Where were you one year ago on the first day of summer? If it wasn’t on the pandemic frontline, you probably were parked — in the yard, on the front stoop or in front of a screen. The longest and most light-filled day of the year may have felt like the darkest, and as we all now know, the virus was just getting started. In the spirit of “social distance” (the most incongruous word pairing ever), we were handed a shrink-wrapped version of the “great outdoors” and told to stay put and ride out the most un-summery summer of our lives. So I’m asking: Can we have a do-over?
It’s impossible to calculate how much we lost or missed out last summer. To make up for lost time, we are dusting off our quarantined selves and getting reacquainted with the eats and sips of summer. We kick off this two-part series with celebrating at home, made especially more delicious in the company of others (remember that?). We include some of our most favorite tastes of summer, along with evergreen kitchen tips and tricks that that you may have missed from last year’s Stay-Put Cooking coverage. Think of this as Stay-Put(ish) Cooking, if you will, with a renewed appreciation of seasonal ingredients, and a spaciousness and levity that did not exist one year ago.
Stay-put cold brew
On mornings that are simply too sultry for a hot cup of coffee, I am thankful for my stash of cold-brewed coffee concentrate that makes coffee-shop quality iced coffee. Here’s the quickie formula to make your own:
- 2 1/2 cups ground coffee (or 1/2 pound whole beans, ground on medium-coarse setting)
- 6 cups cold water
1. Combine coffee with cold water and let it steep for 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.
2. Strain and store in refrigerator.
For a 12 to 16-ounce serving, I recommend about 1/4 cup concentrate. Mix with 1/4 cup cold water and/or ice cubes. Sweeten or lighten with milk of choice. For a coffee soda, add some sparkling mineral water.
Berries and cherries, brambles and melons, oh my
Strawberries opened this year’s fruit season at local farms, and they have been exceptionally sweet. Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks for cherries, followed by blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.
Here are a few tips to make the most of this sweet season.
- All of these precious morsels are highly perishable. Keep them refrigerated, unwashed and covered (but not in plastic) until ready to eat.
- To freeze, pit cherries and hull strawberries. To minimize the dreaded freezer clumping, place fruit on an uncovered sheet pan in a single layer and freeze, then store in freezer containers.
- Speaking of hulling strawberries, set aside those green tops for spa water. Wash up to 1 cup of strawberry tops and place in a quart jar or pitcher. Add water and let steep overnight. Drain; the resulting water will lightly sweet and fragrant.
Melons are still weeks away, but keep these few things in mind at the market:
— It should never feel squishy
— A watermelon should feel heavy in your hand.
— A cantaloupe or honeydew melon should be fragrant, but not stinky.
— Keep all sweet melons unwashed until ready to eat, then thoroughly wash and dry the exterior before cutting open. Store all cut melon in the refrigerator.
In case you missed it from last summer’s Stay-Put Cooking installment, here’s what you need to make your own salad dressing in an eight-ounce jar:
4 tablespoons oil, 3 tablespoons acid (your choice of citrus or vinegar) and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Put the lid on top and shake like crazy. Flavor extras include: 1 teaspoon mustard, dried oregano or minced ginger, 1/2 teaspoon honey.
Other salad tips:
— Like raw onions or scallions in all those summer salads but they don’t like you? Squeeze the juice of a lemon on top and let them sit for about 15 minutes. The lemon bath helps them to mellow out and make them easier to digest.
For cooked salads featuring pasta, grains, potatoes or beans, a few rules apply:
- Season those just-cooked star players while still warm and ready to absorb dressings, sauces or vinaigrettes.
- For the supporting cast of ingredients, add in layers on top, then toss and finish with any remaining seasoning. This helps keep the structural integrity of your salad.
- Cooked salads may need reseasoning after some time in the refrigerator. Taste for both salt and acid.
Corn is around the corner
I still marvel at being able to drive to a farm stand 10 minutes from home and buy ears of corn that’s been picked that afternoon.
If you’re not going to eat corn within two days of purchase, shuck, remove kernels from the cob and freeze for later. (Don’t forget to label and date.)
Meanwhile, throw the cobs into a saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes. You have instant corn broth for now or later, for soup, stew, risotto or pot pie. You won’t regret it.
Go crazy this summer and try putting corn kernels on top of pizza dough or in your Sunday morning pancakes.
Eggs for dinner
The extended sunlight and warm temperatures make laying hens happy, which translates into gloriously golden egg yolks. There is no better time of the year to practice your egg-poaching skills or throw a frittata into weeknight dinner rotation. The eggs are at their maximum richness.
- Fresh eggs — within 7 days of purchase — are ideal, increasing your chances of smooth (versus jagged) egg whites.
- Salting the cooking water seasons the eggs and a small amount of white vinegar (about 1 teaspoon) helps the egg white set. For details, go to lanc.news/PoachedEggs.
A parting (sweet) thought: Fruit crisp
If you have 5 cups of fruit that needs using up, you have the makings of a crisp. It can be a mix of frozen and fresh fruit, a mix of berries or with a little rhubarb or stone fruit mixed in.
Five cups is the perfect amount for a square 9-inch baking dish. Remember to grease that pan.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Fruit should be mixed with 1 tablespoon of flour, a few squeezes of fresh lemon or lime, a quick glug of vanilla extract and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar. (Remember, the topping will be sweet.)
For the topping, I like to take about 5 tablespoons of softened butter and mix in a bowl with about 1/3 cup brown sugar, a few pinches of ground cinnamon, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup walnuts. A half cup of oats is another way to go. Work everything together with your hands until it looks like molded sand from an inverted beach pail. Chill for about 15 minutes, then completely cover the fruit.
You can cover if you like for the first 30 minutes, then finish uncovered for the final 15 minutes, or until the crisp is happily bubbling.