Monday, July 14, 2014

Summertime.... And the Cooking is Easy....

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Love to cook in the winter, but summer seems like the natural time to take a break and just make what's fast, easy, fresh, and — most important — cool.

One of my favorite go-to recipes in the summer is an Italian Bread Salad, inspired by a recipe found in Lauren Chattman's wonderful book, Cool Kitchen: No Oven, No Stove, No Sweat! 125 Delicious No-Work Recipes for Summertime or Anytime.

Basically, a bread salad is like an exploded Italian sandwich — but at its most simple,day-old Italian bread is tossed with tomatoes and an oil and vinegar dressing. Chattman also includes salami, mozzarella cheese, and black olives to make it more of a main dish — but really, anything goes and the combinations and permutations are endless. (Hubby likes smoked chicken and and I love roasted red peppers. Since I'm vegetarian, I usually keep the meat — if we use any — to the side.)

Here are the ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or more to taste)
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (we like fresh oregano, grown in our window boxes)
3 large tomatoes, cored and cubed.
1 tablespoon chopped chives (again, from the window box)
i cup (or more) large black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (I put in more)
4 cups diced leftover good bread (we have used almost every type available and it's all good)
1 bunch arugula, washed and dried (any sort of lettuce works)
1/4 pound fresh mozzarella, diced (other Italian cheeses work as well)
1/4 pound spicy Italian salami, sliced and diced (really, any protein works — a rotisserie chicken is good, too)

Make the dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and fresh herbs in a small bowl. 

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. 

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. 

Let it stand for about 10 minutes, mixing once or twice.


Lovely Reds, what are your go-to hot weather recipes?

HALLIE EPHRON: A favorite (making it tonight)! 

Cold orzo salad with artichokes hearts and feta cheese. 

It can be a main dish (especially with the addition of cold  shrimp) or a side. So simple. 

Ingredients (for about 6 people):
- About 3/4 cup of uncooked orzo
- 1 jar of marinated artichoke hearts with the marinade
- About 8 oz of crumbled feta cheese
- Your favorite olives - I like calamata
- About a pound of chopped fresh tomatoes
- Chopped fresh basil, oregano, or both
- Optional: 12 nice large steamed shrimp, chilled and chopped in thirds

1. Drain (save the marinade) and chop the artichoke hearts.
2. Cook the orzo following the directions on the box. Drain. While it's still warm transfer it to a large bowl and dump over it the marinade from the artichoke hearts. Mix.
3. When cool, add the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate.
4. When ready to serve, toss and taste (should be tangy). Add salt and pepper to taste. It may need more oil and vinegar (or lemon juice if you prefer). 
5. Optional: Top with the pieces of cold shrimp.

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm a sucker for sesame noodles--all kinds. I love the gloppy, viscous ones they serve in Chinese restaurants, and my sister-in-law's standby with noodles and a separate sauce. But the ones I serve over and over when company's coming and the barbeque is humming have no peanut-ty sauce at all. They are spicy and salty with a tang that comes from the balsamic vinegar and they can be paired with just about anything. 


1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoons minced, peeled ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon hot chili oil or chili paste with garlic--to taste!
1 pound linguine
12 scallions, cleaned and chopped
1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil, cilantro if desired

Heat the peanut and saute the garlic and ginger on medium heat for about a minute.

Scrape this into a large bowl and add the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, hot oil or chili paste, scallions, and sugar, and whisk these ingredients until well combined. Cook the noodles as directed, drain, and rinse. Add them to the bowl and mix well. Leave them at room temperature, tossing occasionally until the sauce is absorbed. Before serving, sprinkle with nuts, basil, and cilantro, if desired, and serve at room temperature.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I'm intimidated. And impressed!  Those sound so yummy!  But I am always rushing and when I do "quick," i mean quick. I have been known to take Whole Foods orzo salad (with ingredients like Hallie's) and just add fresh basil, leftover grilled corn and more feta--and I have to say it takes like homemade.  But for the Jungle Reds party, I'll bring the fast-fast-fast appetizers, okay?

Baby BLT’s 

Cherry tomatoes  (sniff in the store to make sure they smell like tomato, not cardboard)
Romaine lettuce
Crisply cooked bacon
Garnish for the serving plate

Cut each washed tomato in half.  Scoop out most of the inside.
Place a dollop of mayo in each half
Stick a tiny torn piece of romaine into each 
Pop in a piece of bacon
(These will look beautiful.)
Arrange on a tray with sprigs of fresh parsley or basil

Quick Caprese 

Cherry tomatoes  (sniff in the store to make sure they smell like tomato, not cardboard)
Fresh basil pesto
Fresh mozzarella cheese, in baby-marshmallow size balls  
Fresh basil
Garnish for tray

Cut each mozzarella ball in three slices
Cut cherry tomatoes in half
Top with slice of mozzarella
Put a dollop of pesto on top
Arrange on tray with parsley sprigs, or stalks of tarragon and tomato halves 
Chop fresh basil into tiny pieces,  sprinkle across the top of the cheese

(These are easy finger food, but if you want to provide little forks, it’s delicious for guests  to dip each tomato into a pool of extra high quality balsamic vinegar. Splurge on the vinegar!)

