Say farewell to summer with a Labor Day weekend party

News-DemocratAugust 26, 2013 

It's time to pack up the sunscreen, put away the inflatable raft and toss out those worn flip-flops.

Hate to break it to you, but Summer 2013 is coming to an end.

If the start of school isn't enough to make you move on, Labor Day weekend is like the exclamation mark at the end of this sentence: Fall doesn't officially start until Sept. 20, but let's face it, say the word "September" and no one thinks summer!

If you're lucky, you've got three days this long weekend to bask in one more round of gathering family and friends together to eat, drink and be merry.

Naturally, what would this weekend be without some great summer food. From simple homemade salad dressing to spicy melon to doctoring dogs, you'll find inspiration for this one last hurrah here.

Let's start with drinks.

Use your favorite black tea in this recipe. Depending on the sweetness of the watermelon, you may need to adjust the amount of puree or sugar used.

Watermelon Sweet Tea

1 gallon water

3/4 cup sugar

5 black tea packets, Lipton's preferred, plus more to taste

3 to 5 cups diced watermelon

2 sprigs Thai basil, leaves only

Tiny watermelon wedges, for garnish

In a large pot over high heat, bring the water to simmer. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar until fully dissolved. Add the tea packets and let steep for 30 minutes. Remove packets and let the tea cool completely.

Using a blender, blend the watermelon into a puree. Lightly mash the basil leaves on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife or in a mortar and pestle to release the aromatics. Add the puree and basil to the tea and mix well. Serve with plenty of ice and garnish each glass with a watermelon wedge.

Makes about 1 1/4 gallons. Per cup: 38 calories, 10 grams carbohydrates, no fat or cholesterol, 6 mg sodium.

The San Francisco Chronicle, from Brenda Buenviaje, chef/co-owner of Brenda's French Soul Food, San Francisco

HONEYDEW MELON LEMONADE

6 cups cubed honeydew melon, divided

2 quarts lemonade, divided

Mint sprigs and lemon slices for garnish

Place 3 cups of the melon cubes in a blender; blend until smooth. Pour into a container and stir in the lemonade. Add the remaining melon cubes, mint and lemon slices for garnish. Chill several hours and keep well-chilled until ready to serve.

Serves: 6, each with 190 calories, no fat or cholesterol, 48 grams carbohydrates, 38 mg sodium.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, August 2013 issue

Then, on to the salads. These dressings are from Taste of Home.

Bleu Cheese Dressing

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup cider vinegar

4 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese

In a bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Stir in the blue cheese. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 2 cups.

Balsamic Honey Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup canola oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon pepper

Mixed salad greens and sliced sweet red pepper

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the first 10 ingredients; shake well. In a large salad bowl, combine the greens and sweet red pepper; drizzle with vinaigrette and toss to coat. Yield: 1 1/4 cups.

Low-Fat Ranch Dressing

4 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Artificial sweetener equivalent to 2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

3/4 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt

2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 garlic clove, minced

In a bowl, combine oil, vinegar, sweetener and marjoram.

Whisk in buttermilk, yogurt and mayonnaise.

Stir in onion, parsley and garlic.

Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours, or overnight to thicken.

Whisk before serving over salad greens and vegetables of your choice. Refrigerate leftover dressing.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups, each 2-tablespoon serving equals 30 calories, 44 mg sodium, 1 mg cholesterol, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 2 grams fat. Diabetic exchange: 1/2 fat.

PICNIC-PERFECT PASTA SALAD

1/2 pound uncooked pasta like fusilli, penne or bow-tie

1 clove garlic, finely minced or crushed

3 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil

6 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk

3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

1 small shallot, diced

1/2 pound cooked medium or large shrimp, shells and tails removed

Extra lemon wedges for garnish

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, cool and set aside.

In a jar with a lid or in a small bowl, combine garlic, oil, buttermilk, dill and lemon juice. Shake or whisk to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Put pasta in a large bowl, add in cucumber, tomatoes, shallots and shrimp and pour dressing over the top. Toss lightly to combine ingredients and coat with dressing.

Serve with extra lemon wedges. Servings: 4.

Cook's note: Diced cooked chicken breast is a nice alternative to shrimp in this salad.

Jill L. Reed, The Orange County Register

Let's not forget a fruit salad, although this is an unusual one.

This isn't so much a recipe as a guideline for the no-fuss fruit salads sold by Mexican street vendors. Mix and match your favorite melons, or add other fruits and vegetables like jicama, pineapple and cucumbers. Use as much chile powder as you can stand -- a mix of mild ancho chile powder and hot cayenne works great.

Melon With Chile Lime Salt

4 to 6 cups melon, cut into large dice or wedges

Halved limes, for juicing

Kosher salt, to taste

Chile powder, to taste

Prepare the fruit and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Just before serving, squeeze lime juice over the fruit, and sprinkle with the salt and chile powder.

You can also serve the fruit with small bowls of salt and chile powder on the side, allowing guests to adjust the seasonings. Serves 6-8 as an appetizer or side dish.

Janny Hu, The San Francisco Chronicle

Followed by vegetable dishes worthy of any outdoor (or indoor) meal.

MARINATED SUMMER VEGETABLES

3 summer squash or zucchini (about 1 pound), sliced on a diagonal about 1/2-inch thick and cut in half if larger in diameter

3 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, cut into 1-inch strips

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed

2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

4 sprigs fresh oregano

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Place squash and peppers on separate baking sheets. Drizzle each sheet of vegetables with 1/2 tablespoon oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Spread out in a single layer, turning peppers skin side up.

Roast peppers on upper rack and squash on lower rack, turning squash once, until just tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool slightly; remove skins from peppers.

