For many kids and adults, summer is synonymous with freedom. The days seem endless, the sunshine empowers everyone with energy, and the world is filled with the smell of freshly cut grass and blooming flowers. Summer also brings the most plentiful and ripest fruits and vegetables to market and inspires outdoor cooking while you sip on frosty, thirst-quenching summer drinks.
Nothing tastes better on a hot day than a frosty summer drink in a tall glass. Whether it’s old-fashioned sweet tea with fresh lemon slices floating on top, a healthy smoothie, an indulgent milkshake, or a tropical cocktail, short of jumping into a cool mountain lake, a cold beverage is the pinnacle of refreshment. Mix up a pitcher of lemonade and add a shot of vodka to the grown-ups’ glasses or bring out the blender and whip up popular “umbrella” drinks such as Pina Coladas, Mai Tais, or Fruit Daiquiris, both traditional and virgin versions. For a light afternoon drink, give white or red wine some pizzazz by adding club soda to create Wine Spritzers.
As refreshing and satisfying as cool drinks are, they taste even better when paired with summer snacks. Tortilla chips dipped in creamy guacamole, chunky salsa, or a layered dip nicely complement fruit-based beverages. Make lettuce cups using romaine lettuce leaves filled with roasted chicken, honey ham and shredded carrots dressed with honey-Dijon dressing. Finger foods like empanadas, egg rolls, and pot stickers are good companions for evening cocktails.
Quick breakfasts packed with instant energy are most popular in the summer. When the cool evening falls, bake some muffins and breakfast breads to have on hand to kick start the mornings. Pack the muffins with fresh fruits such as blueberries and cherries or make oatmeal, banana nut, or whole-wheat muffins and pair them with chunky fruit salad. Cinnamon raisin bread toasts up quickly and is even better when topped with soft cream cheese. On weekends, take the time to cook a summer breakfast buffet featuring quiche Lorraine, sticky cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs flavored with your favorite cheese and ham or breakfast sausage, and a colorful spinach frittata. Thick slices of oatmeal bread slathered with honey butter round out the meal. Serve with freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice garnished with fresh mint sprigs.
Light summer lunches keep energy levels high throughout the afternoon. Keep a bag of mixed salad greens on hand to create generous lunch salads topped with canned tuna or salmon, cooked salad shrimp, julienned ham strips or crisp crumbled bacon. Add some cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds, sunflower seeds, and chopped celery to add taste and texture. To build quick cold sandwiches, stock up on sliced deli meats and cheeses, butter lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and an assortment of sturdy rolls and buns. Satisfy childhood cravings with egg salad sandwiches and bacon, lettuce, and tomato combos on toasted wheat bread.
Summer dinners are typically lighter than those served in other seasons. Chicken breasts are quick and easy to prepare and excellent topped with fresh sautéed mushrooms and garlic, bottled or homemade salsa, or a mélange of pineapple, mango, and a bit of minced fresh jalapeno pepper. Toss short or long pasta with a light lemon sauce and top it with sautéed jumbo prawns. Take advantage of summer’s plentiful cherry and grape tomatoes by topping al dente angel hair pasta with the tomatoes, crisp bacon pieces, and a generous grating of fresh Parmesan.
Summer grilling keeps the kitchen cool and lets you prepare sumptuous food infused with the unique flavor only direct flames can provide. Grill chicken parts or butterfly a whole chicken and slowly cook it over medium-low flames until the skin crisps and brush it with barbecue sauce right before it’s done to keep the sauce from burning. Use cedar planks to grill salmon or tuna fillets or stuff a whole salmon with herbs and onions, wrap it in foil, and grill until the flesh flakes. Barbecue fish fillets directly on the grill but be sure to liberally oil the grill and fish surface to prevent sticking. Roast potato wedges and thick onion slices alongside the meat, chicken, or fish.
Ice cream, sherbets, ices, frozen yogurt, and sorbets are perfect endings for summer meals. Dress them up with hot fudge sauce, fresh strawberries lightly macerated in balsamic vinegar, or a sprinkling of toasted pecans or walnuts. Build pretty parfaits in red wine glasses with layers of whipped cream, fruit, and your favorite frozen confection. Top a freshly baked fruit pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to bring out the luscious flavors of peaches, strawberries, and blackberries. Serve warm cobbler with a spoon of heavy cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. Make an old-fashioned icebox cake and keep it in the refrigerator for a quick sweet treat fix or midnight snack. If you’re a citrus fan, make a key lime pie in a graham cracker crust or a mile-high lemon meringue pie with the juice of fresh lemons so plentiful during the summer.