Memorial Day Roundup: Favorite Summer Cocktail, Portable Appetizer, Make-Ahead Side Pasta Salads, and BBQ Baby Back Ribs

It’s here folks! The unofficial start to the summer season. And if you live in New England, it’s been a loooong time coming. So let’s kick things off right and embrace all the best this time of year has to offer. And easy, outdoor entertaining tops the list. I’ve put together my favorite recipes, whether I’m the one hosting or I’m the guest and need to bring something. These are all tried and true, so I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Favorite Summer Cocktail

The Greyhound–what’s better than citrus in the summer?

  • Freshly squeezed Ruby Red Grapefruit juice (please, absolutely no canned, bottled or yellow grapefruit, and no Oceanspray Ruby Red Cocktail juice–not that that stuff isn’t good, but a true Greyhound it does not make!)
  • Vodka
  • Limes

Tips

  • Do not refrigerate any of your citrus fruit, ever. If it’s refrigerated, it won’t yield enough juice. If your fruit happens to be cold, you can microwave it…carefully! (very brief 10 second increments so it doesn’t explode in there!)
  • To get the most juice out of any type of citrus fruit, roll it firmly with your hand on the counter for about 20 seconds. I’m telling you, this really gets the juices flowing!
  • Once you’ve juiced the grapefruit, be sure to strain the pulp. Don’t be fooled–you’re going to need a lot of grapefruit, especially if you have a big group coming over.
  • Mix to taste with vodka and serve over ice. You can mix a big batch ahead of time (no ice) and keep in the fridge until the party starts, or just refrigerate the juice separately and let guests fix the drinks themselves when they arrive.
  • I like to squeeze lime in at the end and use as a garnish. (Important lime tip: When shopping for limes, buy smooth ones that aren’t overly dimpled. Smooth limes typically have the most juice. Don’t you just hate when you get home from the store and your limes are all dry inside? Drives me up and down a wall!. This is also why I don’t buy pre-bagged limes. If I can pick them individually, I can usually get a feel for if they’re juicy or not.)
  • Enjoy!

Favorite Summer Appetizer

Homemade Jalapeño Poppers–I first had these a few years back at a BBQ with family friends at their beautiful home on Lake Winnipesaukee. I couldn’t get over how good they were and how simple they are to make! They’re a huge crowd pleaser.

  • Fresh Jalapeños sliced lengthwise, seeds removed. (CAREFUL!! Fresh Jalapeños can be VERY spicy and when you’re cutting them and especially seeding them, you probably should wear gloves. I never do and I’ve paid the price many times-one touch near the eye or even the lips and you’re an inferno for a very long time. The spiciness mellows quite a bit once they’re cooked.
  • Cream cheese (I recommend Philadelphia Brand, not whipped).
  • Thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma. Not all Prosciutto is created equal. While I’ve used the grocery store variety for this recipe and it’s fine, true Prosciutto di Parma sliced fresh and super thin at the deli counter is amazing. It melts in your mouth (but you will pay for it–it ain’t cheap!).

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375℉ (alternatively, you can cook these on the grill. I haven’t tried it this way, but this is how we had it the first time around. I’d recommend medium heat and keep an eye on things–they’ll cook faster on the grill than in the oven)
  • Spoon some cream cheese onto the halves of jalapeños
  • Wrap one slice of prosciutto around each jalapeño half. Secure with toothpick if needed.
  • Place on rimmed baking sheet.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes. I’d check on them at 15 and then every 5 minutes thereafter-you want the prosciutto crisping up nicely and the cream cheese hot and melting, so you may need to adjust the timing accordingly.

Favorite Make-Ahead Side Dishes 

Tomatoes

  1. Fresh Tomato Pasta Salad (recipe further down page)
  2. Barefoot Contessa’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables (You knew I had to get an Ina recipe in here!)

This is something we all need. You want to enjoy an entire beautiful summer day outside and not be stuck in the kitchen right before you’re having friends over or heading to someone’s house for a BBQ. You want food that’s ready to go. Enter: the make-ahead side pasta salads. The caveat, not all pasta salads are created equal. I grew up in the unfortunate era of Salad Supreme. Remember seeing this little guy in your mom’s spice cabinet?

