I don't know if the sky has always been this blue, or if the long and unusually harsh winter this year has made me enjoy the sunshine that much more. But lately, I've felt very much like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" when she wakes up after the twister and finds that her life has gone from shades of gray to Technicolor in the blink of an eye. Clouds seem puffier and lighter. The grass is impossibly green, and the sky is matched in brightness only by the light in my children's eyes as they play outside until the sun goes down.
The warmer weather has brought with it memories of my childhood. I remember the first few days of summer vacation as a little girl growing up in Alabama: the lazy days of waking up when your body told you it was time instead of being roused by an alarm clock and rushed off to school.
I remember the simple joy of not worrying about my clothes, but throwing on cut-off blue jeans, a T-shirt and flip-flops to walk on the dirt path to my friend's house next door. My feet would be covered with dust and mosquito bites by the time I got there, and my hair would be a halo of frizz from the humid honeysuckle air.
I remember going to the farmer's market with my mother for fresh fruits and vegetables—peaches so juicy we had to lean over the sink to eat them to keep the juices from running all over our clothes. My grandfather called them "bathtub peaches" because that's where you needed to go directly after eating one.
After a day of playing outside, it didn't matter what my mom had made for dinner. We were ravenous, and anything home-cooked was a hit. With longer days, warmer weather and school about to end for the year, I am always looking for recipes that I can prepare quickly and pop into the oven. Less time in the kitchen means more time to play outside with my kids.
My goal for summer cooking is simplicity. I want to make nutrient-rich and filling dinners with as few dishes as possible. I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen cooking when I could be enjoying the sunshine. Once the kids collapse in their beds at night, I want to snuggle on the sofa with my husband instead of washing stacks of dirty dishes.
The following recipes are a quick and easy to prepare. In addition, they are delicious, family friendly and a snap to clean up. Hopefully, they will buy you a few extra moments to spend time with the people you love.
Bacon Cheeseburger Quiche
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Garlic salt and pepper, to taste (1/2 teaspoon of each is a good place to start)
Brown the meat and onion in skillet. Drain well and mix in bowl with chopped bacon, breaking up any large pieces of meat. Press meat and bacon mixture into the bottom of a deep-dish pie pan or 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine remaining ingredients until smooth; use a mixer if desired. Pour egg mixture over beef and bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is brown and "set." (No longer jiggles if you shake the pan.)
Serve with a side salad or green beans for a hearty meal.
Serves four to six.
Simple Stir-Fried Green Beans
1-1/2 pounds of green beans, washed and rinsed with ends trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Lemon pepper seasoning and garlic salt to taste
1/4 cup slivered almonds
In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add green beans and cook, stirring occasionally, for eight to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with garlic salt and lemon pepper seasoning and cook for three more minutes. Add slivered almonds and cook for 3 more minutes or until almonds are lightly browned.
Crockpot Ranch Chicken
1 package dry Ranch dressing
1/4 cup white cooking sherry or white wine
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
1-1/2 to 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
1 can cream of mushroom soup
Place all ingredients into crock pot and cook on high for four to six hours, or until chicken is fork tender.
Remove breasts from crock pot and shred with two forks. Put shredded chicken back in the pot. Serve over fettuccini or steamed rice.
Serves four to six.