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Ideas, advice, and what to make now from Chowhound editors.

Fresh and Minty

Mint lends a summery flavor to savory and sweet cooking, and perks up drinks.

Mint is great in condiments, and is a classic pairing with lamb. BeckyAndTheBeanstock makes an easy mint chutney: Purée 3 cups mint leaves, 2 cups cilantro leaves, a sprinkle of sugar, a jalapeño, some lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a food processor, then serve as a dip for bread and veggies. Erika L makes a sauce for leg of lamb with chopped mint and basil, olive oil, and garlic; brush it on the lamb while cooking, and serve more on the side. Or try CHOW’s Braised Lamb Shanks with Mint-Parsley Pesto.

morwen buries mint leaves in sugar for easy mint flavoring, and steeps mint in vinegar, which she uses to dress fruit salads. Sooeygun says, “We grow ours pretty much exclusively for ice cream.” “The ice cream with real mint is so much better than what you buy,” agrees karykat. “No comparison.” Steep the leaves in the hot milk and cream, then strain and use to make the custard. lfirebrand makes lemon-mint granita. “Can’t get easier or more refreshing than that!” he says.

Or maybe you can: CHOW’s sweet Southern-style Mint and Lime Iced Tea uses green tea.

Board Links: Tons of mint -- seeking creative suggestions
Mint help please

Perfect Grilled Potatoes

Like other vegetables, potatoes are delicious grilled. Most hounds prefer to parboil waxy potatoes. This gives “a nice crisp outside and smooth texture inside” when they’re grilled, says Infomaniac. Cut them into same-sized pieces so they cook evenly, recommends goodhealthgourmet. Thick slices or wedges are easiest to turn with tongs. Smaller chunks can be grilled on skewers; leave the skin on and thread the skewer through the skin on each piece to provide a sturdy anchor.

Infomaniac doesn’t parboil russet potatoes. He brushes them with oil, starts them over direct heat, and moves them to indirect heat to finish cooking. ipsedixit also prefers not to parboil. His instructions: “Slice into thick wedges. Rub with some garlic. Brush with olive oil. Place over hot coals until tender.”

waver calls this recipe for grilled potato salad with watercress, green onions, and blue cheese vinaigrette “awesome.”

Board Link: Potatoes on the grill

Simple Tricks for Light, Fluffy Pancakes

Making pancakes from scratch is almost as easy as using a mix, and the flavor is much better. A few simple techniques help guarantee a light, fluffy texture.

mels finds that folding an additional egg white beaten to soft peaks into the batter creates “the lightest most tender pancake I have ever made.” Others simply separate the eggs in their recipes, beat the egg whites, and fold them into the batter (Siobhan is a fan of Hannah’s pancakes, which uses this technique). Folding in beaten egg whites “makes all the difference, especially with heavier add-ins or recipes with cottage cheese or ricotta,” says amyzan, who adds, “Egg whites also work wonders with whole grain batters, so you don’t have to sacrifice texture for nutrition.”

Letting pancake batter rest for 15 minutes before cooking makes for lighter pancakes too. This is especially true when whole-grain flour is used because it takes longer to absorb liquids, notes amyzan. And, according to greygarious, replacing half your recipe’s milk with applesauce “not only improves flavor but makes the pancakes more tender.”

Board Link: I have discovered the secret to light/fluffy pancakes!

Refreshing Cucumbers

Simple preparations of crunchy cucumbers are refreshing during the heat of summer.

Cucumber salads are a classic. Some simply combine sliced cucumbers, red or sweet onions, vinegar, salt, and a bit of sugar if desired; others add sour cream and dill. foodeye says Joanne Weir’s cucumber and feta salad is great on its own or as a sandwich filling. toveggiegirl loves Asian cucumber ribbon salad, and linguafood makes it Thai-style with fish sauce, lime juice, a bit of Sriracha, and tons of garlic.

Chilled water with cucumber is very refreshing on a hot day, says ola (try CHOW’s Cucumber-Orange Water). Or make tzatziki, the Greek dish of yogurt, chopped or grated cucumber, garlic, and dill, for dipping pita or as a condiment for grilled meats. CHOW’s Cucumber and Cumin Yogurt Relish uses mint instead of dill.

Board Links: I have a ton of cucumbers!
Cucumber Ideas

Making More of Pound Cake

Pound cake was traditionally made from equal weights of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. Modern recipes vary the ingredient proportions and include all kinds of flavor additions. Pound cake is great served on its own, or as a component of a dessert course. “Can’t beat the richness of pound cake,” says middydd.

For the basic cake, cassoulady is a fan of Jacques Pépin’s favorite pound cake. Variations start with extra ingredients, like the cream cheese pound cake with strawberry coulis beloved by pinkprimp. “The cake is so sublime,” she raves. “So rich, so eggy, with the perfect ‘chewy’ crust forming on top. The first time I had tried this recipe, I fell so deeply in love that I had to make two more in one week.” This recipe freezes beautifully, adds HillJ. middydd’s favorite for summer is Georgia peach pound cake.

