Are we good and ready? The long weekend ahead heralds the unofficial start of summer -- and the official start of grilling season. School's out, vacations beckon, and if you have a pool, jump in it because temps in the 90s have found us. Don't expect them to release their hold any time soon.
Even if we long ago traded in our own school days for a 9-to-5 landscape that seldom varies, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement this transition to summertime brings.
Next Monday -- Memorial Day -- is first and foremost a time to honor men and women who gave all while serving in America's armed forces. It's a debt we can never repay, but one we must never forget. Fly your colors in tribute and take time to remember.
Many also use this last weekend in May as a chance to bring family and friends together for fellowship and food. Indoor gatherings move outdoors, and grills -- gas, charcoal and electric -- fire up. Today's recipe suggestions love the grill and are good fits for a cookout. (There's also a recipe for lemonade because it's a pretty red, "white" and blue addition to a Memorial Day weekend spread.)
The start of summer grilling is a good time to share a few reminders from eatingwell.com.
At the grill
Preheat the grill 15-25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches a temperature that will kill bacteria (400-450 F for high heat; 350-400 F for medium-high; 300-350 F for medium; 250-300 F for low). A properly heated grill sears foods on contact, keeps the insides moist and helps prevent sticking. While searing doesn't "seal in" juices, contrary to popular belief, it does create improved flavors through caramelization.
It's easier to remove debris when the grill is hot, so after preheating, use a long-handled wire grill brush on the grill rack to clean off charred debris. Scrape again immediately after use.
Even on a clean grill, lean foods may stick when placed directly on the rack. Reduce sticking by oiling your hot grill rack with a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel. Hold it with tongs and rub it over the rack. (Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill.)
Flare-ups happen when fat drips onto the heat source and catches fire, causing carcinogenic hydrocarbons to form on the food, and can make meat taste "off." To reduce flare-ups, select lean cuts of meat, trim excess fat and remove poultry skin. Keep a squirt bottle of water near the grill to quickly douse any unexpected flare-ups.
To know if protein is fully cooked, check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer.
Let finished meats rest on a clean platter, tented with foil, for about 10 minutes before carving so juices can redistribute evenly.
Happy grilling. And however you spend the weekend ahead, take time -- especially Monday -- to remember what Memorial Day is truly about.
SPICY SHRIMP AND SAUSAGE SKEWERS
Makes 16-20 shrimp
1 pound 16/20 count raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
7 ounce Andouille sausage link (or Kielbasa if you want a mild sausage)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, divided
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6-8 bamboo skewers
Soak skewers in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from catching fire on the grill.
Pat shrimp dry with paper towels then toss in a large bowl with oil and 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning. Slice Andouille sausage the same thickness as the shrimp then tuck sausage slices between the curve of the shrimp and skewer (I fit three shrimp and sausage slices on each skewer.)
Combine mayonnaise, remaining tablespoon Cajun seasoning, and lemon juice in a bowl then mix to combine. Store in refrigerator (can be done 1-2 days ahead of time.)
Preheat grill over high heat for 10 minutes then turn heat down to medium-high. Spray both sides of skewers with nonstick spray then grill for 1-2 minutes per side or until shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Serve skewers with dipping sauce.
CHARRED CORN SALAD
Prep time: 35 minutes
Makes 8 servings
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 red chili, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ears fresh corn, shucked
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (about 1 cup)
Heat grill to medium. Toss together red onion, chili, lime juice and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Grill corn, turning occasionally, until charred, 10-12 minute. Let cool, then cut from cobs. Add to onion mixture and toss to combine. Fold in cilantro and queso fresco.
Total time: 10 minutes
2 pounds asparagus, stalks trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Let the grill (or grill pan) preheat to high. You want it hot, so you hear a sizzle as soon as the asparagus hits the grate.
Cut off woody ends. Trim the bottom inch or so off each spear, the part that tends to be super tough.
Toss asparagus lightly in oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
Grill, turning occasionally, until tender and charred, about 3-4 minutes. Be patient. If stalks are pretty big, they might take longer to cook. Asparagus is ready when you can easily pierce the middle with a fork.
(Source: delish.com, Lindsay Funston)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Makes 7 cups
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 10 lemons), plus 2 lemons, sliced
Berries and fresh mint sprigs, for serving
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 1 1/2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sugar dissolves, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
In a large pitcher, combine lemon juice, 1 1/2 cups sugar syrup, and 4 cups cold water (add remaining sugar syrup to adjust sweetness, if desired). Refrigerate until chilled.