I find summer salads intimidating. It seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t nail the right ratio of perfectly chopped veggies to herbs to protein to dressing to fill in the blank. And when it comes to baking, don’t even ask. I can make simple recipes i.e. my party cookies, which includes three ingredients, but beyond that my baked goods end up flat or burnt. That is why I prefer what I like to refer to as ‘assembly cooking’ when it comes to these tricky courses of a meal. Assemble a few ingredients whether it’s on a platter, a cheese board or in a pan and call it a day. Here are my two all-time favorite dishes, one salad and one dessert to serve or bring along to bbq’s or to outdoor parties to make them feel extra special with little fuss on your part.
Deconstructed Capresé Salad
One of my coworker loves trying out what I like to think of as ‘fancy recipes’, and she first gave me the idea of giving deconstructed salads a whirl last summer with this beautiful recipe from Tyler Florence, adapted on Serious Eats. You can find it here, it’s certainly an awesome option and not too complicated. I made it a couple of times and it’s absolutely a crowd pleaser! However if you’re in transit, say going to a friends place for dinner and/or crunched for time, you can take a page from my book (although I acknowledge it’s certainly not original) and simply buy, chop and place these ingredients on a simple platter to create an easy salad, side or starter everyone will love. I made it this past Sunday and semi-scolded my fiancé for grabbing at the tomatoes without utensils and set out a big serving spoon and little appetizer plates. And guess what? Within a few minutes I was replenishing the platter with ‘extra’ ingredients I had wrapped up and everyone was digging straight in with their forks. I mean what are friends for if not to enjoy food with? Here’s how I put it together…
- Fresh mozzarella: Buy the largest amount you can find. If you buy a log and it’s already sliced, great. All you need to do is pull apart the slices and gently layer them on top of each other in a long row. If you buy an unsliced log (like I recently did) then just tear off in hunks and stack them along the side. If you buy the little mini balls, which I also find really fun, go ahead and pluck them out of their water and arrange them just so.
- Seasonal Tomatoes: I LOVE cherry tomatoes as I find I can find high quality ones year round, but I especially enjoy Wild Wonders which you can generally find at any grocery store. I slice them in half longways with a serrated knife, which grabs at the skin and makes the cut a little easier than a flat blade knife. Then I just line them up alongside the mozz or you can choose to put them on the other side, leaving the center for basil. Of course you could slice up a giant heirloom, or a couple to get some interesting colors going on. But in keeping with the simple, I just use the little baby cherry tomatoes which are easier to spear with a fork and stack with the other ingredients.
- Basil: If you’re making a salad for a few people and don’t have your own basil plant, I’d buy the package with as much basil as you can find. Then just give them a quick rinse and toss in a paper towel so the leaves are fresh and clean. I’ll generally pluck the stems off so it’s just the leaves. Bonus points if you grow your own basil! Nothing else to do here.
- Olive Oil/Balsamic Vinegar: You are almost finished creating this pretty masterpiece! This is easiest done in what I like to call drizzle jars, you can find my favorites at Crate & Barrel. Just a good, long drizzle of olive oil and a splash of balsamic is all you need! Crack some fresh ground pepper and sea salt atop and you have yourself a salad, easy peezy.
Peach Raspberry Dump Cake
This recipe is titled a dump cake because that is ALL you do, dump ingredients into a pan, put it in the oven and you’re set. I don’t think it’s possible to find an easier recipe that also tastes this good. I made it last week for a bbq at my friends and she said she was eating the leftovers straight from the pan the next morning. You can find the original recipe on Epicurious.
I tweak this recipe in a couple of ways. One, I have never bothered making my own homemade cake mix, I just use Duncan Hines yellow cake mix. When store bought is perfectly acceptable I don’t like to question it. I do use frozen peaches and then I layer in fresh raspberries instead of the blueberries, and I always leave the pecans off. I used to make the cake and only put pecans on half of it, but with so many people having allergies and other just not caring for nuts I skip ’em. Saves me one extra step and item to purchase!
I did take a few minutes to read the reviews and am kind of shocked that people think you need to add eggs to the cake mix…you quite literally just shake the mix on top of the fruit and other ingredients, slice up some butter and you are done. I’ve made this multiple times and I have yet to screw it up, which is saying a LOT for someone who cannot successfully make a banana bread. It does turn out more like a cobbler or crumble so I’d keep that in mind so your expectations are aligned to the final product. Finally, I’m not sure if it matters but once I have all of the ingredients ready to go I make it immediately and put in the oven. It’s suggested you can make it a few days ahead and keep it wrapped up, but I don’t want to risk the peaches thawing or soaking up too much sugar vs. the cake mix.
Let me know if you give either recipe a whirl OR if you have suggestions for easy summer favorites!
- YIELD 9–12 servings
- ACTIVE TIME 15 minutes
- TOTAL TIME 1 hour
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for pan
- All-purpose flour (for pan)
- 1 pound sliced frozen peaches (about 4 cups)
- 1 pint fresh blueberries (about 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Homemade Yellow Cake Mix or 1 (16-ounce) box store-bought yellow cake mix
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup pecans, chopped