Memorial Day is the gateway to summer and it conjures up images of picnics, barbecues and parades. Originally the holiday was charged with deeper meaning and it was called Decoration Day – a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is about reconciliation and about coming together to honor those who gave their lives.

Memorial Day is the time to wear poppies, fly the flag and place flowers on the graves of military personnel. Many volunteers and volunteer organizations march in patriotic parades. Frequently there is a reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Patriotic speeches are made and declarations by The President and Heads of the Armed Services are also read. We all take time on this special day to remember the human sacrifice it has taken to establish and maintain our great country. Later in the day, time is set aside for picnics, BBQ parties and other outdoor activities.

Instead of spending money on store bought pasta salads, meat trays, fruit and dessert, save money by making these simple dishes yourself. Here is a suggested menu with beverage ideas to help you get you started.

What Drinks Go Well With BBQ?

Soda, beer and iced tea are a good start. Provide pitchers of punch or lemonade or mix up a few sensational summer cocktails. Put a twist on some old classics or try some fresh new blends to quench that thirst.

Try this Italian Cocktail Punch                                                                                                                                         

  • One 750-milliliter bottle Aperol or Compari (Italian Liqueurs)
  • One 750-milliliter bottle Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine)
  • 750 milliliters chilled seltzer
  • Ice
  • Fruit slices, for garnish

In a pitcher combine the Aperol,  the Prosecco and the seltzer. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish each drink with fruit.

Keeping it simple with wine:

The grill serves up such a wide range of foods that pairing them with beverages can be seen as either a challenge or the result of your imagination. Luckily, the spirit of outdoor dining—including the tendency to serve lighter beverages—simplifies the choice.

Sparkling wines beat the heat and play well with almost any grilled food. Stick with wines like Prosecco, Cava or a light California sparkling wine.

White wines are clearly suited to grilled fish and chicken and some pork recipes, even those that call for blackened preparations or spice rubs. The high acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc or a cool Sancerre (made from the same grape)—pairs perfectly with such meats. Choose a white Burgundy or Chardonnay for richer fish, like tuna, trout or salmon. Chardonnay is also the best pick for veggie burgers and sometimes regular hamburgers that have a mushroom sauce.

There’s no question that rosés are a perfect fit for casual outdoor dining. Served cool, these wines have a bit more acidity than white wines and can handle grilled flavors. Among the favorites in this category are Bandol from Provence, Tavel from the Rhône Valley and a number of rosés from California made from the Sangiovese grape.

When pork, smoked meats or shellfish are on the menu, a Pinot Noir from Oregon or the Russian River Valley or a Burgundy is best. 

If you’re serving hamburgers, steaks or barbecued ribs, only the big red wines will do. Bordeaux, California Cabernet and Barolo are perfect matches, but if the meat has a spicy rub, try Zinfandel or an Australian Shiraz or Argentine Malbec.

Appetizers

Pimento Ricotta Spread                                                                 

Serve with toasted baguette slices or flatbread and cut up vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 15 ounces fresh ricotta (1 1/2 cups)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup well-chopped drained pimentos (from one 8-ounce jar)
  • 3 ounces light cream cheese

Directions:

In a food processor, puree the ricotta and cream cheese. Add the pimentos and crushed red pepper and pulse until the pimentos are minced. Season with salt.

Iced Mint Green Tea Punch                                         

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 6 green tea bags
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 8 cups boiling water
  • 4 cups Limoncello
  • Lemon slices, for garnish

Directions:

Combine mint leaves, tea bags, honey and boiling water. Let steep for 5 minutes; remove tea bags. Pour into a pitcher and refrigerate until chilled.

Stir in Limoncello, ice cubes and lemon slices just before serving.

