Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

My Summer Ready Back Yard
Leading up to this Monday Off, I get very excited and the week prior I always have a meltdown regarding the shape of our post-winter backyard. I run around like mad checking the condition of our grill, patio furniture, pool toys, etc. My sweet husband masterfully calms me and we spend the days leading up to Memorial Monday vigorously dusting, scrubbing and hosing down our favorite part of the house. You see this is a must so we can begin the BEST part of summer. BBQ's BBQ's and more BBQ's.

To me Memorial Day signifies the unofficial start of summer. Farmer's markets are in full swing and filled with smells of pure freshness, the sun seems to be brighter and of course the repertoire of dishes to prepare skyrockets! My focus drastically shifts from soups, stews and less then bright salads of the winter months (we are in California so winter is not all that bad) to the bright colors and flavors of summer.

Our Memorial Day BBQ has a few MUSTS that I would like to share with you, the first being watermelon. There is no summer without this sweet, cold, juicy fruit! I like to cut mine into bite size cubes and serve it in the Middle Eastern fashion with feta cheese and fresh mint. Instead of crumbling the mint, I like to grate a nice salty chunk of it directly over the watermelon and then sprinkle with the mint. The combination of sweet and salty with the mint giving it a little kick is an eye opening, cool and refreshing little dance in your mouth. We don't start the BBQ's with watermelon and feta, but I mention it first because its so awakening to the taste buds that it popped up in my mind before I could even get to the savory stuff.

Fresh Mint and Finely Grated Feta Cheese

Watermelon with Feta and Fresh Mint

Meats and various sides are front and center of our Memorial Day BBQ. Thanks to my co-worker Lianna whom I harassed to get the scoop from her in-laws regarding the magical meat marinades that are present in their Armenian culture, I now prepare all my meat for BBQ's in this manner. All it takes is 24hrs in the fridge, a few simple spices and you will have the most incredible moist and mouthwatering chicken kabobs. Recipe to follow. Lianna gave me the low down on chicken and beef kabobs, but I plan on obtaining more very soon. I hear the lamb chops are something extraordinary.

Middle Eastern Flavors definitely tend to dominate the protein portion of my Memorial Menu, however that's not the case for the sides. "Northern Italy particularly Genoa in the Liguria region" according to Wikepedia is the home of my next summer ritual...PESTO. Pesto is everything, truly the perfect creation. And although I make it year round (I like to spread it on crusty baguettes and put it in soups), something about being able to pour this wonderfully tangy sauce on grilled summer asparagus, bright colored bell peppers, summer squash and zucchini just screams summer.

Pasta Salad with Pesto and Cherry Tomatos 
Traditionally pesto is prepared with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino and a little olive oil. For my BBQ's I also toss it in to some cooked fusili, along with a touch of Greek yogurt and cherry tomatoes for a cold pasta salad that goes great with all the kabobs. A few more vegetable sides (Ina Garten's summer corn salad is a must some crusty bread and Hebrew National kosher hot dogs with sesame buns and condiments for the kids and we are all set. Welcome Summer and Happy Memorial Day to all!

Marinated Chicken Breast Kabobs-Armenian Style...TX Lianna!

6-8 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts Cubed
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 Large Lemon, Juiced
1 tablespoon Unseasoned Meat Tenderizer
1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1 tablespoon Ground Cumin

Cut the chicken breasts in to bite size kabob pieces. Starting with the oil, combine the next 6 ingredients in a small container you can cover. Shake the marinade and pour over the chicken pieces. Using gloves or your hands mix to coat evenly all the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 24hrs prior to cooking.
When ready to cook, remove the chicken from refrigerator and bring to room temperature before putting on the grill.
Skewer 5-6 pieces of meat on to small bamboo skewers (Tip:soak the skewers in cold water prior to using to prevent burning). Cook 5-6 minutes per side on a grill preheated to 400 degrees (You may use a stove top grill-pan as well on medium to high heat). Remove from heat and let the meat rest for 6-8 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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