Quicktime Taste of Tuscany

Chunks of fresh cantaloupe
Chunks of fresh honeydew melon
Fresh basil
Fresh herbs for garnish

Cut honeydew and cantaloupe in to bite-size chunks. (Consumer reporter alert here—be sure to wash the outsides of the melons before you cut to prevent salmonella!)
Wrap each chunk with prosciutto, and secure with toothpick
Arrange on tray with herbs from your garden (or the grocery)

RHYS BOWEN: Where do you women get all this time to cook? And to have these fantastic recipes? I used to create inventive dishes and entertain when I was young and my husband's job required it. But now my favorite summer dish is a traditional ploughman's platter. English pub fare. It is simple a selection of good strong cheeses, maybe a slice of ham or pate, lettuce, tomato, green onions, pickled onions, mustard pickles, and fresh crusty bread. My perfect midday meal.

But I do have a shrimp recipe I love to serve, when I have the time.

Barbecued Shrimp
half cup butter
half cup chopped green onion
half cup ketchup
half cup water
tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
I tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined.

Melt butter, stir in onion ketchup, water, Worcester sauce, lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, mustard. Simmer 5 minutes.
Thread shrimp on skewers. place in shallow dish and pour marinade over shrimp.  Let stand.
Broil about 5 minutes each side, brushing with marinade.
Serve with good French bread or hot rice dish. Yum!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: All this food sounds fabulous! It's too hot 
to cook anything in Texas right now. Even the grill is a challenge (standing in front of a 500 degree grill when it's already 100 degrees outside!) but at least it doesn't heat up the house. Salivating over Hallie's orzo salad, but, alas, hubby doesn't like artichokes or olives. Maybe I'll make it just for ME. Definitely doing Rhys's grilled shrimp! 

My daughter and I are big on bruschetta. A local bakery makes wonderful ciabatta, so we toast that, drizzle on a little really good olive oil, and serve with hummus, or tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, or olive tapenade, or artichoke spread.... The possibilities are endless, and require no heat.

So to go along with everyone's great recipes, I thought I'd contribute my new favorite summer drink:

Debs's Pom Swirl

1 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
1oz Bombay Sapphire gin (or good gin of choice)
1/2 oz Lillet Blonde vermouth
1/2 oz Creole Shrubb orange liqueur *
Pom Wonderful Pomegranate juice

Fill a pretty wineglass (very important step!) with ice. Add first five ingredients. Then fill to a half inch from the top with the Pom--here's where the swirl comes in, as the bright red juice sinks down through the other ingredients. Fill the last half inch of the glass with your favorite Proseco and stir. Garnish with mint or basil. Yum!

*You can substitute any orange liqueur, but the Creole Shrubb is not as sweet as Grand Marnier or Cointreau, and has a slight spicy/herbiness to it that is perfect for this drink.

I just wish we could put all these things together and have a party! Cheers!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: These recipes all sound great! (And Hank,

aka Miss Scarlett, you're such an over-achiever with three!)

Lovely readers, what are your favorite quick and no-fuss summer recipes? 


  1. The truth of the matter is that I cook all summer long.
    But here’s a recipe for a salad we particularly enjoy . . .

    Fennel, Dill, and Cucumber Salad

    2 medium-sized fennel bulbs
    3 small Persian cucumbers
    1/4 cup fresh dill
    Olive oil
    White balsamic vinegar
    Salt and pepper

    Cut the fennel bulbs in half; remove the hard core

    Using a mandolin, finely slice the fennel and place in a bowl

    Finely slice the cucumber with the mandolin and chop the dill

    Place both in the bowl

    If you like raw onion, you can add 1/8 cup finely sliced sweet onion to the bowl

    Dress with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper

    We often have this with the addition of crumbled bacon and feta cheese. Yum.

  2. What are these recipes of which you speak? I'm a bachelor. I subsist on TV dinners and take out, especially pizza. More time to read that way anyway.

  3. I have a new favorite salad:

    Cucumber, tomato & chickpea salad
    Slice half an English (burpless) cucumber, leaving the skin on
    Throw in a pint of cherry tomatoes
    Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas and add that to the bowl
    Slice thin as much sweet onion as you like and toss that in
    Top the whole thing with a couple of tablespoons or so of SEASONED rice wine vinegar. Toss it around and refrigerate for a half hour or so before serving.

