JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune
My spinning instructor says we're squarely in the eating season; she hounds us to pedal faster. She's right, of course. From Thanksgiving through New Year's, temptations abound — from the sharing tables at the office to dinners with visiting friends and relatives. And let's not talk about my penchant for eating all the richest items at holiday dinners first.
I never want summer to end, so I look on the bright side: Autumn weather practically begs for slow-simmered foods. Yum. Beans, for example. Beans prove an excellent source of lean, inexpensive protein. Their versatility and adaptability means they can play prominently in main-dish salads, creamy soups and hearty stews. They pair terrifically as rustic side dishes to our fall grilling and roasting recipes.
Snibbles, we call them in our house. Snacks and nibbles combined. Tapas, they call them in Spain. Small bites of satisfying flavors to enjoy with a beverage of choice. Sparkling lemonade for the young ones; beer, spiked wine and cocktails for the rest of us.
Steak on the grill ranks as one of the best summertime meals ever. Heck, best meal ever, anytime, when cooked to perfection. Learning to grill a steak perfectly takes practice, but it's worthwhile. I believe that if you can cook a steak, you can tackle nearly everything that cooks quickly on a grill — from beef steaks to chops, chicken, seafood and many vegetables.
I'm still learning kitchen tips from my 87-year-old mother. Rather than rely on pricey delivered meal kits, she stocks a modest supply of essentials suitable for fast weeknight dinners and impromptu guests. Frozen shrimp, purchased on sale, is a standard. Same for a few key frozen vegetables, fast-cooking pasta, canned tomatoes and refrigerated chopped herbs. The spice drawer contains a modest variety of herbs and spices; olive oil, onions and garlic are always on hand.
Somehow, despite the popularity of low-carb, no-carb and paleo diets, toast is having a moment. A long moment at that. Avocado toast graces the menus of all manner of restaurants. Sliced, toasted rustic bread smeared with smashed ripe avocado and a sprinkle of salt. The combination has taken the country by storm. We eat it up! Happily. Carbs be damned. Thank goodness. If there's anything better than well-made bread, brushed with flavor and bronzed with heat, I'd like to know.
PEPPERED SALAMI CRISPS Arrange a single layer of thinly sliced peppered salami on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Place in a 325-degree oven until heated through and glazed, about 10 minutes. Let cool on the rack; salami will crisp as it cools. Serve at room temperature. LAMB AND KALAMATA SAUSAGES WITH MINTED TOMATO SAUCE Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Makes: 4 to 6 servings
My father loves dessert. My mother baked spice cakes, brownies, pies and cookies daily, so he'd have a homemade treat after dinner and in his brown bag lunch. His first words after surgery? Chocolate ice cream, please. All this means that for his birthday and Father's Day, we pull out the sweet stops. I also enjoy these aromatic red berries with savory seasonings such as sweet-tart balsamic vinegar and black pepper. These macerated strawberries make a terrific topping for avocado toast or stirred into warm brown rice with garbanzo beans and fresh chives.
Small grills, uncovered grills and makeshift fire pits, are perfectly suited for quick-cooking foods that embrace the golden flavors rendered by high-heat cooking. Without a lid, open-grilling adds char and browning. Fast. More airflow encourages a hotter fire. Therefore, the foods best-suited to uncovered grilling include tender steaks, thin boneless cuts, delicate vegetables and seafood.
I have yet to meet someone who doesn't like tacos. They're simple yet rich, casual yet special, and the perfect party food. I reserve speedy ground beef tacos for weekday suppers. For entertaining, I turn to the grill for tender beef steak or fish tacos. For do-ahead cooking, there's nothing better than long-simmered meat cuts, seasoned highly with chiles and vegetables, from the Dutch oven or slow cooker.