Cooking in the Dog Days of Summer

I have always loved the “dog days” of summer, the time from the end of July to the beginning of September when the hottest, most sultry days happen. As a kid, I remember taking a “rest” in the hayfield under the shade of a tree, staring at the clouds that changed from profiles to animal shapes, and comparing my ideas with those of my siblings. Even the clouds this time of year seemed to be “lazy.”

It isn’t until we’ve had a few sultry dog days like this that we feel we’ve had our summer -  the total opposite season from  the “Arctic Clippers” of January when we know we’ve had our winter.  When September comes it is refreshing and cool at night.  Usually.

During dog days it is hard to even think of cooking very much. I don’t want to heat up the kitchen, but there are all those wonderful vegetables coming ripe in the garden, and hungry people around.  It’s actually a time when it is easy to eat in a very healthy way.  Green and chopped salads, salsas, and grilled vegetables and chicken or fish come to mind.  Yum!

Vegetables are part of a balanced diet and making delicious barbecued veggies means that you can cook an entire meal outside on a grill without heating up the kitchen a single degree.

side dish recipes include such delights as grilled portobello mushrooms which are juicy and delicious with any meal, grilled corn on the cob served with butter or simply rubbed with fresh lime and sprinkled with ground cumin and Kosher salt was something we enjoyed in Bangalore, India!

If you love mushrooms, you will love them grilled. Portobello mushrooms are meaty mushrooms which are about 5 inches in diameter. To prepare them, you need to remove and discard the dark gills from underneath the mushroom with a spoon. Portobellos can substitute for meat in a grilled menu. I love them grilled brushed with with olive oil, garlic, and served with a squeeze of lemon juice and butter-fried fresh sage. This makes a perfect first course.

Orange-Garlic Grilled “Spread Eagle” Chicken and Vegetables

For the best flavor, plan on mixing the marinade a day or two ahead of time, and marinate the chicken overnight.  To “spread eagle” the chicken, you cut the backbone out of the chicken and flatten it out for grilling.  This system works well for Cornish game hens as well.  Plan on about 40 to 45 minutes cooking time.  While the chicken cooks you can grill the vegetables, too, brushing everything with the marinade.

Marinade:

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup olive oil or canola oil

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 broiler-fryer chicken, 3 1/2 pounds

For the vegetables:

About 2 pounds fresh vegetables or your choice, prepared as directed below

A second batch of marinade just for the vegetables

For the marinade, in a small jar, combine the garlic, oil, orange zest, and rosemary.  Cover, and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 day or up to one week.  (Prepare a second batch for the vegetables.)

Rinse chicken inside and out and discard lumps of fat. Reserve neck and giblets for another use.  Dry the chicken and using a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut down both sides of the backbone; reserve bone for another use.

Spread the chicken out flat and place in a deep pan and brush all over with the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the vegetables, prepare as directed below for each. Brush with the 2nd batch of marinade. If you’re doing this ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to grill.

Prepare the barbecue.

Place the chicken with the skin side up over medium coals on a lightly greased grill, about 4 to 6 inches above the coals. Cook, turning and basting the chicken often, and cook until the meat near the thighbone is no longer pink (about 40 minutes.)

Meanwhile, grill the vegetables until they are streaked with brown and tender when pierced. Serve vegetables either hot or at room temperature along with the grilled chicken.

Vegetables for grilling:

Asparagus: Rinse and dry, brush with marinade and grill 5 to 6 minutes.

Bell peppers and fresh chiles: Rinse and pat dry. Brush with marinade and grill 8 to 10 minutes in all.

Cabbage or radicchio: Trim and cut cabbage into lengthwise quarters. Cut radicchio in half. Brush with the marinade and grill 6 to 10 minutes, turning once.

Corn on the cob: Brush corn with marinade and grill about 8 minutes.

Eggplants: Cut off stem end of small Oriental eggplant and cut  in lengthwise halves; brush with marinade and grill 12 to 15 minutes.

Green Onions: Rinse and dry, trim off root ends. Brush with marinade and grill 5 to 6 minutes.

