Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sample Summer Holiday Menus from the The Good Home Cookbook

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of grilling season across America. The grill is ceremoniously wheeled out of the garage into its place of honor on the patio or deck, and the season of barbecue begins.

[Publicist's aside: or if you're a city dweller like me, the tiny one is wrangled from the closet and brought out onto the fire escape, stoop, or public park, alongside families blasting Bacchata and Meringue!]

Although cooking over an open fire predates the beginnings of civilization, barbecue is a distinctly American phenomenon. In the pre-Civil War period, Southerners typically ate five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef. Pig slaughtering became a time of celebration, when entire communities gathered together to share in the feast. The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these gatherings. Meanwhile, as pioneers settled westward, barbecues quickly became a permanent feature of frontier life. In the nineteenth century, barbecues were a staple at political rallies, offering a popular and relatively inexpensive way for politicians to lobby for votes—complete with meat, lemonade, and more often than not, whiskey.

At the turn of the twentieth century, barbecue restaurants began to appear throughout the South. Often these restaurants started as simple, weekend-only barbecue pits, where the "pit men" manned the grills. The subsequent introduction of the automobile gave these barbecue shacks a ready-made clientele.

By the 1950s, charcoal grills and brisquettes were in full swing in the backyard. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks were instant favorites because they required little grilling expertise. The home griller would cook the meat directly over the flame, which would rapidly sear the outer surface and create a delicious crust.

Some of the more adventurous cooks also developed techniques that enabled them to cook larger cuts of meat. For example, "slow cooking" utilized indirect heat in a closed grill--the meat cooked on one side, while the coals or propane burned brightly on the other. They also learned how to use wood chips to generate unique flavors of smoke and give the meat a variety of flavors. The chips were soaked for 30 minutes before being added to the fire in wood chip holders or packets of heavy-duty aluminum foil (pierced in several places).

To be sure, the advent of barbecue brought variety--and division--of cooking duties into the home. Mom was still queen of the kitchen, but Dad became the patio king!

Memorial Day Cookout: Roll out the grill for the first outdoor meal of the season. This holiday marks the unofficial start of summer.

Iced Tea Punch
Juicy Grilled Burgers
Creamy Pea Salad
Macaroni Salad
Strawberry Custard Pie

Forth of July Dinner: Observe this all-American holiday with an all-American menu.

Pimento Cheese
Pico de Gallo
Beer-Based Grilled Chicken
Barbecued Beef Short Ribs
Potato Salad
Sliced Tomato Salad
Corn on the Cob
Watermelon Bombe

Labor Day Dinner: Bid farewell to summer with a dinner celebrating the bounty of the season.

Minted Iced Tea
Pina Colada
Grilled Halibut with Garlic-Basil Butter
Grilled Corn
Grilled Garlic Bread
Three Bean Salad
Mixed Berry Crisp
French Vanilla Ice Cream

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