Enlist in my culinary boot camp this weekend

Memorial Day has evolved into a three-day weekend with different strokes for different folks. Sure, it kicks off summer and grilling season and allows white clothing to come out of protective closet custody, but the heart and soul of the holiday has to do with not only white, but red and blue as well.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, the holiday is a patriotic celebration in remembrance of the brave soldiers who lost their lives and limbs while serving the United States of America in the name of freedom. Originally, the day was meant to honor those who died in the Civil War, but now incorporates the tragedies of the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Unfortunately, our Memorial Day keeps swelling to cover more hostilities across the globe as we now also honor those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This Memorial Day, try some defensive culinary maneuvers — put charred meat and mayonnaise on AWOL. Swap out oink and moo meats for fish and fowl, and replace mayonnaise-drenched salads with vinaigrette-based ones.

A healthful, refreshing game plan would include seafood sliders with grilled jumbo scallops, mini crab cakes, silver dollar-sized salmon burgers or marinated button mushroom caps on whole-wheat buns.

Provide sides with nonperishable ingredients as a strategic decontamination move. Try a red, white and blue-skinned potato salad with a balsamic or red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing, a tri-colored pasta salad tossed with a secret weapon blend of garlic, cayenne, turmeric and paprika, and a tangy sweet and sour coleslaw.

Our family tradition for a baked bean casserole is a classified, top-secret recipe — “don’t ask, don’t tell” — but I’m authorized to reveal that it does contain sherry, molasses and crumbled turkey bacon.

You can keep things simple to prevent any culinary snafus along the way with an assortment of “hero” and “submarine” sandwiches on a variety of baguettes, including roast turkey or chicken, grilled, marinated veggies and feta and mozzarella cheeses.

If gluten is not your ally, my friend Wendy taught me to grill some jumbo Portobello mushrooms as a replacement for buns or bread. They are perfectly suited for turkey, chicken and veggie burgers — but if you must have beef burgers, make them organic and grass-fed.

Other hand-held savory treats include slices of cold veggie pizza and stuffed pitas. Be armed with plenty of toppings and condiments such as relish, mustard and ketchup that are forgiving in the heat, because milk- or egg-based ones are potential hazards. Since you don’t want to ambush your friends and family with food-borne illnesses, play it safe.

For the sweet palates, make nut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. My favs are almond and cashew butter paired with carrot, celery and jicama sticks.

My final contribution to the Memorial Day festivities is a Red, White and Blue Bruschetta appetizer with an explosion of flavors that will surely make your taste buds do a salute.

Red, White and Blue Bruschetta

For the topping:

  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped ripe tomatoes (Roma, heirloom, grape, your choice)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of champagne vinegar
  • 4 ounces of blue cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

For the bread:

  • 1 baguette (thin Italian, seeded or plain) sliced 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • About 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Combine the topping ingredients (except the cheese) in a medium glass bowl. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the baguette slices on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Melt the butter and combine with the oil. Pour over the bread and bake until golden brown. You may need to add more oil and butter.
Arrange the hot toasted bread on a serving platter and top with the chilled tomato mixture and crumbled blue cheese. Serve immediately.

For culinary damage control or other tactical advice, e-mail or visit