Twelve Parties: A Summer Cookout

Colorful corn and tomato relish makes a great summer side dish.

Life has been getting in the way of Twelve Months of Parties for 2012. In May, I was simply unable to schedule my planned mother-daughter tea party due to multiple weekends out of town (Paris, my 20th high school reunion etc.). I got back on track in June when we hosted friends for brunch and I made a frittata out of duck eggs — which sadly I haven’t seen again at the Oak Park farmers market. I would love another chance to play around with duck eggs.

For July, the planned party was a summer cookout, which should not have been a tough assignment. We love to grill all summer long and it’s easy to invite people to join us for a casual meal on our back deck. To that end, we had invited another family to join us on July 4th for some pre-fireworks fun and dinner. Then, on July 1, we had a brief yet violent storm that took down trees and power lines all throughout the Chicago area. No sooner had Zuzu arrived home from camp on Sunday around lunch time with two weeks worth of dirty — make that filthy — laundry, then our power went out and it did not come back on until late Tuesday night. Needless to say, when the power finally came back on, I spent the day doing massive amounts of laundry, cleaning out my fridge and freezer and grocery shopping. I was in no place to host a party. Happily, our friends invited us to join them for swimming and a cookout, so our Fourth was salvaged.

Luckily, I got a second chance to host a summer cookout this past Sunday when my aunt and uncle brought one of their grandchildren — my cousin’s son — to Chicago for a weekend visit. Along with my mother and my paternal grandmother, my aunt is one of my cooking idols. She has had an amazing career in the food business and, like me, she is mostly self-taught. One of her latest ventures is co-founding a thriving farmers” market in suburban DC, where she lives. Although my aunt has been nothing but supportive of my interest in food and cooking, it is still a little nerve-wracking to cook for her. I just want her to think that I am talented in the kitchen! So I planned a menu that showed off the best local and seasonal produce and that had a lot of big flavors. But at the same time, I was feeding a mix of adults and kids, so I didn’t want anything too out there. Here is what I served for my summer cookout:

  • London Broil with citrus-soy mayonnaise
  • Orzo with Feta and Roasted Vegetables
  • Corn and Tomato Relish
  • Plum Galette with vanilla ice cream

The London broil recipe comes from now-defunct Gourmet magazine and you can find it online at Epicurious. It”s always been a crowd-pleaser. One of the fun things about this recipe is you marinate the meat in a red wine-soy sauce-citrus juice marinade and then, to serve, you combine some of the marinade  (which you boil first to kill any bacteria) with mayo to make a dipping sauce for the meat. My aunt raved about the sauce. London broil is an inexpensive but somewhat tough cut of meat, so be sure to cut the meat across the grain into thin slices.I sliced the meat too thickly and it was chewy.

The orzo with roasted vegetables recipe comes from Ina Garten in her Barefoot Contessa Parties book. You can also find it on the Food Network website. Basically, you dice a bunch of vegetables and roast them in the oven and then toss them with orzo in a lemon juice-olive oil dressing. Garnish with chopped basil, toasted pine nuts and Feta cheese. There are a lot of parts to the dish, but they can all be done ahead of time, which makes it ideal for entertaining. Feel free to vary the suggested vegetables; I always substitute zucchini for eggplant because my husband does not like eggplant. I also always put some aside for Zuzu before I add the Feta because of her dairy allergy and it is still delicious. So this recipe can easily be adapted to be vegan or dairy-free.

The corn and tomato relish is my recipe. I love fresh corn in the summer time and it is one of those things that is exceptionally cheap at the farmers market. I like to buy a dozen ears for the astonishingly low sum of $5 and eat half of the ears off the cob on the first night and made this relish with the remaining ears on the second night. The relish can stand alone as a salad but you can also use it as a topping for grilled fish or Tex-Mex dishes. I put cilantro in my relish, but if you have a cilantro-hater in your family, it works just as well with basil. This recipe is also available on Artizone Chicago and you can have all the ingredients delivered to your door.

Corn and Tomato Relish

6 ears of corn
1 small red onion, diced
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
Juice and zest of one lime
2-3 TB Extra virgin olive oil, preferably a fruity variety
I TB Sugar
Several TBs of chopped cilantro (if you don’t care for cilantro, fresh basil is a good substitution)

Husk corn and cook it in unsalted, boiling water for no more than 5 minutes.* Drain. When corn is cool enough to touch, cut kernels off the cob using a sharp knife or corn zipper. Combine corn kernels, red onion and grape tomatoes in a large bowl, tossing gently. Place lime zest and freshly squeezed lime juice into a small bowl or your handy OXO Salad Dressing Shaker. Add a TB of sugar and a dash or two of Tabasco to taste. While whisking the lime juice mixture, gradually add the olive oil in a stream. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables. Do not feel compelled to use all of the dressing! You do not want your salad to be soggy.  Add the chopped cilantro, or basil if using, and toss gently. Serve or chill.

*I recently heard an interview with two of the editors from America”s Test Kitchen in which one of them said that modern varieties of corn are bred to be so sweet that they need to be cooked for much less time than corn did a generation ago. So if you have been boiling your corn for 8 or 10 minutes because that is how your mom did it, stop! Five minutes is all 21st century corn needs.

The plum galette recipe comes from Rustic Fruit Desserts, my favorite cookbook this time of year. It’s a great recipe but as I am rolling out the dough, I always think to myself: “Cobbler! Why didn’t I just make a cobbler?” Remember, any recipe where you have to roll out pastry is harder than any recipe where you don’t.

Next up for August: a cocktail party. When am I going to do that?


    • Emily says

      Thanks Brandie! I had no idea that it would be such a challenge to actually throw a party a month. Next year, I want to do it again and get other bloggers to do it with me. Hint, hint…

  1. Michelle says

    Those sound like delicious choices, and I bet she was thrilled. I’m glad I’m not the only one who was cooking my corn less now. It is almost too sweet, but when you find some good heirloom nonGMO corn, WOW is there a difference (and in a good way). If you need people to come over for a cocktail party, I’m available. Just sayin’ I love your cooking. You are inspiring 🙂