Dinner on the deck with family

One of the things I have learned to love most about warm weather season is evening dinners on the deck. We have a glass table on our back deck with a blue umbrella. The girls love to hang out there and eat supper/dinner when my husband gets home. We generally head out there after 6 p.m. when the sun has moved around the corner and it is not overly hot, just nice and warm.

I love cooking with fresh vegetables. The girls have worked on a garden the last couple years, but they only grow the basic tomatoes, cucumbers and some leafy greens. Last year they added carrots to the mix. But I am fine heading to produce markets and picking up veggies. A favorite summer veggie for me is zucchini. My oldest often makes a face and is less than thrilled with this vegetable. But I have found so many yummy creative ways to prepare it. (I will share some recipes at the conclusion of this column.)

I often make salads with grilled chicken or another protein. I love making freshly brewed ice tea, and most recently we got a water infuser and add strawberries, citrus, or cucumbers. We were given a grill two years ago, and my husband has been enjoying making not only burgers, but pork chops on it.

We often close out the meal with ice cream. We keep an assortment of flavors in our freezer in the summer. It seems to be on sale everywhere June through August, and my husband is always happy to buy in bulk! Our evenings seem to just be more fun as we sit and laugh and chat on the deck with our daughters, who are growing at a rapid pace at ages 11 (triplets) and 14.

The girls often take to the back yard summer evenings and get out their soccer nets. My husband and I sit at the table after I have cleared and cleaned up dishes, and we watch their comradery on the field.

The deck is also a great place first thing on summer mornings when I grab my coffee and my Bible/devotional and start my day right there in the sunshine.

If you don’t have a deck or sun porch, find a space outdoors where your family can maybe occasionally gather on a blanket under a tree, or perhaps you can visit your local park once a week and prepare a meal to eat at picnic table.

The lazy as well as busy moments of summer seem to come to a screeching halt when we gather together to enjoy the weather — and eat. We are able to enjoy each other and the tastes of summer once a day. That is so important as we watch our kids grow. These are moments they will remember. There is no rush to get to sports practice or to hurry up and eat to finish homework. It’s a “take your time” and indulge kind of time.

I absolutely love it.

Summer Recipe

favorites:

Mexican Zucchini Beef Skillet

Ingredients:

2 medium zucchini sliced and quartered

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 cloves garlic minced

10 ounces Mexican style diced tomatoes with green chilis (salsa or diced tomatoes could be used), canned

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

US Customary – Metric

Instructions

Brown ground beef with minced garlic, salt, and pepper.

Cook over medium heat until meat is browned.

Add tomatoes and remaining spices. Cover and simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes.

Add the zucchini. Cover and cook for about 10 more minutes until zucchini is cooked, but still firm.

Bacon, Tomato and Zucchini Salad

(Note: my family is not a fan of feta cheese, so we use mozzarella)

INGREDIENTS:

SALAD INGREDIENTS

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half and drained into a colander

4 small or 3 medium zucchini, diced in 1/2? pieces

6 slices bacon (cooked until crisp and blotted with paper towels to remove fat)

1/2 cup crumbled Feta

fresh-ground black pepper to taste

DRESSING INGREDIENTS

3 pieces of bacon, crumbled (half the bacon from above)

1/4 cup mayo

1/4 cup olive oil

2 T white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. sweetener of your choice (I used Stevia Granulated Sweetener)

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. Vege-Sal (or use slightly less table salt)fresh ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Dice tomatoes let them drain in a colander while you prep the other ingredients.

Cut stem and blossom end from zucchini, cut lengthwise into strips, cut away the seeds if there are a lot of seeds, and then cut the strips into pieces about 1/2 inch long. (If liquid oozes out of the cut zucchini, I would blot with paper towels.)

Cook the bacon until it’s very crisp, draining the fat and then using paper towels to blot away as much fat as you can. (I use pre-cooked bacon which has most of the fat cooked out and then crisp it and blot off even more fat.)

In food processor or blender chop three pieces of bacon until the bacon is in small bits.

Add mayo, oil, vinegar, sweetener of your choice, garlic powder, onion powder, Dijon, and salt (preferably Vege-Sal) and then pulse until ingredients are well combined.

Combine the drained tomatoes and zucchini in a salad bowl.

Pour dressing over and stir to coat the tomatoes and zucchini with dressing. (You may not want all the dressing.)

Crumble the Feta and the other 3 pieces of bacon, and gently stir into the salad, saving a little Feta and a little bacon to sprinkle over the top.

¯¯¯

Tabitha Goodling is a correspondent for the Lewistown Sentinel.