a little while if necessary, but don't let them dry out!
Corn on the cob can be grilled with the husks on. Here's a link with simple instructions: Grilled Corn on the Cob.
If you would like to make it even easier (or if you are cooking for a crowd), preheat your oven to 350 degrees, rinse off the corn, and throw it in the oven, husks and all. That's it. It will be tender in 2030 minutes. The silks pull off easily and the corn keeps its flavor. Purists will eat it just like thatI vote for melted butter and salt!
One last word about outdoor barbecues: wasps! We seem to live in yellow jacket heaven here, and they can make it miserable for us to even sit on the porch during the summer. Throw in meat, fruit, and sugary drinks, and they're merciless. No matter what my brain is saying (usually something like "Don't act like an idiot! Hold still and they'll go away!"), my body is running in circles, and I'm squealing like a pig. Not attractive, and certainly not a good thing to do with my arms full of food and drink. So . . . here's my advice:
Take a piece of meat. Do not be miserly here. I've sacrificed a beautiful New York steak to the cause before and never regretted it. Put it on a long stick and lay it over a bucket of water, at least thirty feet away from the festivities, making sure it's not where small children or animals can reach it. The yellow jackets will eat until they fall in the water. The object is to keep them busy far away from you and your company, so even if you skip the water and just nail it to a post, they'll go for the easy pickings and leave you alone. Or just invite me; I seem to attract them.
You can picture it, can't you? Imagine a perfect mountain meadow in bloom, a shade tree near a creek, a warm summer day at the beach. Anywhere you can spread a blanket and set down a food basket is a good place for a picnic.
My idea of perfect picnic food is a crusty loaf of bread, some sharp cheese, fruit, and a bottle of wineI'm not interested in fussy sandwiches and salads that belong at a ladies' tea. But for a traditional picnic menu I suggest oven-fried chicken (cold, of course), cole slaw, a bag of potato chips, icy lemonade, and watermelon slices or strawberry shortcakes for dessert. If this makes you think of a drive-thru and a big greasy bucket of chicken, put that thought out of your head. Instead, try one of these easy recipes:
For summer potlucks, picnics, and barbecues, there are three desserts that are always welcomed. Pies, chocolate cake, and s'mores. Here's an all-American berry pie that would be great for the 4th of July.
For fun, I combined chocolate cake and s'mores to make this "Sinful S'mores Cake." It's a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
Whether you are hiking up to a mountain lake, going to a church potluck, vacationing by the ocean, or simply lounging on the porch with a handful of friends, great foodthoughtfully madewill turn a good time into a wonderful memory. Have a happy summer!
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2015.