Summer Food Trends & Recipes

By Sean-Patrick M. Hillman

Summer is one of the most amazing times of year when it comes to food and beverage. Dark, heavy dishes with warm flavors give way to lighter fare with citrus notes and bright flavors. It is also the time of year when creativity counts the most as it relates to trying new things to ensure those dishes and cocktails are lighter, but still deliver on flavor and experience. After all, who wants a heavy meal on a 95-degree day at 100% humidity?

Summer meals can be incredible in so many ways. Same with cocktails. But they can also fall flat on their face. As an example, if the cook or chef is chasing trends and not paying attention to the flavor, that dish you’ve been looking forward to will likely taste no better than cardboard. And for cocktails, chasing trends can be even more dangerous for your palate due to inferior ingredients being used in certain products. This month, I wanted to give our readers updates on trends, a few product recommendations, and some insatiable recipes to get you ready for summer!

Food trends are extremely subjective. And those trends are often dictated by people with an agenda like selling you products. Well, you know the only agenda I have is delivering killer dishes to my guests and helping our readers enjoy a flavor adventure. So, here are our trends to watch for the summer

Barbecue: The standard accessory for any backyard summer is a barbecue grill. Then comes the age-old argument of gas vs charcoal vs electric (especially given the popularity of air fryers). I am a barbecue purist, so for me I will always be a charcoal fan. In my opinion, it delivers better flavor, quality and who doesn’t love smelling like a smokestack after slaving over a hot grill? When it comes to entertaining though, there is always room for a flattop in the backyard grilling wars. You have a much larger surface to work with, and it is easier to make large quantities of food than a traditional charcoal grill. Then there is the pellet grill category, and who could forget the recent popularity of having a backyard smoker?

Salads: The majority of salads are consumed between May and October. It is an undeniable fact. However, not all salads are created equally. Summer salads tend to be much lighter, often using chicken or fish as a protein, rarely using beef. Also, remember that salad dressing is usually the majority of calories in our green, leafy dishes, so you want to err on the side of caution when purchasing those yummy, flavored dressings at the grocery store. Pro Tip: If you are watching your waistline, natural citrus and herbs can load a salad with incredible flavor, adding minimal calories to your dish.  Normally I don’t recommend anything other than charcoal, but Weber (whose brand of charcoal grills I have always bought) just released a new beast in the BBQ arena, the Searwood 600 Pellet Grill for $899.00. This innovation combines the best of a smoker and a pellet grill. Info:

Canned Cocktails: In terms of trends, canned cocktails are the pet rock of the 2020’s. For the most part, these chemical-tasting, acid-reflux inducing annoying cans and bags for the mixology impaired are a no-go for me. However, there is one exception to this sentiment, Superbird Tequila’s line of Paloma and Tequila Sunrise cans. It’s all about quality. Using an incredible tequila as their base, Superbird delivers on amazing flavor with no heartburn. And the packaging is stunning! Try the Tequila Sunrise version which starts at $10.99. For any others, you are going to need to get some Pepto Bismol. Info:

Nostalgia: Look for nostalgic-oriented dishes and cocktails to show up everywhere this summer. Whenever you have a recession, high inflation or a time of uncertainty, consumers tend to go back to comfort foods, flavor profiles from their childhood, etc. It reminds them of a simpler time, or a better time in their minds. We are already seeing flavors like candy from the 70’s and 80’s trending in cocktails and desserts. And who could possibly forget some of those nostalgic staples from our childhood like Chipwich? After disappearing in 2011, the brand was acquired by Crave Better Foods in 2017 and made a triumphant return to freezers across the country in 2018. Crave Better Foods also spent a lot of time restoring the Chipwich to its former glory, bringing back high-quality ingredients. Today, the iconic frozen novelty is made of premium vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two sweet, chewy chocolate chunk cookies and then rolled in crunchy, real chocolate chips—the signature detail that makes a Chipwich a Chipwich. The brand is available in Original Vanilla Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip, Birthday Cake, and Girl Scout Thin Mints. A 3-pack of any of the aforementioned retails for about $5 at most grocers and food retailers. Info:  