Fennel:  Cut off woody stems. Cut vertically into 4 equal slices; brush with marinade and grill about 20 minutes.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams: Cut in halves or cut large potatoes into lengthwise slices or wedges. Cook in boiling water until tender, about 8 minutes. Brush with marinade and grill 8 to 10 minutes longer.

Sweet Onions: Do not peel, but cut in halves crosswise. Brush with marinade and grill about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the onions, or until tender but not mushy.

Summer Squash, zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan:  Cut larger squash into halves lengthwise, or into thick diagonal slices. Brush with marinade and grill 10 to 15 minutes.

Tomatoes:  Cut in halves, brush with marinade and grill 8 to 12 minutes.

Bumbleberry Pie

Fruit pies are American comfort food. Summertime is when the abundance of berries and fruits call for the pie baker to get busy! With the rainbow of fruits and berries before us there is no lack of combinations to try.

If you opt to skip baking a pie only because the crust is a challenge, here is a simple recipe for a “press-in”” pastry shell. It hardly takes more time and effort than pressing a commercial refrigerated pastry shell into a pie pan. What’s lost in flakiness is gained in flavor (not to mention the comfort of knowing what’s IN the crust itself!)

When you bake this type of crust, it doesn’t shrink or change shape when you need a pre-baked pie shell. For a double-crust pie, I just press half the crumbs into the pie pan, and pour in the filling and top the filling with the remainder of the crumbly mixture.

A while ago I received a request for “”Bunbleberry Pie””. I had never heard of such a thing, but after some research discovered that this is a category of pie which mixes fruits and different kinds of berries. I’ve tested the recipe with a variety of fruit and berry combinations, including blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, with or without rhubarb, with or without apples all with delicious results. Just be sure to have a total of 5 cups of fruit.

The idea of bumbleberries fascinated our grandkids so much that they asked for bumbleberries and cream for breakfast almost every morning. We just combined different berries in a bowl and they were perfectly satisfied! Now I’m thinking – maybe a bumbleberry coffeecake or a bumbleberry cheesecake would be fun. But, here’s the pie for starters.

BUMBLEBERRY PIE

  • Pastry for a double crust pie, either your own recipe or Press-In-Pastry (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/3 cups white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 small cooking apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup blackberries or blueberries
  • 1 cup rhubarb, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • Water and about 1 tablespoon additional sugar for top of the pie

Preheat the oven to 425*F. Roll or press pastry into a 9 inch pie plate. Stir sugar and flour together in large bowl. Add apples, raspberries, blackberries, and rhubarb. Toss together, and turn into pie shell. Cover with top pastry (either crumb pastry as described in the Press-In Pastry recipe, or with your own rolled-out pastry). Seal the edges. If you use a rolled-out top crust, slash vents onto the top crust, if using crumb pastry, this is not necessary. Bake for 45 minutes, or until browned and filling bubbles. Makes one 9-inch pie, about 8 servings.

MIXED BERRY PIE

  • 1 recipe Press-in Pastry
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh gooseberries or raspberries
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 425*F. Prepare the filling and press half of the crumbly pastry evenly into a 9-inch pie pan. Combine the berries, almond extract sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl; toss to mix well. Turn into the unbaked crust. Sprinkle with the remaining pastry crumbles, or press the remaining crumbs together to make a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and using a cookie cutter, cut into leaf, flower or other shapes and arrang on top of the fruit filling. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the filling in the center is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Cool until barely warm or to room temperature before serving.

PRESS-IN PASTRY

  • 2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, or 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 whole egg

Mix flour and sugar together. Cut in the butter (you can do this in the food processor) until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg until well blended. Press half of the mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan, pushing it firmly to make an even layer. For a pre-baked pastry shell, preheat the oven to 300*F. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the pastry is lightly browned. Cool completely before filling.

For a double-crusted, filled pie, pour filling into the unbaked crust. Sprinkle the second half of the pastry mixture over the top. Bake as directed for a double crust pie.