    If course summer also means the old standby of chicken on the grill. I use bone in skin on chicken breasts, hit them with a little Penzey's Smoky 4S Seasoned Salt and grill over medium direct heat for about 18 minutes,turning twice.

  4. Well, hardly an overachiever --but the baby BLTs are pretty delicious. And I do love a recipe where you hardly have to do anything, you know?

    Susan! How was it giving Twist's speech at the ITW awards? Must have been very cool...

  5. Joan, that sounds great!

    Mark — HA!

    Hank, Thrillerfest was fabulous. HIS MAJESTY'S HOPE was nominated but didn't win, alas — BUT got to go up to accept Twist Phelan's award. She'd given me a very funny speech in advance just in case, and it was really great to do. (Also, I sat one seat away from Lee Child -- we share the same editor -- had a bit of a fangirl moment...)

  6. Gazpacho variations, which are salad in a glass: tomato juice, ripe tomatoes if you have them, cucumber (you should be able to taste the cucumber), a garlic clove, some olive oil, some red wine vinegar, some red onion-- and if you want, throw in some lettuce, parsley, bell peppers. Salt and pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly. You can add some toasted bread pieces before blending or float them on top. I like it in a tall glass with a fat straw.

    Or hummus: chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame), lemon juice, garlic, salt to taste. I add a shot of hot pepper sesame oil. Blend till smooth. Serve on pita if you have it, or even on toasted bread, or use instead of mayo on a sandwich (especially a veggie sandwich). Add paprika and sliced green olives if serving on bread or pita.

    Stove? What stove.

  7. Oh, I'm hungry, and I just had breakfast! Am copying out the entire post (and comment/recipes, too).

    I love a cold cucumber soup in the summer.

    2 cucumbers (14 ounces total), peeled, halved, and seeded, plus thin cucumber rounds, for serving
    2 cups buttermilk
    1 T (or more) chopped fresh dill
    Coarse salt and ground pepper
    Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

    Roughly chop 1 1/2 cucumbers; dice remaining cucumber half. Place roughly chopped cucumber in a blender with buttermilk and blend until smooth, 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Divide soup among four bowls and stir in diced cucumber. To serve, top with cucumber rounds, a drizzle of oil, and more pepper, if desired.

  8. One of my summer faves is tabouli. I made it last night as a matter of fact. I don't tend to follow recipes in a formal way, so trust your instincts on the relative amounts of each ingredient. Personally, I use a heavy hand with the parsley, lemon on mint.

    Put a cup of coarse bulghur
    into a good-sized glass bowl. Pour in a cup and a half of boiling water. Then set a plate on top of the bowl for about a half hour to let the bulghur absorb the water.

    While that is happening, chop a whole bunch of parsley (or better yet, throw it in the food processor and give it a good whirl.) Do the same thing with a big handful of mint leaves, and maybe three cloves of garlic (or several garlic scapes, which I was fortunate to have on hand last night.)

    When the half hour is up, squeeze the juice of three or more lemons over the bulghur, and add about 1/4 cup of good olive oil. Grind some black pepper over this and add some sea salt. Toss with the parsley/mint/garlic. Add a bunch of halved cherry tomatoes, some crumbled feta, nice olives and a can of rinsed garbanzo beans.

    Good on its own or to compliment a bit of grilled protein (chicken, shrimp, what have you.)

  9. Oh, and I grew up with summer borscht. My grandmother made it from scratch-- beets, sugar, citric acid-- but I buy jars of European marinated beets, or American pickled (sweet-sour) beets, eat some of the beets, put the rest and all the juice into the blender BRIEFLY (you want some chunks or shreds). Chill and you can drink it in a glass or eat it from a bowl. My grandmother added sour cream and mixed it thoroughly. I use buttermilk-- lower in calories and easier to mix.

    Or make a salsa fresca-- tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, salt-- all proportioned according to your taste. This should be hand chopped and left out at room temperature for at least half an hour so the flavors can meld. Eat that with corn chips, or spread over chopped lettuce or grilled meat-- or use it as a base, adding any or all of the following: canned or frozen sweet corn kernels, rinsed black beans (again, from a can), diced avocado, or little tiny frozen cooked shrimp that have been defrosted. Toss it all together and add salt and pepper (and lime juice if you feel it needs it, but it often doesn't). Any seasoning needed depends on the strength of your jalapenos and onions, and how much cilantro you add.

    And having gone from Russia to Mexico, let's stop in Italy, where my summer treat was a macedonia of fruit: cut up stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, apricots, even cherries) and berries (raspberries are my favorite addition), even some cantaloupe. Toss, allow to sit out at room temperature for about half an hour to an hour (depending on the room temperature). Best served with a tiny scoop of gelato panna or torrone). You can add a little sugar and lemon or lime juice if you want, even a little orange juice. Or Cointreau or a variation thereon. The main thing is is should be seasonal fruit and it should be ripe.

