Unlike most people (who tend to shed a few pounds once the warm weather rolls around), I have a propensity to push the scale upward a pinch. For me, the eating is never better than in the summer, when schedules are more relaxed and gardens, farmers’ markets and even the big chains are overflowing with brilliantly hued veggies, fruit, pies and jams. The aroma of wood chips and charcoal waft across suburbia, and the afternoon heat makes indulging in water ice, margaritas or a crisp, cool beer feel right virtually any time of day. Cooking and eating are a summertime sport, even on weeknights. Of course, we don’t want to expend too much effort putting on a spread, which is why knowing where to find timesaving goodies is crucial.
This past weekend was a huge culinary success, with all the credit going to the boneless, rosemary-peppercorn-marinated leg of lamb I purchased from Trader Joe’s, a feisty container of gazpacho soup and a trio of teriyaki salmon burgers I scored at Whole Foods, plus an ample supply of fresh greens from my weekly CSA delivery. (My apologies for not having photographs; the digital camera was dead and no batteries in sight.)
The lamb ($15 for approximately 2 Â½ pounds) is a breeze to make, especially if you have a meat thermometer, which I did not since mine is defunct. The cooking instructions are on the packaging, but I started the oven higher (about 425 degrees) and kept it there for half of the cooking time (about 20 minutes per pound). The outside was a beautiful mahogany color, and the inside—well, if you like your meat pink—was picture perfect. Matched with sautÃ©ed kale and Swiss chard, plus roasted beets (thank you, Food Source), this made for an easy Friday night meal—with plenty of leftovers for Sunday. (If you’d rather grill, Trader Joe’s also stocks rib chops and boneless butterflied legs.)
Saturday was more greens, mixed with Spanish almonds, feta cheese, chopped beets, avocado, red onion, fresh radishes, and cooked-just-enough-to-be-safe teriyaki salmon burgers topped with minced ginger, wasabi and a soy-based drizzle. Cooking time: less than 20 minutes. Look for two to three other combinations at the Wynnewood Whole Foods seafood counter—spinach and feta; lemon-thyme; or “The Atlantic,” with red onion, dill, Worcestershire sauce, lemon and Dijon—all made with robust wild salmon (you can request farm-raised). Figure about $6 per burger and, if possible, use a grill pan.
Sunday came together very quickly, in say, about 10 minutes, and included leftover sliced lamb, another hearty green salad, and cool, crisp bowls of gazpacho courtesy of Whole Foods ($6.49 for 23 ounces). Made with a “broth” of tomato juice and beefed up with tomato paste, water, hot sauce, chili and chipotle peppers, every bite of cucumber, red and green bell pepper, red onion, corn kernel, tomatoes and jalapeÃ±o was distinct and crunchy, with a welcome creeping hit. (I had the Maryland crab soup for lunch today, and I give that a thumbs-up, as well.) You can dress the gazpacho up by serving it in a martini glass and garnishing with fresh cilantro, basil leaves, “fringed” scallions or strips of jalapeÃ±o.
Whole Foods: 339 E. Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood; (610) 896-3737, wholefoodsmarket.com
Trader Joe’s: Various locations, traderjoes.com
By the way, if you’re looking for a few good bites outside your dwelling, check out the Terrace at Pond’s new al fresco—and more casual—menu. In lieu of the a la carte items Chef Abde Dahrouch has been spinning, the new prix fixe menu ($19/lunch, $29/dinner) features sophisticated, seasonal dishes like chilled gazpacho served with a crab claw and pepper vodka, marinated white bean salad, tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and lemon confit; a Kobe burger with Vermont cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, grilled balsamic-marinated vegetables and Portobello mushrooms; and a homey provolone and parsley chicken sausage. Summer hours: Lunch, Wednesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Wednesday-Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m. 175 King of Prussia Road, Radnor; (610) 293-9411; pondrestaurant.com.
And if Happy Hour Under the Stars sounds like a grand idea to you, check out the specials at Coyote Crossing in both Conshohocken and West Chester. Half-price appetizers include flautas de pollo for $3.50, beef or chicken quesadillas for $4, or guacamole quesadillas for $3.50. Happy hour drink specials feature $5 margaritas, $5 glasses of wine, and $3 Dos Equis XX and Coronas (available in the bar area only). Coyotecrossing.com.
June marks the debut of Sunday Brunch at Sullivan’s. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the menu is packed with steakhouse-sized breakfast fare like filet hash and eggs, broiled tenderloin benedict, and chopped chicken cobb salad with applewood bacon, eggs, onion, tomatoes, avocado, shredded white cheddar, blue cheese and sweet basil dressing. Check it out at sullivansteakhouse.com.