Summer Classics


Photograph by Dave Reede,

When you say “summer classics” , lots people might think of white linen or a Muskoka chair, or Tropicana roses, or maybe, even, a convertible with the top down. But if you’re like me, your thoughts will turn to food (and drink) and now that the real heat is on, I’ve been pondering the absolute necessities for the month of July.

Well, gin and tonic and sauvignon blanc, of course, but I maintain that the real summertime thirst classicteaquencher for everyone is perfectly made iced tea. Yes, nostalgia does play a part in this — my family were coffee drinkers until summer came and then, I recall, there was always a big pitcher of iced tea in the refrigerator that would be served with sliced lemons and extra ice cubes, in very tall glasses. It was so wonderfully refreshing.

Anyway, to make perfect iced tea you must start with very strong tea. If you want to make it from scratch using real tea leaves, that’s fine, but I use tea bags. I always like to use Darjeeling tea; many swear by Ceylon teas, but any good black tea is fine. Just be sure you use enough — which is one more than usual, because the tea should start out very strong And use more tea bags, instead of lengthening the steeping time — otherwise the tea will be bitter. If you like to sweeten the tea, add the sugar when the beverage is hot – or better yet, make up a sugar syrup for people to add later on so that they can have as much as they want. And finally, let the tea cool down before refrigerating or it will be cloudy. You want to serve the tea in a glass pitcher and it should be transparent and icy cold. Garnish with thinly sliced lemons and lemon juice to taste — and some people like to add a sprig of mint. Sip the tea sitting in a lounge under a shady tree. Perfect!

Now, a summertime lunch needs to be a little bit classy, but not too difficult and my favorite special lunch dish makes much of the fact that lobster is usually a tiny bit less expensive in July. The first time I tried this lobster salad was many years ago at a very “chi chi” resort in St. Lucia called la Toc. (I just looked it up and I see that it’s still there — but now part of the Sandals chain.) Anyway, I ate this every day for lunch at la Toc (I didn’t stay there, just went for lunch) and finally managed to wheedle the recipe out of the chef via the sweet, elderly waiter. He was pretty vague on amounts, but over the years, I have added and subtracted ingredients and the recipe is now pretty much mine. (And no, I have never cooked the lobster live. Hypocrite that I am, I always have the store cook it and I come back later and pick it up chilled. Needless to say, the lobster meat does have to be fresh.) I know that the Caribbean lobster is different, but believe me, this tastes more than just fine with our own Atlantic lobster. The mayonnaise is what really takes time here, but the homemade stuff is so much better. And don’t cut up the lobster too fine — you need to have some nice large chunks, mainly from the claws. And pick it over carefully, no bits of shell needed for authenticity! This serves four.

Lobster Salad
(adapted from a recipe created at La Toc, in St. Lucia)classiclobster

2 lbs freshly cooked lobster, coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)
3 hard cooked eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/4 cup finely diced scallions, including a bit of the green tops
homemade mayonnaise (recipe follows)
quartered limes for garnish

Mayonnaise Ingredients:
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp crumbled dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sour cream
4 tsp strained fresh lime juice

For the mayonnaise:
1) Warm a large mixing bowl in hot water. Dry it quickly and thoroughly and drop in the egg yolks.
2) With a whisk or beater, beat the yolks vigorously for about 2 minutes until they thicken and cling to the beater.
3) Stir in the vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper. Beat in 1/2 cup of the oil, 1/2 tsp at a time, making sure each addition is absorbed before adding more.
4) Pour in the rest of the oil in a slow, thin stream, beating constantly.
5) Stir in the sour cream and lemon juice and taste for seasoning.

Just before serving, combine the lobster, eggs, celery and scallions in a large chilled bowl and toss them together lightly but thoroughly. Add the mayonnaise and turn the lobster mixture with a spoon just to coat evenly. I serve the salad on Boston lettuce.

And, finally, of course, the quintessential summertime classic must be strawberry shortcake. I love it. I must have it at least once during the season. And I just drove home along the back highways from Brantford and at every lane’s end, freshly picked strawberries were being sold from little tables. Since I already had a large bowl full of strawberries, cut up and ready to eat in the fridge, I had to determinedly bypass all of that bounty. But it did create a lot of anxiety.

classicstrawAnyway, everyone has their own favourite strawberry shortcake recipe, right? So I thought I’d leave you with another way of using up these summery treats. This is called “Strawberries Romanoff” and I wondered if it was originally a Russian dessert. A quick trip through the Internet advised me that the name actually comes from a restaurant in California called Romanoff’s which was owned by someone who dubbed himself “Prince Michael Romanoff.” A bit more digging apprised me of the fact that it may originally have been created by Carême for Tsar Nicholas the 1st, of the Romanoff dynasty. And I also found out that the Russians, the French and the Americans all use different types of orange liqueur in the recipe: the Russians favoring Curaçao, the French using Cointreau, the Americans choosing Grande Marnier.

Well, I have always used Grande Marnier myself and I shall persist in my North American prejudice.
Makes 6 to 8 servings

Strawberries Romanoff
my own recipe, no idea where it originated

2 pints strawberries, washed and stemmed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur (I use Grande Marnier, but suit yourself)
1 pint good vanilla ice cream
1 cup heavy cream

1) Slice the strawberries. In a large bowl, toss three quarters of them with the sugar and orange liqueur. Chill at least one hour to macerate.
2) Put the ice cream in the refrigerator to soften a bit.
3) Put the cream and half of the macerated strawberries in a chilled mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat for about 12 minutes. Fold in the ice cream.
4) Distribute the cream and macerated berry mixture into six bowls. Mix the plain sliced berries with the remainder of the macerated berries and place on top of the cream.

What are your summertime classics?



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