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Technically, summer doesn’t start until June 21 but many people consider Memorial Day to be the unofficial start of the season. This year, we celebrate the holiday on May 27. Many families will heat up the grill, head to the beach or take in a big blockbuster movie. But, Memorial Day has the word “memorial” in it for a reason.

The holiday got started on May 30, 1868, when Union General John A. Logan declared the day an occasion to decorate (called Decoration Day then) the graves of Civil War soldiers. Twenty years later, the name was changed to Memorial Day. On May 11, 1950, Congress passed a resolution requesting that the President issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. President Richard M. Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May. It is an occasion to honor the men and women who died in all the past wars.

One Memorial Day tradition is for the President or Vice President to give a speech and lay a wreath on the soldiers’ graves in the largest national cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia. Most towns have local Memorial Day celebrations, including parades. Memorial Day should also be a time of solemn reflection on some of the most sacred of human ideals: duty, commitment, heroism and honor. We are profoundly indebted to all those soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen who have given their lives defending us.

A few years ago the US Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. It asked Americans to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. local time and think about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Enjoy the day with your friends and family, but remember to pause and reflect at 3:00 p.m. It may seem like a small gesture, but it’s a way to, however brief, remember those heroes and maintain a tradition that encourages us not to forget.

If you are planning to invite a few friends over for the occasion, I have a few suggestions for your menu.

Memorial Day Menu

Memorial day 3

Grilled Potato Skins

Double the recipe, if you have more guests.

4-6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • Light Sour Cream, optional

Directions

Cut each potato lengthwise into four wedges. Cut away the white portion (reserve for another use), leaving 1/4 inch on the potato skins.

Place skins on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Set aside until ready to grill.

Combine the butter, rosemary, salt and pepper and brush over all sides of the potato skins.

Grill potatoes, skin side up, uncovered, over direct medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn potatoes and position over indirect heat; grill 2 minutes longer.

Top with cheese. (I push the potatoes together when I add the cheese, so it doesn’t fall through the grill grates.) Cover and grill 2-3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with bacon and onions. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

Memorial day 2

Grilled Vegetable Platter

Prepare the vegetables first and let them rest while you grill the meats for the Mixed Grill.

6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 fresh carrots, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, quartered
  • 1 medium green or yellow summer squash, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into wedges

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk the first seven ingredients together until blended. Place 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Add vegetables; seal bag and turn to coat. Marinate 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.

Transfer vegetables to a grilling grid; place grid on the grill.  If you do not have a grilling grid, use a disposable foil pan. Poke holes in the bottom of the pan with a meat fork to allow liquid to drain. Grill vegetables, covered, over medium heat 8-12 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.

Place vegetables on a large serving plate. Drizzle with remaining marinade.

memorial day 5

Italian Mixed Grill

Choose three of the meats/poultry listed for the mixed grill – ones that you and your guests would like.

Herbed Lemon Oil

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

Mixed Grill

  • 4 fresh Italian sausages (about 1 lb) (pork, turkey or chicken)
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs (about 1 1/4 lb)
  • 1 lb boneless beef top sirloin steak, about 1 inch thick
  • 4 loin lamb chops
  • 4 boneless pork chops

Directions

In small bowl, mix all the Herbed Lemon Oil ingredients. Cover and let stand at least 1 hour to blend flavors.

Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Heat coals or gas grill for direct heat. Brush all sides of the meat/poultry with the herbed lemon oil mixture.

Grill meats over medium heat, brushing frequently with the herb oil mixture and turning occasionally. Grill chicken and sausages 5 minutes. Then add beef, lamb or pork and continue grilling about 15 to 20 minutes or until the meat or poultry reaches the preferred temperature on a meat thermometer.

Slice meat and poultry and arrange on a decorative serving platter.

memorial day 1

Baked Beans

12-14 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 bacon strips, diced
  • 1 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 cans (15-1/4 ounces each) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or juice
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions

In a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Drain the skillet, reserving 1 teaspoon of the drippings.

In the drippings, saute onions, garlic and pepper until tender.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir in onion mixture and cooked bacon. Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish.

Cover and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes; stir. Bake, uncovered, 15-30 minutes longer or until thickened. Discard bay leaves.

Memorial day 4

Fruit Tart

12 Servings

Ingredients

  • Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 1 package (8 ounces) light cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract, divided
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 medium ripe peach or nectarine, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves

Directions

Press pastry onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom; trim edges. Generously prick the bottom with a fork.

Bake at 450°F for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and ½ teaspoon almond extract until smooth; spread over the cooled crust.

Arrange fruit in a decorative pattern over the cream cheese mixture.

In a microwave, heat the apricot preserves and remaining almond extract, uncovered, on high for 20-30 seconds or until warm.

Brush over fruit. Store the tart in the refrigerator until serving time.

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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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