Sugar: Moderation is key in any desire, be it sugar, alcohol or whatever vice you enjoy. Recently though, manufacturers have been replacing sugar on their ingredient labels for something far more sinister, sweeteners like xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol and maltitol. They are sometimes referred to as sugar alcohols and come with their own health issues. While overloading on sugar causes weight gain, heart damage and more, the sweetener alternatives that are being put into our foods are far more dangerous. Once in your intestinal tract, sugar alcohol is fermented by colonic bacteria. That releases gas, which leads to bloating, cramps, pain, and diarrhea. And one common sugar alcohol, erythritol, has been linked to increased risk for heart attack and stroke. So please check labels of packaged foods and sauces to make sure you know what you are eating! 

Summer Mixology: Now you may think I am crazy, but while I love a good vodka or gin drink in the summer, I can never ignore my go-to, bourbon. And what better bourbon whiskey than the stuff legends are made of…yes, I am knocking on Heaven’s Door for this one. My friends at the Bob Dylan-founded brand came through in-style with the recipe on the next page, Kentucky Buck. While bourbon, for many, tends to be a more winter or cooler temperature spirit, it can also make an incredible summer drink. After all, there is a reason why the Mint Julep is the unofficial drink of the south! This recipe, the Kentucky Buck, uses lemon juice, ginger syrup and muddled strawberries to lighten the cocktail and deliver those incredible summer flavors we all clamor for at the bar! Bearing in mind, that muddling is not what most people think it is. When you muddle the strawberries, or mint for a mojito, do not shred the berries or the leaves. You want to use the muddler to gently press the juices out of the ingredient to release the flavor.

Kentucky Buck
2 oz Heaven’s Door Ascension
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.75 oz Ginger Syrup
2 diced strawberries
Soda to top

Muddle the strawberries in a shaker.
· Add Heaven’s Door Ascension, lemon juice, and ginger syrup and shake until slightly chilled.
· Pour into a Collins glass over large format ice, top with soda.
· Garnish with a thin slice of strawberry and candied ginger in a Collins glass. 

Summer is amazing for locally grown fruits and vegetables, especially in Hudson Valley. When I was a little boy, my favorite cake was a Strawberry Shortcake. My Grammie used to make it for me every June 28th (my birthday). Since then, I have made some changes to the traditional recipe, including using an added, secret ingredient, basil!  

Sean-Patrick’s Strawberry Basil Shortcakes
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, beaten  

1½ pound fresh strawberries, hulled, quartered, divided
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 sprigs basil
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons crème fraiche 

· Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers, work in butter until there are a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Add cream. Mix until dough just comes together.
· Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 12x4” rectangle about ¾” thick. You will need to cut out rounds with a 2½” biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps as needed to make 8 rounds.
· Whisk egg with 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Transfer rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown and shortcakes are cooked through, 15–20 minutes.

Method/Berries and Assembly
· You want to make a berry compote. Chop 2 cups strawberries (use any bruised or less perfect ones) and cook with 2 tablespoons of sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until berries are softened and mixture is slightly thickened, (about 5 minutes). Let compote cool.
· Toss together basil, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and remaining 1 cup strawberries in a medium bowl and let sit until fruit begins to release juices (about 10 mins). Discard basil.
· Using an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat cream, crème fraîche, and remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar to soft peaks (about 4 minutes).
· Split shortcakes and fill with berry compote, whipped cream mixture, and macerated strawberries.Serve and enjoy!  

While summer is one of the most flavorful times of year, it is also that time of year when we tend to enjoy those flavors a little too much. Remember that moderation will help across the board, especially with alcohol consumption, so that you can continue to enjoy those Chipwich novelties, Superbird cans, Heaven’s Door cocktails and Strawberry Basil Shortcakes!

Bon appetit!