Today, at my parent's house in Raleigh, North Carolina, its going to be 100 degrees.
Some people like the heat, but to me, anything over 85 is miserable. Here in the Kuyahoora Valley of central New York, we do get a hot day now and then, but a typical summer day is in the 70s, with overnight lows in the 50s.
That suits me just fine, thank you.
I've discovered over the years, that I am atypical when it comes to the weather. I like rain. Snow makes me happy. I would trade a crisp autumn day for a week at the beach, anytime. I get teased all the time about my heat-phobia. Its nothing new; I've tried to avoid hot, humid climates for decades.
Since my favorite thing to do is cook and bake, I despise a hot kitchen. As a young mother, I learned how to craft an interesting, healthy meal without heating up my kitchen on hot days. An outdoor grill is key. Keeping the cooking heat outside, instead of inside makes total sense, both from a culinary standpoint and an economical one, albeit slightly inconvenient from a logistical standpoint.
Not only does grilling keep the heat out of the house, it imparts the unique flavor of fire to the item. Meat isn't the only food that's wonderful on the grill. Fish, vegetables, and even fruit can be grilled. The current darling of the flame-obsessed is grilled lettuce. I haven't tried that yet, and probably won't. It just seems a little over the top. But thinking out of the box is never bad.
Part of that outside-the-box thinking is experimenting with spices and herbs. Summer is my favorite time to cook, since I have easy access to all the herbs I grow on my farm, along with lots of fresh produce. To me, herbs make the world go round. Not only are they flavorful to eat, and beautiful to look at, many varieties offer pharmaceutical benefits as well- as long as you know what you're doing, of course.
Spices have their own place in human history. The search for, and sale of spices opened exploration, trade routes, and cultural exchange hundreds of years ago. Typically the dried seeds or flesh of herbs and other plants spices are shelf stable, and fun to work with. An infinite number of spices are now widely available, and vary from culture to culture. I love to source my spices in ethnic grocery stores. Prowling these fascinating shops is like a micro-vacation that results in a basketful of wonderful culinary toys. Today's recipe is from Martha Stewart Living (September 2003), and calls for Garam Masala. This is an ubiquitous spice that is found in many, many Indian recipes. Its an interesting mix of ground pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and coriander.
Summertime cooking means countless bright and fresh ingredients to work with, along with more options for cooking methods. Come to think of it, hot weather isn't all that bad...
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 lamb shoulder chops (each 6 to 7 ounces and 3/4 inches thick)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
1. Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. In a bowl, combine garam masala, salt, and pepper. Place lamb chops on a baking sheet or platter, and drizzle with oil; rub chops to coat evenly all over. Sprinkle tops of chops with half the spice mixture, and gently rub onto meat. Turn chops over; repeat with remaining spice mixture.
2. Grill chops until they reach desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro.