Believe it or not, summer has arrived, and with it, the staples of the season. This year will be one to remember—not for the excitement and many activities, but at least for quality time together. For the last three months or so, we’ve been shut-in. Shopping is by delivery or a quick trip for a few things with the occasional tremendous shopping spree in face masks with social distancing in place. Even then, we try and make it as snappy as possible.

And for kids, there’s no camp, no trips, no block or birthday parties.

So you need to get a little creative to pass the time, and make it both educational and entertaining. Instead of heading to the airport, plan a road trip an hour or two away from home. Or maybe you can head to a family vacation place or rental, loading up the car with the dog and the suitcases. Some folks are choosing to pay for an RV and drive cross-state or cross-country to discover the great outdoors.

Summer cooking from a vacation kitchen or barbecuing outside can be fun. Take a trip to a local farmers’ market or stop at roadside stands. Show children where food actually comes from—where it grows, what it should look like and how to pick the best. Don’t talk about calories and fat. Talk about how fresh fruits and vegetables make for strength, muscles, and growing big and tall. Go to the fish market and check out the variety of fresh fish on ice, not in plastic packages. Most vendors are happy to tell you where it’s caught and how to cook it. Or go fishing and catch your own. This is a hands-on way to learn about nutrition and establish a lifetime of good eating habits.

Wherever you go locally, you can save big bucks by transferring items from your pantry with you, such as good olive oil, salt, pepper and jars of your favorite spices. Don’t bet that leftover ground spices from last summer will be pungent as the day they were purchased. After six months, flavors are pretty much gone, although whole spices such as cloves can last two to three years. If you’re planning breakfast pancakes or doing any baking, bring along containers of baking powder and baking soda from your pantry. Fill plastic containers or bags with flour and sugar; it beats buying those 5-pound bags. Although lately on store shelves, you can find slim, portable, inexpensive plastic containers of different flavored sugars (maple, anyone?). And finally, remember a corkscrew. We’ve ended up sitting on a deck at midnight, chatting and just staring at an unopened bottle of my husband’s favorite Merlot for lack of a corkscrew.

Stay safe and healthy, eat well and happy summer!

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Watermelon Slush

 Super-Simple Gazpacho

Crusty Hummus Chicken With Summer Veggies

Mushroom-Stuffed Meat Loaf

Baked Bluefish With Rhubarb Sauce

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks on a Bed of Arugula

Fluffy Biscuits With Strawberries and Cream 

Diced watermelon. Credit: Pixabay.

Watermelon Slush (Dairy)

Makes 4-6 servings

Cook’s Tips:

*Once a watermelon is harvested, it won’t ripen any further.

*Look for one that’s deep green. Where the melon has touched the ground, the patch should be yellow or cream-colored. If green or white, don’t buy it; it’s not ready.

*Soda may be flat and have lost its fizz.

Ingredients:

2 cups 7-Up or similar lemon-lime soda

4-5 cups diced seedless watermelon

about ⅓ cup frozen vanilla yogurt or ice-cream

Directions:

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor.

Whirl on high to blend.

Chill and serve.

Tomatoes. Credit: Karl Thomas Moore via Wikimedia Commons.

Super-Simple Gazpacho (Pareve)

Makes about 6 cups

There’s nothing like a fresh-picked Jersey tomato, which is the base for this cool soup.

Cook’s Tips:

*Toss in a handful of any fresh herb, such as mint, basil or parsley.

*May add a can of diced tomatoes if you run short of fresh ones.

Ingredients:

4-5 large ripe tomatoes, cut in chunks

½ small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in chunks

1½ to 2 cups vegetable juice

juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons

salt and freshly ground pepper

a handful of fresh herbs, finely snipped with kitchen shears

Directions:

In the blender, place the tomatoes, cucumbers, 1½ cups vegetable juice and lemon juice.

Whirl to a coarse consistency.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. If too thick, add more vegetable juice.

Pour into a pitcher. Stir in the fresh herbs.

Chill and serve.

Crusty Hummus Chicken With Summer Veggies. Photo by Ethel G. Hofman.

Crusty Hummus Chicken With Summer Veggies (Meat)

Serves 4

Cook’s Tips:

*Zucchini size matters. Choose small. Large zucchini tend to be watery with large seeds. Yellow or green, the color should be vibrant. Look for those with a good chunk of stem; they’ll last longer.

*No cleanup. Bake and serve in a foil-lined baking dish or baking pan.

*Substitute a combination of spices; for example, 21 Seasoning from Trader Joe’s for paprika.

Ingredients:

1 green or yellow zucchini, cut in 1-inch chunks

8 baby carrots

1 medium onion, sliced thinly

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

4 boneless, skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1½ pounds

4 rounded tablespoons hummus

paprika to sprinkle

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.

Place the zucchini, carrots and onion on prepared pan. Pour the oil over top. Toss to mix well.

Spread over bottom of baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the chicken breasts on top. Coat evenly with the hummus, and sprinkle with paprika.

Bake in preheated oven 30 to 40 minutes, or until chicken juices run clear when pierced with a sharp knife.

Fresh produce at a farmers’ market. Credit: Pixabay.

Mushroom-Stuffed Meat Loaf (Meat)

Serves 4-6

Cook’s Tips:

*Buy fresh loose mushrooms, not packaged. Mushrooms should be firm with no bruises and tight gills on underside. Button mushrooms should have white caps. Other varieties come in varying shades of brown. Refrigerate in a paper bag and use within two to three days of purchase.

*May use ground beef, turkey or chicken—or a mixture of all—in preferred proportion.

*Press mixture into a 9×5-inch loaf pan instead of a baking sheet.

Ingredients:

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

¾ cup ketchup, divided

1½ pounds lean ground beef, turkey or chicken

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup matzah meal or pareve breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Directions:

Place mushrooms and olive oil in a skillet over high heat.

Cook 3 to 4 minutes, turning often, until nicely browned.

Season with salt and pepper, drain off any liquid and set aside.

Prepare the meat mixture:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place ¼ cup ketchup and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Shape half the mixture into a loaf about 9-inches long. Arrange cooked mushrooms on top. Cover with remaining meat mixture, sealing the edges.

Place on a prepared baking pan. Spread the remaining ketchup over top.

Bake in preheated oven 50 to 60 minutes, or until juices run clear when pierced with a sharp knife.

May be served at room temperature.

Rhubarb. Credit: Pixabay.

Baked Bluefish With Rhubarb Sauce (Dairy or Fish)

Serves 4

Cook’s Tips:

*Bluefish should smell fresh with no fishy smell. The flesh should be translucent, and the surface when pressed lightly should not be sticky.

*Any fish may be used.

*3 cups of sliced plums may be substituted for rhubarb.

*Never use green leaves, which may be attached to rhubarb stalk. They are highly toxic!

*May sweeten rhubarb with a mixture of sugar and no-calorie sweetener such as Stevia.

Ingredients:

1½ pounds bluefish fillet, cut in 4 pieces

1 small onion, thinly sliced

salt and fresh ground pepper

juice of 1 lemon

4 teaspoons butter or margarine

Sauce:

2 stalks rhubarb, sliced 1-inch thick (about 3 cups)

⅓ cup orange juice

¼ cup sugar or to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Scatter onion over the bottom of the dish. Arrange the bluefish in one layer over the onion.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Dot with butter.

Bake in a preheated oven 15 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness. Fish should be opaque when flakes are separated with a knife.

To prepare the sauce: Place the rhubarb, orange juice and sugar in a medium saucepan. Stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is broken down. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks on a Bed of Arugula. Photo by Ethel G. Hofman.

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks on a Bed of Arugula (Pareve)

Serves 4

Cook’s Tips:

*Cauliflower heads should be clean, compact, white or creamy-white. Don’t buy those that are soft, with brown coloring or small dark spots on the florets.

*If some florets break off, brush with oil mixture and roast along with the steaks.

*Arugula leaves should be fresh, crisp-looking and green. Avoid leaves that are slimy, yellowish or wilted. Baby arugula is tender with a mild peppery flavor.

Ingredients:

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 head cauliflower, rinsed and cut in 4 slices through the core

bed of baby arugula

rice vinegar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a large baking sheet with foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a cup, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper.

Place the steaks on a microwave platter, cover with damp paper towels and zap for 3 minutes.

Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Brush half of the olive-oil mixture over top.

Roast in a preheated oven for 15 minutes. Turn over and brush with the remaining olive-oil mixture.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until core is almost tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

To serve: Place arugula on a platter, sprinkle with rice vinegar and arrange cauliflower on top. May be served at room temperature.

Breakfast or dessert biscuits. Source: YouTube.

Fluffy Biscuits With Strawberries and Cream (Dairy)

Makes 6 (though recipe can be doubled)

Cook’s Tips:

Strawberries. Credit: Pixabay.

*Strawberries don’t continue to ripen after they’re picked. Choose bright-red berries from top to bottom. Fresh green leaves mean that the berries are ripe and sweet. If leaves are dry or wilted, the berries are old and flavorless.

*These biscuits do double-duty. Leftovers may be split, toasted and slathered with strawberry jam for breakfast.

*Biscuit mixture should be slightly sticky, just stiff enough to handle.

*For homemade buttermilk: Pour 1½ tablespoons vinegar into 1 cup milk. Do not stir. Mixture will curdle within 5 minutes.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons baking powder

¾ to 1 cup buttermilk

extra flour for rolling out and dusting

2 cups strawberries, thickly sliced

1 cup heavy cream, whipped with 2 teaspoons sugar or to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Lightly dust a baking sheet with a little flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt.

Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the baking powder.

Make a well in the center. Pour in ¾ cup milk or enough to make a soft dough. (The secret of a light biscuit is to have the dough just soft enough to handle.)

Turn onto a well-floured board and pat into a 1-inch-thick round. Cut out biscuits using a 2-inch cookie cutter or the top of a water glass.

Place on the baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until risen and lightly browned. Biscuits are done when they sound hollow when tapped on bottom.

Wrap in a towel-lined basket. Serve warm.

To serve: Pass bowls of strawberries and whipped cream to spoon between split biscuits. Serve with a fork and spoon.

Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.

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