Summer in the Midwest offers a continuous stream of street fairs, state fairs, ethnic fests and food festivals. All of them include a bevy of food. At many of them, you will find a vendor selling a Greek-style sandwich called a Gyro. I had my first gyro about 20 years ago at the Taste of Chicago. One of the Greek restaurants in Chicagoland was serving them up hot and fresh. A mammoth hunk of well-seasoned meat, mostly lamb, was roasting slowly on a vertical skewer. The sandwich maker carved thin slices of meat, piling them onto warm pita bread.
One of my favorite summer treats -- requiring no more prep than a good rinsing -- is to sit down with a big bowl of bright, plump cherries and simply enjoy them in their natural form. It's only fitting that one of the simple pleasures of summer becomes part of a simple, good-for-you and very tasty dessert. Even the most dedicated bakers often look for simplified recipes during the summer months, as they try to avoid standing by a hot oven or stove top.
I'm beginning to think I've become a senior citizen. I'm sure I'm not old enough for that title. But the thought hit me a couple of weeks ago. As I was enjoying my last happy hour adventure, I realized that restaurant happy hours might be the baby boomer's version of the early-bird specials my mom and dad used to go to after they retired to their home at the lake. They'd plan all day to arrive at their favorite early-bird restaurant around 5 p.m. to take advantage of lower prices for slightly smaller portions of some of their favorite entrees. I went along with them once or twice.
Most people take a vacation to get away from it all. Especially work. I recently hefted my suitcase into the trunk of my car, put my bike on the rack, and headed to Minneapolis for a week of vacation. Miles and miles of beautiful winding bike trails around Minneapolis lakes, light rail rides, a Twins game, cozy coffee shops, wine bars, meals at great restaurants with friends, stops at my favorite shops and lots of exploring were all included in my vacation plans. I didn't quite leave everything behind me, though. I brought some work along.
Picture a man on his deck with a brand new kettle-style charcoal grill trying to get the domed top to go down over a chicken sitting on a can. I'm sure you can imagine how that scene plays out. I had a front-row seat. If you're one who enjoys a little drama at your backyard picnics, you might like the idea of balancing a whole chicken on a beer can as it roasts in a hot grill. The method of cooking a chicken over a can of liquid to infuse moisture and flavor into the meat has been around for years.
On one of those hot days over the Memorial Day weekend, I was thinking of my summers of long ago. Back when summer was slush season in our family. On weekends, my dad would get us all loaded into the car to head to Gull Lake north of Brainerd where we had a cabin of sorts that eventually became a home and was ultimately the place where my parents retired. My mom made sure we always had plenty of snacks and good food at the lake. And good drinks, too. In the freezer at the lake, we could always find a big ice cream bucket full of slush.
I've baked and cooked my way through more rhubarb seasons than I'd like to admit. But I can't stop grinning when I think of how many there should be ahead for me to enjoy. You see, I love rhubarb. And every year my heart goes all aflutter over a new favorite way to prepare and eat this "fruit." Oh, fickle me. This year I have a new love. It came to me at a restaurant in Portland, Ore. I was making a meal of a salad of roasted beets, yogurt, salsa verde, watercress and pine nuts on a cool and soggy spring evening at Clyde Common restaurant in Portland.
If you come home after a long day of work, toss a frozen Lean Cuisine dinner into the oven and hit the television remote control to tune into the food channel, you're not alone. Just when I was feeling confident that people were getting back into the kitchen to cook, often using recipes and tips from their favorite television chef, I attended a session at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference called "The Death of Recipes?" and learned otherwise. Recipes are everywhere, yet many people still don't know how to cook, or just aren't bothering to do it.
"What are a few things you always have in your pantry?" I'm often asked this question by curious cooks. There are actually more than a few pantry staples that I couldn't be without. But the one that always comes to mind first is olive oil. Right now, one of the pull-out shelves in my pantry is groaning with the weight of several bottles of extra-virgin olive oil.
I've always thought walnuts tasted best in cookies, particularly chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies. Quick breads have also been a logical place to put some chopped walnuts. My mom used to add chopped walnuts to tuna salad.