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And so summer begins

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Prosciutto and Orange Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

The Prosciutto and Orange Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette pairs avocado and honey with toasted nuts and salty prosciutto. (Photo: The Junior League of Houston)

Cooking Buzz is produced in partnership with the Junior League of Houston, a women’s charitable and education organization founded in 1925.

When you are young, every holiday is special, but growing up on the East Coast, Memorial Day always held a special place in my heart as it signaled that summer was near. Unlike Houston, where summer can start in March, East Coast summers truly begin when the community swimming pools open on Memorial Day. It meant sundresses, lemonade and long daylight hours, and, most importantly, school break was just around the corner.

Holidays can elicit strong memories and nostalgia, often tied to the food you grew up eating. To me, Memorial Day is all about the grill. Something about a hamburger hot off the grill with ketchup and mustard squirting out all sides of the bun just screams summer. Summer foods aren’t the formal dishes of winter holidays but the kind that truly test the camouflaging nature of your loud summer prints.

Summer food has the brilliant quality of often being very simple. Compared to complicated roasts, fancy hors d’oeuvres and even cocktails that require a hand beater, Memorial Day embraces simple dishes with rich flavor. My favorite way to start a summer party is with Orange Blossom Punch out of Stop and Smell the Rosemary. This light, refreshing cocktail welcomes your guests in from the hot day and lets them know that your event is not just for kids. Be sure to chill cups ahead of time for an extra crisp taste.

As you sit down to eat, serve your guests a salad complete with a protein that is savory, but not overwhelming. The Prosciutto and Orange Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette from Peace Meals pulls together summer staples like avocado and honey and pairs them with toasted nuts and salty prosciutto. You can’t ask for a better start to a backyard meal.

Nothing brings back the childhood elation of Memorial Day like hamburgers on the grill. The first lighting of the grill at the beginning of summer was practically a religious ceremony in my house. My father typically over-poured the lighter fluid for dramatic effect, and my mother softly chastised him while her face beamed with delight. Today, I try to give my children the thrill of an old-fashioned barbecue with the Ole Mole Hamburgers from The Houston Junior League Cookbook. These slider-style burgers are easy and capture the seasoning of what a homemade burger should have.

For side dishes, I have two summer favorites. What is a cookout without a bean dip? Specifically, the Texas Bean Dip from The Houston Junior League Cookbook was one of the first dips I learned to make as an adult, and I still pull it out for many occasions. It’s quick, simple and a crowd-pleaser every time. Next, I recommend a vegetable. But what is the fun of a vegetable unless it is fried? The Fried Cauliflower from The Houston Junior League Cookbook is simple and to the point. Veggies are better when they are dredged in flour and dipped in hot oil. This is a party after all.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Strawberries Eric, both out of Peace Meals, are sweet classics with small twists. The cinnamon and oats in the cookies make these treats far from ordinary but simple enough to please children and adults. The strawberries are tart and refreshing and can be served on their own, on top of a cake or pie, or even in a drink.

Whatever you decide to serve at your summer soirée, make sure it’s all about the three Fs: flavor, freshness and fun.

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