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Chill, Grill, and Enjoy Summer Meals Safely

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, summer with its al fresco meals, backyard cookouts, light meals at the campground, and neighborhood gatherings can begin. At these, and many other summertime gatherings, the object is to have fun – not watch the clock to determine whether or not the mayonnaise-based potato salad and layered dips have reached their expiration points. I have a couple of solutions that’ll make summertime meals more fun.

First, think vinegar. No, not the arid white variety, but balsamic, apple cider, and other flavored vinegars. Using them as the base for a variety of salads and marinated dishes instead of mayonnaise or sour cream-based salads means you don’t have to keep a watchful eye on the outdoor food table.

One of my favorite summer sides is Italian pasta salad. Filled with fresh summer vegetables and tangy vinaigrette, it’s the perfect dish to take to a cookout or simply enjoy on the patio with grilled burgers. Just as important, pasta salad, with its durable marinade of oil and vinegar, can remain on the patio table or other outdoor venue for a few hours.

To make it, cook a 16-ounce package of fusilli or rotini pasta (any pasta will do, but shaped pasta holds dressing better) according to package directions. Drain and pat noodles with paper towels to dry completely. Pour pasta into a large bowl and add three cups of chopped Roma tomatoes, pound of chopped pepperoni or salami, half pound of grated provolone cheese, cup each of chopped green and red bell peppers, half cup of sliced green olives, and a quarter teaspoon of white sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk together a half cup each of apple cider vinegar and vegetable oil, two teaspoons each of garlic powder and Mrs. Dash, teaspoon each of ground black pepper and Italian seasoning, and a half teaspoon each of onion powder and dill weed.

Pour dressing over pasta and mix well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight, to allow flavors to meld. After marinating, taste for flavor, as the pasta will soak up the marinade.

Last, one of my favorite summer sides is baked beans. There are literally hundreds of recipes for this dish and everyone has their tried-and-true version. Mine relies heavily on Sweet Bay Ray’s barbecue sauce, also my pick as a topping for grilled burgers and chicken.

Summers’s almost here, so grill, chill and stay safe with vinegar and Sweet Baby Ray’s.

Summer’s Best Baked Beans 3 (16-ounce) cans of original Bush's baked beans (drain juice)

1 pound ground chuck, browned and drained 1 box light brown sugar 1 cup Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce (more to taste) 1 tablespoon yellow mustard 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brown the ground beef, add the rest of ingredients. Bake in a large casserole dish for 40-45 minutes, or until bubbly. Add extra liquid as needed to keep beans moist while cooking.

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