Savor food memories by serving summer vacation at home

Perhaps the best treasure we can bring back from summer travel is the place itself: the new perspective gained, the relaxed times had, the people met, the conversations shared and the food that allowed us to make the place a part of ourselves forevermore.

When my crew returns from travel, we extend our time away by replicating breakfasts, lunches and dinners we had while on the road. These recipes endure for years, becoming family favorites. When we serve them, we reminisce about our times together and feel ourselves returning to our past holidays with every remindful bite.

This year, we invited neighbors to a summer potluck where each guest shared a dish from a vacation. For our part, we brought Greece and France alive with fresh produce and cheese.

Little marbles of chèvre and smoked salmon – or les billes de chèvre coeur au saumon fumé, as they are called in France – made the perfect starter to our catch-up in the back garden. My re-created recipe was inspired by a city park picnic that sits near the top of favorite moments in France this summer.

Enjoying the herby and earthy cheese bites at home, stories flowed and photos were swiped through as we settled into an evening of remembering and reconnecting. A pitcher of deliciously fragrant and very chilled Pimm’s provided refreshment while enlivening tales of a visit to London steeped in sports drama and political turmoil – Wimbledon was being played and Boris Johnson was resigning.

Friends grilled mouthwatering chicken thighs that had been drenched in a tangy teriyaki and pineapple marinade for 12 hours. Eating the sticky goodness and listening to their memories of dining oceanside in Maui was so transportive we could all but hear the waves crashing on the shore. There was cowboy caviar to represent a trip to the Southwest and sticky rice shared by friends who didn’t visit but instead hosted guests from Japan.

I tossed together a Greek salad just moments before serving it and explained that I’d return to Greece for the food alone. I have always maintained that California has the best produce on the planet, but our visit to Crete proved there are other locations for phenomenally fresh fruits and vegetables. Our local farmers’ markets are incredible spots to purchase the freshest of the fresh ingredients for the simple salad that seems to go well with everything.

Pimm’s Punch

Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin-based, spice- and citrus-infused aperitif brought to us by the Brits. The liqueur is the basis for a refreshing cocktail that includes sliced fruit, herbs and soda. I like versions with ginger beer over lemon-lime soda. I’ve amped up the ginger attributes in the recipe I’m sharing by including Domaine de Canton, a ginger and cognac liqueur.

• 1 cup Pimm’s No. 1

• 1 cup Domaine de Canton

• 3 cups ginger beer

• Strawberries, sliced

• Cucumbers, sliced

• Oranges, sliced

• Fresh mint leaves

Fill large pitcher with ice. Pour over Pimm’s and Domaine de Canton. Stir in strawberries, cucumbers, oranges and mint. Stir gently, then add ginger beer and stir once more.

Serve over more ice in tall glasses.

Les Billes de Chèvre

Purchased at a local market for a lunch picnic in France, I knew at first bite that I’d be re-creating these little marbles of goat cheese once home. While this version includes smoked salmon and dill, the recipe can easily be altered. Wrap the goat cheese around cherry tomatoes and skewer a basil leaf atop, try dried cherry on the inside and crushed pistachios outside or stuff the marbles with grapes and roll each in crushed pecans. Whatever option you choose, the appetizer can be made and refrigerated up to a day ahead of serving.

• 4 ounces chèvre at room temperature

• 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

• 2 ounces smoked salmon

• 1 bunch fresh dill, washed, dried and finely chopped

Add cheeses to medium-size bowl. Using fork, mash together to create soft paste.

With slightly damp hands, roll cheese mixture into roughly 1-inch marbles and set aside.

Cut salmon into small pieces. Take a piece of salmon and gently insert it into cheese marble, reforming ball so that salmon is entirely covered in cheese.

Finish by rolling each cheese marble in chopped dill.

Chill at least 30 minutes.

Just before serving, skewer each marble with a cocktail stick and display on a platter.

Greek Salad

This classic salad was ubiquitous on menus throughout Crete. Celebrating summer’s most vermillion fruit, the tomato, the salad is a joyful bowl of texture and flavor.

• 1 medium English cucumber, washed, partially peeled in stripes, then chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

• 3 medium or 2 large heirloom tomatoes, washed and roughly diced

• 1 green bell pepper, washed and roughly diced

• 6-ounce jar kalamata olives, pitted and drained

• 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

• 1-2 blocks good feta cheese

• Olive oil

• Red wine vinegar

• Dried oregano

• Salt and pepper

Add all vegetables to large bowl. Use a favorite vinaigrette to toss through, but I simply season to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper and then shake a bit of red wine vinegar, drizzle olive oil and sprinkle a bit of dried oregano over the salad.

Rather than crumbling and tossing feta through the salad, simply place large pieces atop vegetables. Then, as people serve themselves, they break a chunk of feta off for their portion.


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