With the temperature rising, it's time to get out of the kitchen, dust off the barbecue and do some outdoor cooking.
Everyone loves grilling, even hesitant cooks, and it takes no prior experience to become a competent backyard chef. Starting with the basics of grilling burgers or dogs, one can learn as they go and build up a repertoire of more complex dishes -- and having fun doing it.
Outdoor cooking is one of the highlights of summer when friends and family gather in the backyard for a relaxed afternoon of conversation and good food.
And let's not forget, grilled food just tastes better than traditionally cooked foods. The hot grill sears in the flavors and provides that savory taste we all know and love.
When thinking of grilling, the first thing that comes to mind is the meat. There are tons of marinades, rubs and seasoning mixes out there on the market, but I find the simple combination of salt, pepper, garlic and dry basil or oregano to be the best. It's inexpensive, no unknown added ingredients, and best of all it doesn't require a trip to the market because I always have these items on hand. If you want to spice things up, add cayenne, chili flakes or other interesting herbs or spices.
For those vegetarians out there, the same applies to fish, tofu or even veggies. Portabella mushrooms grill beautifully and make a nice substitute for animal protein, using the same spice combo above and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
To accompany the main dish, I like to think beyond the expected mayonnaise-based potato salad and coleslaw and go summer fresh, with internationally-inspired dishes like Thai cucumber salad, Mexican roasted corn and pepper salad, and Italian bread salad with fresh summer tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.
Or try the traditional with a light twist, with Greek potato salad, German potato salad, snap pea potato salad, Asian coleslaw, apple jicama coleslaw or cilantro lime coleslaw. Grandma's potato salad will still be a hit, and even more appreciated with other fresh options to add to the plate.
While the grill is still hot, we like to toss on olive oil-drizzled crusty bread slices and start thinking about dessert. Have any fresh fruit on hand? Fresh fruit is a healthful choice anytime of the year and the fresh flavors are enhanced over a grill, extracting their natural sugars and caramelizing the surface. Cut peaches, pineapple, bananas and mango can be placed straight onto the grill, or skewered on a stick with strawberries as a grilled fruit kebab. Add ice cream or freshly whipped cream and dessert is done.
More of a dessert traditionalist?
Fruit cobblers are made for summertime. Toss strawberries, raspberries, cherries or other seasonal fruit with a little sugar and flour, pour it into a baking pan and top with a mixture of one part sugar, one part flour and one part butter. Bake until bubbly and golden brown. Mmmm!
Summer is no time to be spending hours in a hot kitchen preparing meals. Gather family, friends and neighbors and get outside for a grill party. It's how summer is meant to be!
Melissa Davis is a local chef with a bachelor's degree in nutrition. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More of her writing is at www.melissadavisfood.wordpress.com.