No sooner than the 4th of July is over, it seems, then the kids are back in school. What happened to the 'Discover Oregon' Summer? Digging for fossils in Eastern Oregon, hiking trails in the Cascades and floating a trout stream?
Ah well, we did get out to the coast, have a 'blast' of a 4th of July party and entertain more family than have visited in a long, long time. It was a wonderful summer spent close to home.
I call it 'Back Deck Time': those brilliantly simple, summer evenings spent anticipating a scorching sun setting behind the laurels, getting your seat stolen when you take a potty break and watching our two year old daughter charm an entire group of adults and adolescents in flickering candlelight.
Lisa and Brendan did a bang-up job on the garden, too, bringing daily harvests of green beans, radishes, lettuces, then, later we were treated to carrots, tomatoes and our first watermelon!
We found that the best way to enjoy our garden vegetables was to prepare them simply; either raw or lightly blanched and tossed with a balsamic-based vinaigrette. Pop it with some fresh, chopped herbs and voila!
Summer is a perfect time for casual get togethers with friends (and to sample each other's cooking). Guys, you know what I'm talkin' about. Sneeking a peak at how your buddy does it, how others manage kitchen duties and how to make it look effortless. My buddy, Pat, is a master at backyard cooking. His smoked chicken thighs were the best chicken I have ever tasted.
The skin was crisp and brickish in color. The flesh was the desireable hue of garnet and the subtle, intoxicating aroma of judiciously employed smoke lay on the palate like a down comforter.
They were so delicious, I needed napkins and tissues: the former for my fingers and the latter for my eyes. I believe I ate four in addition to a knock-out salad with garden tomatoes.
Have you ever eaten something so good, that you provide running compliments along with 'Umms' and 'Ohhs?' It was embarassing to sit there and point out to your wife how well the moisture of the meat was retained while achieving the crispy exterior. To explain to everyone and no one the risks involved between juicy meat and gelatinous skin; to be technically 'done' but, aesthetically incomplete. I heard myself talking too much about the same thing. Eventually, I had to just sit there quietly, eat my dinner and not say another thing about the chicken, not even an 'mmm-MMM!' to myself.
The convenient thing about firing up a smoker is that as long as you're there, ya might as well launch anything else you can find into it. Don't just smoke the ten chicken thighs you are serving, do ten extra for Smoked Chicken Quesadillas, Smoked Chicken Chile in the fall and winter or for an interesting pizza topping.
When we have a cool protein to work with, all we need to do is fill in the other two slots with starch and veg for our meal.
I like breaking down the meal preparation in this fashion, whether it's home cooking or for a catering in wine country: Starch, Veg and Protein with protein at the center of these concentric circles.
Beef, Chicken, Pork, Lamb or Game. Pick one. I choose Chicken.
Potato, Pasta, Rice or Beans. Pick one. I choose Rice.
Corn, Tomatoes, Green Beans or Cucumbers. I choose Cukes.
Now, how do these come together?
I BBQ the chicken.
So, I need the rice preparation to compliment this. How about a pilaf with Red and Green Peppers? Done.
Cucumbers...let's balance the richness of the BBQ chix with a zingy cucumber salad. Lisa does a salad with rice vinegar, fresh ginger, cilantro and sesame oil. I could eat this as a meal!
Great meals often are the simplest ones with fresh, pure ingredients allowed to shine through.
The wonderful company of friends is 50% of the menu, too!
Pat and Cindy O'Reilly shared one of those experiences with us this summer. We won't soon forget it.
Unlike Pat's Mullet wig at the school Halloween dance last night, his BBQ Chicken was a happy memory.
Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"