Summer is the best season for flavor. The fruits and vegetables are fresh, especially if you buy locally grown, in-season produce from your local farms. For me, walking outside to my herb garden and clipping sprigs of oregano, tarragon, and fragrant leaves of basil and mint makes a world of difference in the flavor of my food. Even for the timid cook, or the person who claims to cook only because they have to, seasoning with herbs can make creating a meal an easy and painless task.
Cooking relaxes me. I love playing with flavors and combinations, but I also savor the foods I grew up with. The tried and true. The recipes handed down from yiayiá to mamá and now to me. I watched my mother cook, throwing in a little of this and a little of that, never measuring. Tasting as she went along. That is how I learned to cook. So read your cookbooks with an open mind and with your taste buds in consideration. If a recipe calls for an ingredient or a seasoning you don’t care for, don’t discard the recipe; tailor it to your liking.
This past Monday, Memorial Day, I announced I would have a lazy day by the pool. The rest of the weekend was fun, but filled with commitments and I wanted to do absolutely nothing – a rarity for me. I told my family that I would just grill some hamburgers and make a quick salad when we were ready for dinner. My niece said, “A lazy day by the pool. I could use that. I’ll come over.” Then her mother, my sister, said that her husband would be working on getting the boat ready for the summer and she wanted to come over, too. Then, I called my friends who live across the street, because, after all, they’re not company, and why shouldn’t they join us for a “lazy” day by the pool. Next thing I know, my niece texts me and asks if my husband’s nephew is coming because she has a present for his children. Now why didn’t I think of that? Sophia and Ryan would love to swim.
Well, needless to say, my lazy day by the pool and hamburgers for dinner turned into a little bit more.
Jack Daniels hamburgers with pretzel buns, lemon-tarragon grilled chicken, olive oil and herb rubbed lamb chops, Greek salad, grilled corn salad, lemon roasted potatoes, and tomato bruschetta.
Actually, it was a simple dinner for the 13 of us. I kept it as uncomplicated as I could and restrained myself from making more side dishes and appetizers. I don’t think I could have sat around doing nothing for too long anyway. Watching everyone have a good time at my home gave me joy. A trait passed down from my mother.
Olive Oil and Herb-Rubbed Lamb chops
8 – 10 Lamb chops, rib or round bone
1/3 cup Olive oil
2 Tablespoons dried oregano, or ¼ cup loosely packed fresh, snipped
2 Tablespoons dried basil, or ½ cup fresh, shredded
2 Tablespoons fresh dill
4 – 5 mint leaves, shredded
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ Teaspoon each of salt and pepper
Juice and zest from 2 lemons
Combine all the ingredients (minus the lamb) in a bowl and mix together. Rub the herb mixture onto each lamb chop. Place in a marinating bag or container and add the rest of the mixture. Marinate overnight. Grill or broil.
Lemon Tarragon Chicken Marinade
2 Pounds thin sliced chicken cutlets
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup of honey
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dried tarragon, or several sprig of fresh, leaves pulled off stems.
Combine all the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken and marinate at least 4 – 5 hours, overnight if possible. Grill.
Lemon roasted Potatoes
5 Pounds of potatoes.
1/3 cup Olive oil, or enough to coat potatoes
Juice and zest of 2- 3 lemons
3 – 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons dried oregano, or 1/3 cup fresh
2 Tablespoons dried parsley, or ¼ cup fresh
Fresh basil if you choose
2 Tablespoons semolina
* Note on the herbs – the amounts are estimates. Add as much or as little as you like. More of something you love, less or not at all of something you don’t care for.
**This is a recipe that can be played with. For another variation, skip the lemon and add grated cheese. Or keep the lemon and add tarragon and shallots, omitting the oregano.
Peel and quarter medium sized potatoes. Place in a roasting pan and add the olive oil. Toss to coat thoroughly. Add the lemon and zest and toss again. Add the herbs, garlic and seasonings. Add the semolina and once again, toss to coat. The semolina will give the potatoes extra crispness. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees for 25 minutes. Turn the potatoes and roast for another 20 minutes.