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I think there was a span of about 3-4 years sometime in the mid ’80s when every single beach BBQ we had featured the ubiquitous salad of tri-color rotini, Italian dressing, and a healthy dose of salad supreme sprinkled on top. The veggies mixed in varied depending on what was growing in my dad’s garden. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really mind the salad all that much, it’s just that it was there on the table…A LOT! And it really didn’t seem to have all that much flavor. By the time dinner rolled around, the rotini had absorbed most of the Italian dressing and that Salad Supreme didn’t seem to be making anything supreme at all. So here are two make-ahead pasta salad recipes that I think hold their flavor very well and also make for great leftovers.

Fresh Tomato Pasta Salad–not so much a recipe as it is some of my favorite ingredients thrown together. My whole family loves this dish summer, winter, anytime in between.

  • Lots of grape/cherry tomatoes. I’d say at least two pints, ideally 3-4. Lately I’ve been buying the “Lil Wonders” mixed tomatoes (see pic above). Never refrigerate your tomatoes. They’ll lose any flavor they have.
  • Fresh Basil
  • Large clove garlic
  • Good olive oil. Tip: My two recommendations for not terribly expensive olive oil include:
    • California Olive Ranch Rich and Robust (I like the Everyday style too, but for fresh salads the rich and robust has good flavor)
    • Market Basket Greek olive oil. If you’re a Massachusetts or New Hampshire local, don’t be put off by Market Basket’s store brand. Remember, Market Basket is owned by the DeMoula family and they’re Greek. The DeMoulas know their Greek food. This olive oil is a fantastic deal. (Another great Market Basket find is their imported feta cheese that you can find next to the deli section)
  • Good parmesan or pecorino romano cheese. Tip: The purists out there will kill me for recommending pecorino romano (and a pre-grated brand at that–I can see Ina cringing right now (ha! As though she’d be reading my blog!).  I do, however, swear by  Costco’s Cello Pecorino Romano cheese. I buy it in bulk and use it in any and all dishes that call for parmesan (and in green salads as well). For whatever reason, it’s not the same as the Cello brand you’ll see in regular grocery stores. It’s much better and very flavorful. I highly recommend you try it.

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  • Good balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze. Tip: I love Trader Joe’s Platinum if they have it.
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Trader Joe’s Platinum Balsamic Vinegar
  • Short pasta of your choice (I recommend Barilla or De Cecco Brand)

Instructions:

  • Wash the tomatoes and slice in half.
  • Chiffonade the basil (I’d say about 1/2 cup). To chiffonade, stack the leaves, roll them up, and use your kitchen shears (most useful kitchen gadget ever) to thinly slice.
  • peel and grate garlic clove on a microplane (if you don’t already own one, now’s the time–they’re awesome for zesting citrus, grating garlic, and grating frozen ginger)
  • Toss everything together in large bowl.
  • Add olive oil (maybe about 1/2 cup)
  • Add a little balsamic–maybe a tablespoon or 2.
  • Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Let sit room temperature to marinate at least 20 minutes. The tomatoes will release their juices.
  • Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and return to pot. Add a tablespoon of olive oil so it doesn’t stick together. Once it’s cooled slightly, toss with tomato mixture.
  • Add cheese to taste–I’d say at least a 1/2 cup, plus additional for serving, but we’re big cheese lovers over here.
  • Serve room temperature or refrigerate and bring to room temperature before serving.

All-time Favorite BBQ Rib Recipe

This one goes to Bon Appetit. I’ve tried many a rib recipe and I still like this one the best. As the recipe suggests, you can bake the ribs up to 3 days ahead of time (and I recommend you do). The meat stays very tender and they’re super easy to finish on the BBQ the day you’re entertaining. I don’t even make my own BBQ sauce, I just use store bought. Lately we’ve been enjoying Newman’s Own Original, but I’d love any brand recommendations you might have.

Bon Appetit Best Ever BBQ Ribs

I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend with fantastic weather! As always,  thanks for stopping by.  I’d love to learn some of your favorite entertaining tips for the season, so please add in the comments!

–Jen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Would love to hear your thoughts!