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June 2006

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Cooking Without Fire
Cool Recipes for Summer
By Kirk Leins

Cooking Without Fire - Cool Recipes for Summer - By Kirk Leins

My grandmother had a saying. Anytime I'd prematurely bite into hot food and burn my mouth, she'd say, "So, what did you expect? It was cooked with fire."

I'm relaying this anecdote because it's somewhat timely. During the summer months, turning on the oven in your kitchen means heating up your entire home like a sauna. So, what do you expect? You're cooking with fire.

If you viewed the video at the beginning of the article, you've already gotten a glimpse at the dessert component of my gourmet summertime meal which is cooked "without fire." In case you'd like to print the recipe, here it is in written form.

Strawberries with Sambuca and Black Pepper
Place the desired quantity of sliced strawberries into a mixing bowl. The most efficient way to slice a strawberry is to cut off the very top of the berry, along with the green stem. Then place the strawberry onto its newly cut side and slice downward into 1/4 inch pieces.

Add several tablespoons of Sambuca (Italian anise-flavored liqueur) to the berries, or at least enough to coat them all once they're tossed. Allow the berries to sit for fifteen minutes and then spoon them into bowls, along with any accumulated juices. Top with roughly cracked black pepper.

If you're feeling squeamish about black pepper on your marinated strawberries, trust me when I say it adds a fabulous, zesty bite and perfectly offsets the sweetness of the berries and the liqueur. These strawberries are not only great on their own, they're also delicious on top of vanilla gelato or pound cake. One thing's for sure – your guests will be impressed.

Now, for the rest of the menu...

An appetizer or first course adds a nice touch to any meal. Whether you're entertaining guests or preparing dinner for your family, offering a little something special at the top will help to take the edge off of big appetites. It also sets the stage for multiple, portion-controlled courses, which I consider to be a very civilized way to eat.

During warmer months, there are many starters one can prepare to satisfy voracious eaters without turning on the oven. One particular favorite is a well-designed cheese plate. I say "well-designed" because a great cheese plate does require a little planning.

Cheese Plates
In order for a dish to be considered a "cheese plate", you need to offer at least 3 different cheeses. This practice not only ensures that each of your guests will find a cheese they'll enjoy, it also shows them that you really put some thought into it.

Aside from offering an array of cheeses, you'll want to be sure to vary the flavors. I think a great combination includes one blue cheese, like gorgonzola or stilton; one soft or creamy cheese, like brie or havarti; and one aged cheese, like a white cheddar or parmigiano reggiano.

The next component of a great cheese plate needs to offset its overall richness. There's no better vehicle for that than ripe, juicy fruit – especially during summer. Fruit and cheese are a classic food combination which can be served at everything from a weekday dinner to a five-course special occasion. Some of my favorite fruits to serve with cheese are Fuji apples, pears, Asian pears, grapes, kiwis, and melon. Speaking of melon, a nice addition to any cheese plate is succulent wedges of sweet cantaloupe wrapped with thinly-sliced prosciutto.

Lastly, you'll need something crunchy to serve as a backbone for the cheese and fruit. My choice is thin slices of artisan French baguette. Other options would be good quality, store-bought crackers or crustini. If you go that route, however, I urge you to stay away from flavored crackers. They will only take away from the delicious simplicity of your cheese plate.

Now, on to the main course...

On a warm summer night, nothing satisfies quite like an entrée salad. They're cool, healthy, and prepared within minutes. The downside to having salad for dinner is walking away from the table feeling not quite full. The trick to creating a salad worthy of being a dinner entrée is incorporating components of traditional dinners: namely protein, vegetables, and maybe even a starch.

Here's one of my creations that I think you're going to love:

Salmon, Avocado, and Grapefruit Salad (serves 2)
Start by cutting the supremes out of a ruby red grapefruit. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this process, begin by slicing off the grapefruit's top and bottom rind. Place one of the cut ends on a flat surface and, using a sharp knife, take the rind off the sides. To do this, cut from top to bottom, in between the fruit and the rind. There should be no white pith left on the fruit and no fruit left on the rind. Keep working your way around the grapefruit until all the rind is removed. Keeping the fruit on the cutting board, find a set of segment membranes and cut in between them from top to bottom. You should now be able to remove a perfect segment or "supreme" – all fruit with no pith, rind, or membrane. Continue this process until all the supremes are removed, and set them aside in a bowl.

Into another bowl, squeeze the juices from the large center membrane that remains. To the juice, add 1 shallot (chopped finely), 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk the mixture until emulsified and set aside.

In a large salad bowl, combine 6 cups of mixed greens with any amount of thinly sliced red onion, cucumber, and diced tomatoes. Season the greens lightly with salt and pepper, and toss with desired amount of dressing, reserving at least 1 tbsp for later. Arrange equal amounts of greens on two plates. Top each with thin slices of avocado, 4 oz of either canned salmon or poached salmon from the deli, and grapefruit supremes. Drizzle equal amounts of remaining dressing on top of fish and serve.

In addition to wine, there's one last item you may want to include. It's a refreshing twist on conventional ice water and an easy beverage to serve alongside any course of this meal. Add a dozen or so thin slices of both lemon and cucumber to a glass pitcher, and fill with bottled or filtered water. Set the pitcher in the fridge long enough to get cold. Before serving, add ice and bring to the table along with traditional white wine glasses. Make sure each glass gets a few slices of lemon and cucumber. This drink will help to keep you and your guests cool while adding flair to the meal!

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