Keeping it Simple by Dotti Hydue
WELCOME to the Levy County Kitchen. As the dog days of summer slowly pass, I am less and less inclined to spend time in the kitchen concocting meals. This is the time of year when light, simple meals are a welcome change from heavier fare. Salads made with crispy greens are easy to prepare and light on the digestive tract. Use the following guidelines for assembling appealing salads that make use of Florida’s summer fruit and vegetable bounties.
Greens: A combination of lettuces such as Romaine, iceberg, and red leaf provide a neutral base. Jazz it up with a handful of spicier greens such as arugula, watercress, baby kale, parsley, and spinach.
Vegetables: Get part of your daily vegetable quota by including grated or chopped raw carrots, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, avocado, jicama, and celery; the more the merrier. For added flavor grill or roast the peppers, onion, and tomatoes. Cooked sliced beets, pickled or not, are a tasty and colorful addition.
Protein: Sprinkle with your favorite bean or field pea including black or kidney beans, garbanzo (chickpeas), lentils, lima, and black-eye peas. Cooked chicken, ham or beef as well as salmon and shrimp are common additions to salads and a great way to use up small amounts of leftovers. Additional protein sources are goat, feta, and cottage cheeses, and grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and barley.
Scatter some chopped nuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds over the top as a garnish. Keep the dressing simple so the full flavors of the salad ingredients shine through. An easy vinaigrette can be made by combining 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 teaspoon prepared Dijon-style mustard plus black pepper to taste. One of my favorite salads combines a medley of greens, chopped apple or pear, celery, walnuts or pecans, dried cranberries, and crumbled feta or blue cheese. Jazz a salad up with cooled grilled pineapple slices or peach halves.
The following salad, similar to Panzanella, the Italian bread and tomato salad, should satisfy your craving for a juicy BLT sandwich. The freshness of the ingredients, especially the tomatoes, is what makes this salad memorable. Feel free to use cherry tomatoes, or, if you can get to a farmers market, try a colorful variety of heirloom tomatoes. Substitute turkey bacon for regular if you prefer.
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1 head iceberg lettuce
8 slices good-quality bacon
4 slices Italian or French bread, or hearty white sandwich bread
4 large, ripe tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
Cut the head of lettuce in half from top to bottom and remove the core. Swish the halves in a bowl of ice water; remove from the water and refrigerate until well chilled. Tear into bite-size pieces and roll in a towel or spin in salad spinner to remove excess water. Place in serving bowl and refrigerate.
Cook bacon in hot skillet until crisp; set aside to drain. Lightly toast the bread. Core and cut tomatoes into 1-inch pieces. Toss with the lettuce and crumble the bacon over the top. Cut toast into 1-inch pieces and add to salad bowl. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Stir in mayonnaise to your taste and serve immediately.
You might tinker with other salads based on “deconstructed” sandwiches. For ham and cheese on rye, purchase a thick-cut slab of ham and Cheddar or Swiss cheese from your local deli. Cut them into cubes and toss with a mix of lettuces, croutons made from buttered rye bread, and a mustard-based vinaigrette.
The only dessert I’ve made lately was a custard-based fresh peach pie. I was trying to recreate the cheese pie my husband remembers his grandmother making for him when he was young. It was worth turning the oven on and heating up the kitchen, but it did not come close to his memorable pie. We enjoyed it anyway, but as with many food memories, you just can’t match grandma’s biscuits, mom’s meatloaf, your mother-in-law’s coleslaw, or other childhood favorites. One of my preferred summer treats as a kid was orange creamsicles from the roving ice cream man. The following pie approximates those dreamy, creamy flavors, and you don’t have to turn on the oven to enjoy them.
Creamy Orange Pie
2 cups chocolate cookie or chocolate graham cracker crumbs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
Combine cookie crumbs and melted butter. Work the butter into the crumbs until the mixture holds together. Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan, using the flat bottom of a dry measuring cup or glass to form the bottom of the crust and the back of a spoon for the sides. Chill thoroughly, at least 1 hour, until set.
In the top of a double boiler, combine egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, flour and orange peel. Mix well. Gradually whisk in orange juice. Cook over, not in, boiling water, stirring until thickened. Remove from heat and chill thoroughly.
Beat the heavy cream until thick. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and beat until stiff. Gently fold cream into the orange mixture, leaving some white streaks. Mound into the crust and chill until firm, at least 4 to 6 hours, before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.
LAST YEAR I harvested over 20 pounds of pears from my one Kieffir pear tree. This year, the squirrels had their way with the young fruit. I’d spot them running across the yard with small pears jammed in their mouths. As the remaining fruit grew, the culprits were the neighborhood crows. My share ended up being just five pears. I ate one a day for five days; they were juicy and so delicious.
My garden is resting and so am I. I managed to cover two of the beds with clear plastic, following UF IFAS directions for solarizing the soil (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in856) in an attempt to keep the destructive nematodes in check. Now is the time to decide what you want to plant in the fall vegetable garden and where, taking into account the principles of crop rotation.
August is National Catfish Month, Peach Month, National Picnic Month, and Family Fun Month. Celebrate by going on a picnic with your family. Bring fun games for all ages to enjoy and stuff the picnic basket with fried catfish, peach cobbler, and plenty of cool drinks.
That’s all for now. Stay cool and until next time, the kitchen is closed.
August Days of Note:
4th: National Chocolate Chip Day
9th: National Book Lovers Day
10th: National S’mores Day
14th: National Creamsicle Day
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