Hounds love toasted or grilled pound cake, accompanied with fruit or fruit sauces, ice cream, or just some jam. Try CHOW’s Toasted Pound Cake with Coffee Sauce or Grilled Lime Pound Cake with Raspberry-Kirsch Sorbet (pictured above).

Board Link: Appreciating pound cake

Add Depth with Dried Porcinis

Rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms add great depth to all sorts of dishes, and work well as an accent or as a major component in a dish. “They’re great at bumping up flavor, for risotto or even mushroom soups and sauce,” says hotoynoodle. “Strain the soaking liquid and add that to whatever you’re making.” HillJ thinks they’re great with eggs, in any cream-based soup, and on pizza.

Reconstituted in chicken stock and then blended with some cream, shallots, and garlic, dried porcini make a beautiful sauce for pasta or grilled chicken, says JungMann. kchurchill5 combines them with fresh portobello and shiitake mushrooms, beef broth, wine, garlic, and caramelized onions for a pasta sauce.

ajcraig makes a rub for grilled meats by grinding dried porcini with salt and pepper, dried onion and garlic, dried thyme, smoked paprika, and cayenne.

CHOW’s Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole (pictured above) is flavored with rehydrated dried porcini.

Board Link: Dried Porcini Mushrooms

How to Cook with Lavender

Lavender is not just a flower, but also a culinary herb, best known as part of the French seasoning mixture herbes de Provence. Use it in both savory and sweet cooking. “Many people don’t like the flowery aroma,” says LindaWhit, “but when used judiciously, it can add quite a lovely fragrance and flavor.”

gourmet wife adds lavender to stewed short ribs, and sarah galvin uses it with maple syrup, salt, and pepper when making cedar-planked salmon. AndrewK512 thinks it tastes great when sprinkled over roasted potatoes right near the end of cooking. ChefJune uses fresh lavender greens as she does rosemary, and says the herb adds a subtly sweet flavor.

gourmet wife adds lavender to strawberry and raspberry sorbets, and Old Spice adds it to pastry cream for fresh fruit tarts. Lavender is good in shortbread, say hounds, and sf toronto uses ground dried lavender in chocolate cookies.

Vetter loves lavender lemonade (steep the lavender in water and use this to make lemonade), and operagirl steeps it in simple syrup and adds Meyer lemon juice and vodka for a summertime drink. CHOW’s Lavender-Thyme Syrup complements more flavorful liquors.

Board Link: Cooking with Lavender?

Strawberries Are the Secret

Give arugula salad a fantastic twist by adding strawberries, recommend hounds, who also include goat cheese and toasted nuts. “I think what I liked most about it was the sweetness and slight acidity of the strawberries against the sharp arugula,” says Nyleve, who adds, “it really came across as savory rather than sweet.”

Nyleve uses chopped red onion, chopped toasted hazelnuts, and a dressing made from hazelnut oil, white balsamic vinegar, a dash of Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. peppermint pate uses chopped toasted almonds and a balsamic dressing with a touch of truffle oil, which she says “adds an intoxicating new level of flavor.”

Board Link: Just made a great salad: arugula and strawberry

Make Green Onions the Star

Green onions, often just chopped and sprinkled over dishes raw, can be the center of preparations both simple and elaborate. They’re popular grilled as a side, in scrambled eggs and frittatas, and flavoring classic sour-cream-based dips.

fourunder makes a condiment of finely chopped green onions and fresh ginger, kosher salt, and canola oil (add jalapeño or red pepper flakes for a spicy twist). It’s great with anything Asian, fourunder says, especially meats and dumplings.

corneygirl makes green onion pot stickers filled with chopped green onions and tofu mixed with soy sauce and cornstarch. These freeze well, she says. Chinese scallion pancakes make great munching, according to chef chicklet.

thinks too much adds chopped green onions and shredded cheddar to drop biscuits and serves them with chili.

Board Link: Help–green onion overload

Image source: Flickr member ewen and donabel under Creative Commons

Summer-Perfect Watermelon Salad

Watermelon is among the most refreshing of summer foods. In a salad with feta cheese, it becomes dinner fare, and several hounds are fans of Nigella Lawson’s watermelon, feta, and black olive salad.

CreativeFoodie42 likes to use good balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, because “the feta and the watermelon really highlight those two ingredients.” hotoynoodle simply adds black olives, mint, and a little olive oil; and janeh combines watermelon, cucumber, feta, and mint and leaves it undressed. “Perfect and refreshing on a hot summer day,” she says. vcavett loves very thinly sliced red onions in hers.

hotoynoodle warns that watermelon feta salad doesn’t keep well because the watermelon weeps so much.

CHOW’s version includes tomatoes, and uses ricotta salata in place of feta.

Board Link: Watermelon and Feta Salad