Kitchen Shrink: Seasonal sips and tips for an inflation-proof summer
Ahh, ’tis the season for chilling and grilling, but alas, we’ve all been burned badly by the obscene food prices rapidly heating up. Take heart. You can still enjoy summer’s bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish and meats without heading to your lender for a HELOC — and without feeling deprived. Here’s a primer on inflation-proofing your summer menu.
Steak it Out
While T-bones, ribeyes, New York strips, and other carnivorous luxuries aren’t in everyone’s budget, you can still enjoy a mouth-watering steak on a shoestring. So try a flat iron or skirt steak, tenderloin, or sirloin tip and watch chemistry do its magic:
• Marinate meat in an acidic base whether lemon juice, vinegar, or wine with garlic and choice herbs and spices to infuse with great flavor, and break- down tough muscle fibers;
• Pound with a mallet to tenderize, and give you a good workout too;
• Soak meat in a salty brine;
• Massage with a dry rub blending herbs, spices, salt, and sugar for a savory crust to seal in juices. The rub must be prepared to precise ratios--a higher salt proportion works best for beef, gamey meats, and fish, while a higher sugar content is preferable for various cuts of pork to create melt-in-your-mouth morsels;
• Sear meat in a cast iron skillet to lock in juices before tossing on the grill;
• Cook meats on aromatic wood planks to infuse with a woodsy, smoky flavor, and impart a moist tenderness. Cedar razzes up beef, poultry, and fish, while multi-tasking cherry wood tames gamy meats such as, venison, bison, and wild boar;
• Like Baby Bear’s porridge, don’t undercook or overcook, but grill to perfection.
There’s Plenty of Cheaper Fish in the Sea
Which are equally as healthful (perhaps even more sustainable) than exotic or extravagant fish and seafood with a load of anti-inflammatory, and brain- boosting omega-3’s. Deep sea, cold-water small fish including, anchovies, sardines, and mackerel are packed with good fish fats with less mercury and PCB’s than behemoths like tuna and swordfish. Tossed in pastas with golden olive oil, or as flat bread toppings these make frugal and sassy summer dishes. Local, light and bright fish like thresher shark and rock cod give nice options for grilling, and bases for seafood cocktails or ceviche. If you love crab cakes, you can whip up a divine, budget-friendly imposter blending wild-caught salad shrimp, Alaskan cod, or salmon drizzled with homemade Meyer lemon aioli.
Finally, you can even indulge in caviar this summer with affordable domestic varieties that add saltiness, pop of color, and intense flavor starting with sturgeon indigenous to the Missouri and Mississippi river systems. This small roe, dark brown to nearly black like Beluga has a nutty flavor reminiscent of Osetra. Other bargain homegrown species include buttery Paddlefish Caviar, delicate Trout Caviar with large golden pearls, translucent beads of savory Salmon Caviar, or bright orange Flying Fish pellets that enliven sushi, assorted sides and main dishes. The best way to stretch your caviar dollar is to serve as an appetizer or garnish — a drop here, a sprinkle there on eggs of all manners, hollowed-out baby redskin potatoes, diver scallops, French fries, or in the bulls-eye middle of a seafood pizza.
The Time is Ripe
When the season’s bountiful beauties start to soften, bruise, wilt, or become less than perfect, it’s a good time to transform these into a slew of chilled and refreshing summer soups bursting with vibrant colors and sun-ripened flavors. Avocados gone too ripe, whip up a cool, cucumber avocado bisque; mushy mangos make wonderful tropical refreshers with zippy ginger and turmeric; fresh mint pooped out, add to pureed watermelon for an authentic Greek Karpouzosoupa; heirloom tomatoes past their prime make glorious gazpacho hailed from southern Spain.
A classic liquid salad that blends vine-picked tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, garlic, and chunks of bread sopping with extra virgin olive oil has evolved into many trendy interpretations. Gazpacho has gone urban, fruity, fishy, meaty, smoky, and sophisticated. Golden gazpacho marries sweet and tangy flavors of juicy melons and tropical fruits, yellow heirloom tomatoes, and orange juice (recipe below), strawberry gazpacho juxtaposes the seedy fruit with fresh basil leaves, while grilled gazpacho combines the smoky mesquite flavors of roasted red peppers and tomatillos.
Thrifty Thirst Quenchers
Cool your heels and invigorate your soul with refreshing sips you can concoct at home using summer’s bright herbs, fruits, and flowers to dial up assorted mocktails and cocktails. Toss delicate thyme sprigs, fresh mint or basil leaves into a tall, chilled glass of lemon or limeade, iced tea, fruity spritzers or agua frescas, vodka cocktails, bellinis or margaritas, slushes, smoothies, or a simple pitcher of ice water adding an antioxidant oomph to every sip. For a syrupy warm weather energizer try an ancient Persian sweet and sour treat called sekanjabin blending lemon peel, ginger, mint, vinegar, honey, and pureed fruits or shredded cucumber.
Culinary flowers grown in your herb garden from brightly pigmented nasturtiums, aromatic fennel buds, and yellow calendulas to snapdragons, delicate pansies, and mauve lavender petals add a vibrant garnish to tropical drinks. To jazz up salty and savory cocktails and vegetable-based beverages use homegrown tomatoes, peppers, onion tops, rainbow radishes, and a splash of pickle or pepperoncini juice as a dirty little secret. I’ll drink to that!
My refreshing (and inflation-proof) contribution is a zesty slurp of summer in this divine golden gazpacho.
Sweet Golden Gazpacho
• 3 large ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes
• 2 large ripe mangos, peeled, cubed
• 2 yellow peppers, seeded, diced
• 1-cup fresh squeezed orange juice
• 1/2-cup dry white wine (optional)
• 1/2-cup sweet onion, diced
• 1-tablespoon fresh cilantro
• 2-tablespoons fresh lime juice
METHOD: In a food processor, puree tomatoes, mangos, peppers, onion, wine and cilantro. Blend in juices, and season to taste with salt. Chill for three hours. Ladle into martini glasses, and garnish with twists of lime or orange rind.
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