  10. Brenda, I always add green onions to my tabouli, and I like it with diced (seeded or seedless) cucumber and sliced black olives and either diced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes. It's another summer fave.

  11. We're big grillers in the summer. One of my favorites is grilled chicken tossed in pasta (any kind) with fresh veggies (broccoli, tomatoes, onions) and extra virgin olive oil. We also do grilled chicken salad. Our tomatoes are starting to come in, so at some point there will be bruschetta (the kids don't like it, but we do). No, I will not attempt to type out the recipe from memory, but it's really yummy.

    Oh and we love to make a giant taco salad platter - just a bed of chips, taco meat, and toppings and we pick away at it. It's cooking, but the ground beef is so quick, you don't get a lot of heat in the kitchen.

  12. I just realized I left the "oz" off after the Lillet Blonde and the Creole Shrubb in my drink recipe!

    Have fixed, just in case anyone was confused and used 1/2 bottle:-)

    Everything here sounds delicious. I might just survive summer with the help of JRW.

  13. Summer borscht! Cold cucumber soup!

    Keep 'em coming!

    (I wish we could grill — alas, apartment life....)

  14. I'm getting so many ideas here! (just turned to BF and said, "I could make gazpacho tonight." No response.)

    Hank, baby BLTs sound adorable and perfect for book events! But I still default to the classic grapes, cheese, and bread with a nice crisp bottle of wine. No cooking required!

  15. I can imagine someone making one drink with 1/2 bottle! Shrug. Must be right; it was on the Internet! LOL

    Hank, those BLT's look divine. What a great idea.

    One of my favorite summer dishes depends on what's growing in the garden/at the farmers market. I call it ratatouille, but there's not really a recipe, per se.

    Start by gathering up the vegetables, in whatever proportion you like, but the best ones are eggplant, onions, peppers of any color (actually, the more colors the better), and tomatoes. You can also add torn chard, sliced mushrooms, and any fresh herbs you have. I love to add a big handful of torn basil close to the end of the cooking time.

    Start with the longest-cooking veggies first. Chopped eggplant, then the peppers, then the onion, and the tomato last. If you're using mushrooms, they do in with the peppers. The chard will go in after the tomatoes, and the herbs last. Cook in some olive oil and serve warm with any entree, and maybe some crusty bread and you have a meal. Delish.

    Seeing Joan's recipe using fennel bulbs I can imagine this with fennel instead of the basil. Yum. Summer's bounty.

  16. Every one of these sounds Fabulous... And I want what Debs is drinking. Yum.

  17. All of the Reds' dishes sound scrumptious, but with my husband not here most of the time, it's just me, so I usually go out to eat for anything that requires much fixing. I do think that the pom swirl, baby BLTs and ploughman's lunch might be doable.

  18. Kathy, sometimes when I'm on my own in the summer, I do hummus and carrot sticks and pita....

  19. I was going to say, gazpacho, but I see someone else has beaten me to it! I made a cold lobster salad yesterday - cooked whole lobster from the grocery store, half a can of hearts of palm, lettuce, with a lemon viniagrette. Serve with a cold Provencal rose.

  20. BLT salad is my favorite easy summer recipe. Very simple!

    BLT Salad

    Head of lettuce
    Chopped tomato
    Crumbled bacon
    Mayo mixed with a tiny bit of mild balsamic vinegar

  21. OH, Susan, very very cool! xoxo

    And these recipe ideas are fabulous.

  22. Ladies, this isn't a post or a blog, it's a bloody cookbook, one that I would buy!

  23. Wow, times have changed. Do you realize that no one posted (a) any kind of tuna salad or spread, (2) any macaroni salad with mayo, or (3) a seven layer salad? (I happen to like seven layer salads, but I never make them anymore). No one posted ambrosia (pineapple, mandarin oranges, marshmallows, sour cream or yogurt, shredded coconut, and halves of maraschino cherries). And where was the pistachio fluff? We have truly left the 20th century behind!

  24. Ellen, too funny! We do make tuna salad at our house, but my hubby only likes dill, mayo, and horseradish in it, so not very exciting. (Have I mentioned that he's a picky eater???) And I love seven-layer salads, but buy them from the local gourmet deli:-)

    Just as glad to leave the ambrosia in the 20th century, thank you very much! Yuck.

  25. Your recipes sound yummy.

    Here is one of my favorites:

    1 frozen banana from the freezer
    any kind of fruit from the farmer's market (I used peach and nectarine)
    1 scoop of lactose free vanilla ice cream
    1/2 cup of coconut milk

    Put all in the blender; blend until smooth;

    = 1 or two cups of summer smoothie