Labor Day marks the end of summer vacation for kids, and the beginning of it for some moms. Sandy feet, sticky hands from melted ice cream and the smell of chlorine soon fades to crunching of feet on fallen leaves and the inviting scents of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. Celebrating summer’s last hurrah means firing up the grill. Easy, quick recipes that use the bounty of ripe vegetables and herbs available turn an ordinary meal into a true Labor Day feast.
Burgers are easy to make and please many different diners. Taking the time to make a charcoal fire makes the difference between ordinary and extraordinary fare. Soak hickory or other hardwood chips in water for about 15 minutes, and then toss them on top of glowing charcoal to impart a smoky flavor to the food.
Use coarsely ground 80 percent lean chuck for the beef burgers, as leaner meat shrivels and turns tough when grilled. Form generous patties, figuring about 1/3 lb. each. Do not squeeze the patties or flatten them too much, just press together to form the burgers, leaving the edges slightly thicker than the middle. Add salt and pepper to both sides of the patties before grilling. Cook over the charcoal for about four minutes per side for well done burgers.
Grill fresh pineapple slices at the same time. Top the burgers with the grilled pineapple and lightly sprinkle with ground chili powder or a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. Place the hot burgers on fresh hamburger rolls. Add lettuce and a slice of red onion and serve.
A good vegetarian alternative uses large portobello mushroom caps instead of meat patties. Remove any stems, then brush the mushroom caps with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill them gill-side up, until they exude a little juice and have char marks on the caps. Top them with grated mozzarella cheese and shredded fresh basil. Serve on hamburger buns or grilled slices of bread.
Mix together sweet butter, chili powder and a little lime juice to form a paste. Dip unhusked corn in water and let soak for five minutes. Partially husk the corn by pulling back the husks but leaving them attached to the bottom of the cob. Put the husks back and cook the corn on the grill until the kernels are tender. Pull back the husks, brush with butter/chili/lime mixture. Put the corn back on grill for a few minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle cobs with crumbled feta or farmer’s cheese.
Quick cheats help make last-minute warm potato salad easy. Place scrubbed, unpeeled medium-sized golden or red potatoes in the microwave. Cook the potatoes on high power for about 6 minutes, or until a knife pierces them easily. Cut the potatoes in half, and place them directly on the grill. While the potatoes continue cooking on the grill, whisk together olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, minced orange rind, some garlic powder and a pinch of minced fresh rosemary. Adjust the amount of each ingredient to taste. After the potatoes get charred a bit, put them in a bowl and drizzle the dressing on top of them. Serve immediately.
Finishing up the meal with pineapple ties together the meal nicely. Slice and core a fresh, ripe pineapple. Cut the pineapple into 1/2-inch rings. Dip the pineapple rings into coconut milk, and then dredge them with brown sugar and crushed pecans. Grill the pineapple until the sugar caramelizes. Serve the pineapple over scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler, making sure that the water in the pot beneath the chocolate never gets above a gentle simmer. Let the chocolate cool slightly and then slowly pour in heavy cream until the mixture forms a silky sauce that coats a spoon. Add a small amount of orange zest and a shake or two of coriander. Chop up bananas and roll them in crushed pecans. Put a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a bowl, add the banana pieces and then pour the chocolate sauce on top.