In a small bowl, whisk garlic, sherry, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add vegetables and oregano; toss to coat. Cover and let sit at least 1 hour.

Vegetables can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill; bring to room temperature before serving.

Serves: 6, each with 100 calories, 10 grams fat, 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 85 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

Tested by Susan M. Selasky, Free Press Test Kitchen, adapted from www.bonappetit.com

Summer Vegetable Trio

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

4 ounces green beans, cut into about 1/4-inch pieces, about 1 cup

1 medium yellow squash, smallish dice, about 1 cup

Kernels from 1 ear corn, about 1 cup

1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 small serrano chile, seeds removed and minced, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter, optional

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon, to taste

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Lemon juice, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften. Add the beans and more oil if needed; cook briefly until they are hot and starting to soften, about 1 minute.

Add the squash, corn and enough broth to add cooking moisture. Cook another minute or two more, to the desired texture. Add the serrano to taste and a little extra virgin olive oil or butter, if using. Stir in the tarragon and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a side, each with 118 calories, 3 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fat, 0 cholesterol, 13 mg sodium, 3 grams fiber.

Lynne Char Bennett, San Francisco Chronicle

And let's not forget a classic summer love: Hot dogs.

Remember when all it took to dress a dog was a squiggle of neon yellow mustard and a splash of ketchup? We've come a long way.

These days, dogs are dressed to the nines. Never mind all the geographic differences (it seems like every major city now has to claim its own distinct way of doing up a hot dog). Chefs and food trucks are getting in on pushing limits, too, topping hot dogs with everything from kimchee to mango chutney.

It's an exciting time to eat a hot dog. To help you create your own delicious masterpiece, here are some creative ways to adorn your dog.

REUBEN DOG: Sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese, caraway seeds

HAWAIIAN: Thin slices of fresh pineapple, jalapeno peppers, bacon

FRENCH PICNIC: Whole-grain mustard, chopped cornichons, aioli (garlic mayonnaise), served on baguette

THE ITALIAN: Wrap the hot dog in salami before grilling. Top with garlic pickled peppers and sharp provolone

SWEET PEACH: Chopped fresh or frozen peaches, shaved red onion, barbecue sauce, fresh cilantro

CAPRESE: Sliced tomatoes, miniature fresh mozzarella balls, torn fresh basil, drizzle of balsamic glaze

GREEN GARDEN: Scallion mayonnaise, thinly sliced cucumber, fresh tarragon, arugula

MIDWESTERN: Pepper jack cheese, fresh corn kernels, pickled jalapenos, diced red bell pepper

BETTY: Grape jelly mixed with brown mustard, topped with crushed kettle-cooked potato chips

LUMBERJACK: Baked beans, bacon, caramelized onions

Alison Ladman is a recipe developer for the AP

Spiced Pork Chops With Grilled Pineapple

4 center-cut pork chops, 3/4- to 1-inch thick

11/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the grill

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon chile powder

3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 2 limes)

1 pineapple, trimmed, peeled and cut into 8 long wedges

1 teaspoon lime zest (from about 1 lime)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Place the pork chops on a plate or platter and rub both sides with the oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Mix the cumin and chile powder together, and sprinkle over the chops. Drizzle the chops with half of the lime juice.

Place the pineapple slices on another plate, and sprinkle with the remaining lime juice. Mix the zest and brown sugar together and rub all over the pineapple wedges.

When ready to grill, brush the grates with oil to prevent sticking. Place the chops on the grill, and cook until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chops reads 145, about 5-6 minutes per side. About halfway through cooking, add the pineapple slices. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, until the fruit is charred and slightly softened. Serve hot.

Serves , each with 730 calories, 47 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrate, 53 grams fat, 119 mg cholesterol, 114 mg sodium, 2 grams fiber.

Amanda Gold, The San Francisco Chronicle

And finally, leave room for dessert.

Key Lime Bars are a buttery, flaky crust topped with a deliciously sweet, citrusy key lime filling and powdered sugar. The crust to filling ratio is perfect, they're easy to make, and they're a huge crowd pleaser! You just can't beat that.

Key Lime Bars

Crust:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 cups all purpose flour

pinch of salt

Filling:

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups granulated sugar

6 tablespoons all purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons key lime juice

1 tablespoon key lime zest

Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan generously with cooking spray.

Prepare the crust: In a large bowl, beat the butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar till light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add flour and salt, and beat on low speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute more.

Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Prepare the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and 2 cups of sugar.

Add the flour and whisk until combined.

Whisk in the lime juice and zest. Pour over the cooled crust, and bake 25 minutes longer, or until the filling has set. Cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with sifted powdered sugar once cooled, and cut into squares.

Notes: You can easily substitute the key lime juice with lemon or regular lime.

Flavorthemoments.com, recipe adapted from Pat & Gina Neely's Lime Bars

Here's the deal: If you're old enough to remember what an ice cream float tastes like, you can make one -- and so can your party guests.

Set out an array of ice-cold sodas, from root beer to lemon-lime.

Add a variety of tubs of ice cream, a scooper next to each.

Include tall glasses or mugs, straws, whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

Then let everybody make their dream ice cream float. (You can provide directions, if needed.)

Want to get a little crazy? Try this recipe.

Chocolate-Cherry Ice Cream Floats

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups carbonated water, chilled

3 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice

Chocolate syrup

14 scoops chocolate ice cream

Whipped cream in a can

7 maraschino cherries

In a large saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 5 minutes. Cool. Stir in carbonated water and cherry juice.

Drizzle chocolate syrup in each of seven chilled glasses. Place two scoops of ice cream in each glass. Pour carbonated water mixture over ice cream; top each with whipped cream and a cherry. Serve immediately. Yield: 7 servings.

Dineanddish.net from Simple and Delicious magazine

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