Why I Don’t Meal Plan During Summer Break
Routine is good, and so is a break from routine. Summer cooking means cooking from the farmer’s market, grilling outdoors, making big snack platters that “count” as dinner, and generally just relaxing and enjoying a looser schedule.
During the school year, our schedule is like a military precision drill. And I know so many of you have the same existence. It’s a product of having multiple children, a job, a family, a life. It’s a full life and a very good life, but it can suck the energy right out of you. Summer, for me, is about sleeping a little more, stressing less, lots of reading, walking about recharging my battery.
Summer, whether you’re still going to work every day or shuttling young kids to and from day camps that never seem to last more than an hour, should be about recharging. That means easy dinners with low effort and minimal cleanup. Here are a few of our favorite low-stress meals that have been sustaining our family dinners this summer.
Chopped Chicken Tacos
We’ve had these quick and satisfying tacos on the regular for the past month. Marinate 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts with 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 cup tequila and kosher salt. Let them sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes while you fire up your grill to high heat. Grill at medium-high heat for about 7-8 minutes per side, until the meat releases easily. Close your grill after you flip it to help cooking process. Use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature in the middle of the thickest part of the chicken. Once it reaches 165 remove from the grill and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Chop into very small pieces, about 1/4″-thick. Use in lettuce tacos, tortillas or on salad topped with pickled red onions and guacamole (store-bought is my summer game). Since you have the lime and tequila out, make yourself a margarita.
Tomato Confit Spaghetti
Get a bunch of tomatoes at the farmer’s market, or pick them from your garden if you’re lucky. Cut the large ones in half and tuck everything into a ceramic baking dish (glass is fine too, I just prefer how ceramic baking dishes hold heat). Cover everything in a nice bath of extra virgin olive oil that reaches half way up the side of the tomatoes. Tuck in a head of garlic that’s been cut in half and some sprigs of herbs (thyme, chives, basil, whatever) and sprinkle everything with kosher salt. Cook at 350 for an hour in the middle of the oven. Toss about 2 cups of the warm tomato confit and olive oil with a pound of cooked spaghetti, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and fresh basil if you have it. Save the rest of the tomatoes with their juices and the olive oil in a glass jar in the refrigerator, and thank yourself for a job well done when you use them next week.
Make this with ANY fish, just pick your favorite or see what looks best at the market. I prefer grilling fish with the skin on since it gives you a surface for the grill. Heat your grill to medium-high heat and oil the grates. Place fish skin side down and sprinkle with some kosher salt. Close the grill and cook for 5-7 minutes. Use an instant read thermometer to check the temp and remove when the fish reaches 145. Serve with your favorite green salsa (store bought or homemade), pesto, chermoula, chimichurri, whatever! Throw some asparagus or zucchini or red peppers on the grill at the same time as the fish and once it comes off the grill, squeeze some fresh lemon over everything. Dinner is done. I love grilling fish because it keeps the mess outside!
Grilled Steak with Compound Butter
This one is so good it’s an excuse to have a party. Make an herb compound butter with 1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter (use good Plugra or KerryGold), 2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (chives or garlic chives, thyme, parsley, whatever), 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon salt and a bunch of freshly cracked pepper. Mix well to combine and place the mixed butter on a large sheet of parchment paper. Roll into a log, close up the parchment at the ends and refrigerate until firm. Meanwhile, grill well-salted room temperature steaks on a hot grill (I like petit filets, my husband is a bone-in ribeye fan). I cook my steaks to 145 degrees and let them sit for five minutes, which gives you a steak cooked slightly under medium. Here’s a good guide for grilled steak temperatures. Remember: It’s not the amount of time that matters when cooking meat, it’s the internal temperature! When the steaks come off the grill to rest, top them with a slice of the compound butter and a sprinkling of Maldon salt. Again, throw some vegetables on the grill as long as you’re at it, or toss up a super easy cheater Caesar salad.
Snack Platter Dinner
Come late July and August, we pack a lot of picnic dinners and listen to the symphony on the lawn at the Sun Valley Pavilion. Those dinners consist of some type of healthy green goddess dip and a tray of crudités, as well as Manchego or St. Andre, seeded crackers, almonds or pistachios, olives and summer apricots or cherries. I also think this healthy seven layer dip is 100% appropriate for a snacky summer dinner.