Here comes the sun — and the fun of dining al fresco.
When it comes to summer fare, familiar favorites are always welcome, such as burgers on the grill, sandwiches, salad, lemonade and dessert. But if the tried-and-true choices are getting a little too familiar, maybe they need a makeover.
These ideas start with time-saving prepared products, such as Aunt Nellie's jarred vegetables and READ classic bean salads, that provide real homemade flavors.
•Elevate burgers from basic to sensational with a dollop of Red Cabbage, Onion & Bacon Jam, made with sweet-and-sour red cabbage, sautéed onions and smoky bacon.
•Need a new sandwich inspiration? Mediterranean Bean & Pita-Wiches are a combination of three- or four-bean salad, vegetables, olives and feta cheese stuffed into whole-grain pita pockets.
•Trade the traditional greens or potato salad for Herbed Beet & Tomato Salad, an updated combo of colorful sweet-tangy pickled beets, garden-fresh yellow tomatoes and herb vinaigrette.
•What's for dessert? Try Fudgy Beet Brownies, which are made with Harvard beets to keep them extra moist and yummy.
•Lemonade is always a welcome thirst quencher, especially if it's pink. Here's the simple secret: Just stir pickled beet liquid into prepared lemonade – it's pink in a wink.
Mediterranean Bean & Pita-Wiches
1 (15-ounce) can READ three- or four-bean salad
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped baby spinach
1/4 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup sliced pitted black or Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or basil
6 whole grain pita pocket halves
2 tablespoons reserved bean liquid
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
Black pepper, coarsely ground
Drain bean salad; reserve 2 tablespoons liquid.
In large bowl, toss together bean salad and next six ingredients.
For dressing, whisk ingredients together. Add dressing to bean mixture; toss. Fill pita pocket halves with bean mixture. Makes 6 servings.
Red Cabbage, Onion & Bacon Jam
1 (16-ounce) jar Aunt Nellie's Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage
1/4 pound bacon (thick cut or regular)
1 large yellow onion (about 8 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated or brown sugar
2 tablespoons white balsamic or white wine vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
Green onion or parsley (optional)
Drain cabbage; reserve liquid.
Cut bacon into pieces (about 1/4 inch). Cook in large skillet over medium to medium-low heat until browned and crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate; reserve. Measure 2 tablespoons drippings and return to skillet. Discard remaining drippings.
Meanwhile, cut onion lengthwise in quarters. Cut crosswise into very thin slices (about 1/8 -inch thick).
Heat bacon drippings over medium-low heat until hot. Add onion slices, reduce heat to low and cook 5 minutes or until onions begin to soften, stirring occasionally.
Stir in sugar, vinegar, thyme, peppers, bacon and 1/2 cup reserved liquid. Add cabbage and continue cooking over medium-low to low heat 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and mixture is soft and thick, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with thinly sliced green onion or chopped parsley before serving, if desired.
Serve warm or at room temperature as topping for burgers or crostini, as sandwich spread, condiment for meats or tossed with pasta.
Herbed Beet & Tomato Salad
1 (16-ounce) jar Aunt Nellie's Sliced Pickled Beets
2 medium yellow tomatoes, sliced 1/4 -inch thick
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (such as thyme, parsley, basil, oregano or chives)
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Drain beets well (reserve liquid for pink lemonade, if desired). Cut beets in half. Cut tomato slices into quarters.
For vinaigrette, whisk together oil, vinegar, herbs and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place tomatoes in large bowl. Toss with dressing. Gently toss in beets. Serve immediately or chill. Makes 4 servings.
Fudgy Beet Brownies
1 (15.5-ounce) jar Aunt Nellie's Harvard beets, not drained
1 box dark or milk chocolate brownie mix (for 9-by-13-inch pan) (see note)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
Confectioners' sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray bottom of 9-by-13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place beets in blender or food processor. Purée until smooth; set aside.
Combine brownie mix, oil, eggs and puréed beets in large mixing bowl; stir until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan. Bake as directed on package, checking after shortest recommended baking time.
Remove from oven; cool. Lightly dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired. Makes 24 brownies.
Note: Package sizes may vary according to brand.
Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of pickled beet liquid to 2 quarts of prepared lemonade and stir. For deeper pink color, add additional beet liquid.