Everything and the Kitchen Shrink: Labor less in the kitchen on Labor Day

Labor Day bids farewell to crisp white clothing, flip flops and summer. It marks the last chance to take a long weekend get-away before school gets down and dirty.

Celebrations include picnics at the beach, barbecues with friends and squeezing in those last few hours of summer fun and fabulous sunsets. But really it represents a 24-hour coffee break - a complete day of rest from work on that first Monday in September.

The holiday was declared to pacify the nation’s blue collars. In September 1892, union workers took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in New York City rallying for a national Labor Day. In 1894, President Cleveland signed the bill giving birth to the official Labor Day holiday. Today less than 15 percent of American workers belong to unions though most have reaped the boons from the Labor Movement’s success.

My fellow moms and I, through a labor of love, toil in the kitchen to prepare 21 healthy, tasty, home-cooked meals every week, 1,092 a year, and countless snacks, not to mention the nastiest job of all - clean-up. Let’s designate this Monday a minimum labor Labor Day and try something different like an easy, breezy do-it-yourself shindig.

You can prepare much of the food in advance and then simply reheat just before eating. Set up stations and have your guests assemble their own concoctions. Where possible use edible and biodegradable “bowls” and “plates” to cut down on the dish washing and post-party mess.

One of my faves is a classic ceviche bar, but do a healthy twist by using cooked treasures from the sea. Make an assembly line of bowls filled with steamed, fresh water shrimp, scallops and calamari, chopped roma tomatoes, red onions, avocados and mangos, lime juice and hot sauce. Give everyone a scooped out coconut or avocado shell or crunchy, firm romaine lettuce leaves and let them go at it. Then they can eat or throw away their coconut “cups” or lettuce “plates.”

Do a fix-your-own-fajitas or tostado salads. Make another assembly line with tostado shells or tortillas that can be stuffed with shredded chicken or chunks of grilled wild caught salmon, orange roughy (or whatever looks fresh and good at the market), sauteed onions and red peppers, black beans, Mexican rice, guacamole and salsa.

A fun and refreshing dessert for both little kids and big kids is a self-serve ice cream bar with all the fixins’ for gourmet frozen sandwiches. Buy a bunch of over-sized circular wafers or giant cookies, a variety of gelatos, sorbets and non-dairy treats made of rice and soy, toppings like toasted coconut, mini chocolate chips and sprinkles to coat the circumference of the sandwich, and have everyone customize their own treats. No bowls, no spoons, no leftovers - no clean-up.

If you really want to impress your guests, Brian Freerksen, executive chef at Mission Bay’s Paradise Point Resort, has shared his divine recipe for a praline tulle, which is a chocolate dipped basket for your favorite frozen treats. Once again, it is an edible bowl so it also takes care of the dishes.

Praline Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Basket

  • 1/2 pound of unsalted butter
  • 16 ounces (2 cups) of white cane sugar
  • 14 ounces of slivered almonds
  • 2 1/2 ounces of unbleached flour
  • 4 1/2 ounces of corn syrup
  • 4 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Slowly add the flour and syrup until blended. Fold in the almonds and chill in the refrigerator until it sets.

Make hand-size balls on parchment paper. Bake for about 10 minutes until the praline is golden brown. While the praline is still warm, place over an inverted bowl to shape. Once hardened, dip the praline basket into melted chocolate. Set on parchment paper until the chocolate has hardened.

Fill the basket with your favorite gelato or ice cream treat.