Main Dishes

Rosemary-Skewered Artichoke Chicken

6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-1/2 pounds Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 fresh rosemary stems (18 inches)
  • 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and halved
  • 2 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 6 cherry tomatoes

Directions:

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the oil, dill, oregano, lemon peel, garlic, salt and pepper; add chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel bark from the bottom half of each rosemary stem and make a point at each end; soak in water until ready to use.

Drain and discard marinade. On soaked rosemary stems, alternately thread the chicken, artichokes, squash and tomatoes. Position the leaf parts of the rosemary stems so that they will be on the outside of the grill cover. Pointed ends toward the back of the grill.

Using long-handled tongs, moisten a paper towel with cooking oil and lightly coat the grill rack. Place skewers on the grill. 

Grill, with the cover slighly ajar, over medium heat for 10-15 minutes on each side or until chicken is no longer pink and vegetables are tender.

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated zest of a navel orange
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lb flank steak, trimmed
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut into 1 inch slices
  • 2 large navel oranges, peeled & sliced thin
  • 8 sprigs mint — for garnish

Directions:

In a shallow glass or ceramic dish, combine garlic, orange zest, juice, vinegar, pepper, mustard and chopped mint. Add steak to marinade; turn once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning steak twice in the marinade.

Remove steak from marinade, scraping any bits of marinade clinging to meat back into the bowl. Transfer marinade to small saucepan and bring to a boil; reserve.

Lightly grease grill rack with vegetable cooking spray or oil.

Preheat charcoal grill until coals have turned a gray ashy color or preheat gas grill according to manufacturer’s suggested time on high heat.

Place steak on grill 4 inches from heat source and sear 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Brush with a little reserved marinade and continue cooking, covered (with lid down or tented with foil on a charcoal grill), for approximately 4 minutes, brushing frequently with marinade.

Place onion slices on the grill and baste with some of the marinade. Cook until lightly brown about 3 minutes on each side.

Transfer to a carving board, tent with foil, and let rest for 7 minutes before slicing.

Arrange orange slices and onion slices in overlapping pattern around the outside of the platter.

Slice steak diagonally across the grain into very thin slices. Arrange down the center of the platter and garnish with mint.

Side Dishes

Grilled Peach Salad with Pecans

Ingredients:

  • 4 large peaches
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons raspberry flavored vinegar
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce

Directions:

Preheat grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut peaches into six slices each; discard pits. Cook peach slices until grill marks appear (no need to completely cook peaches). Remove from grill and let cool at room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. Add butter, pecans, sugar and cayenne pepper. Cook while stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and turns golden brown.

Remove pan from heat and cool to room temperature.

Slice both heads of romaine into six sections. Place lettuce and peaches on a plate and top with dressing and pecans. 

Green Beans and Tomatoes                                       

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds green string beans (or a mixture of yellow and green)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

Directions:

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the beans until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and spread them on a large baking sheet to cool. Pat dry.

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the shallots and basil and season with salt and pepper. Place the beans and tomatoes in a large bowl, add the oil mixture and toss well.

Transfer to a platter for serving. Can be made early in the day and served room temperature.

 

Dessert

Strawberry Layer Cake

16 servings

Cake:

  • 1 1/4 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon red food coloring
  • Cooking spray

Frosting:

  • 1/3 cup (3 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (orange-flavored liqueur)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 12 whole strawberries

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Coat 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray.

To prepare cake:

Place sliced strawberries in a food processor and process until smooth.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk. Set aside.

Place granulated sugar and the 1/2 cup butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer; beat at medium speed until well blended.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in egg whites.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Add pureed strawberries and food coloring and beat just until blended.

Divide batter between the twp pans.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake layers comes out clean.

Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.

To prepare frosting:

Place cream cheese, 1/3 cup butter and liqueur in a medium bowl; beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until blended. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat just until blended.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

Cut 1 whole strawberry into thin slices, cutting to, but not through, the stem end. Fan strawberry on top of cake.  Cut remaining 11 strawberries in half. Garnish the sides of the cake with the strawberry halves.

 

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