Lemon Orzo Summer Salad

No longer ask “what can I bring?” Just let them know you and your orzo will be there.

Summer is the time to be social and it’s always good to have a go-to dish to bring that everyone will love. This is a great and refreshing salad to keep in the refrigerator all summer long to enjoy at home or bring to any summer gathering. It is also an easy one to make at the lake or beach! So go ahead and buy way too many veggies at the local produce stand (like I do) and worry no more about how to use them all. This salad is an excellent way to ensure that nothing goes to waste!

Use my recipe as a guide and add any vegetables you love to make it your own. This will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week. As the week goes on, I add to it – in fact, I cooked a few extra ears of corn a few days after making it and sliced it straight into the salad. Delicious!

I used: zucchini, tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, fresh basil, Castelvetrano olives, kalamata olives, and orzo. I seasoned simply with salt and pepper. Dressing is simple too – lemon juice, lemon zest, and olive oil.

Other additions: fresh corn off the cob grilled or cooked, feta, garbanzo beans, red onion, Vidalia onion, green/red/orange peppers.

Serve it with grilled chicken for a perfect summer meal. I invited my friend Vicki over for dinner and she brought chicken in a very tasty lemony garlicky marinade. We threw it on the grill and it paired perfectly with this salad!

Here is the recipe for the salad and marinade:

Lemon Orzo Salad:

4 cups cooked orzo

½ cup lemon juice – about 3 large fresh lemons juiced

¼ cup olive oil

Zest of 2 lemons

½ teaspoon of salt                                           

¼ teaspoon of pepper

1 sliced zucchini

1 sliced cucumber

1 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes

2 chopped bell peppers – I like red, yellow and orange

¼ cup fresh basil – I chop about 8-10 leaves into the salad

Cook the orzo. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Chop and slice the veggies and basil. Once orzo is done transfer to a bowl and pour the lemon dressing over it and stir. Add in all the veggies. If the orzo seems dry add about ¼ cup of water – or squeeze more lemon juice into it. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve warm or cold. If serving a day or two after making it, squeeze a little more lemon juice in there. Orzo soaks it up!

Vicki’s Grilled Chicken Marinade:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice – 2-3 large lemons

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon of oregano – just throw in a palm full

4 cloves crushed garlic – or a bunch more – whatever you want

Whisk all together. This marinade is great for chicken breasts or kabobs. Vicki will season for an hour or overnight for that good deep flavor.

Happy Summer! Or Fall! You know what? This would be fantastic for a football tailgate. Make sure to save this recipe. Let me know if you love it.

My Friend Mary’s Basil Lemon Yogurt Cake

Bakers gonna bake, bake, bake, bake, bake! – A baker I don’t know said or sang this

Have lots of basil and lemons lying around? If you do, you should make this for breakfast this weekend. And if you don’t just run to the store and get some. My friend Mary made this for her daughter, Ava, for breakfast on a Sunday morning. She found Meyer lemons at the store and decided to make it and serve with fresh lemonade and fruit. I can’t wait for my daughter, Sarah Kate, to make it for me. Ha! I am a terrible baker. I don’t even like baking. I have ruined brownies out of the box. Yes, it is possible.

I love the story behind the recipe. Mary and her daughter volunteer at an assisted living facility – which sometimes my daughter and I will volunteer also playing bingo with the ladies. It is such a gratifying experience! I always think I am going there to help brighten their day but I think I leave a little better than when I walked in. I love their stories, advice and company.

Mary likes to go on Wednesdays because that’s when they bake. She said they might not remember what day it is but put a recipe in their hand, let them boss you around, and they are off to the races! So that’s where she scored this delicious recipe. From one of the sweet residents in assisted living. She hand wrote the recipe for her. I love that. This led to a discussion about our grandmothers and their handwritten recipes we still have. My grandmother Ann didn’t have recipes. I learned to cook from her and so I don’t have a lot of recipes either. I just learned. My other grandmother, Maxine, typed all of her recipes on a typewriter of course and then made notes on the cards. One handwritten comment says, “Extra good!”. I have them! Here is her beautiful recipe box she gave to me with her typed recipes – along with the name of the person who gave it to her.

Mary found this gorgous box recently and it holds her recipes. It’s so pretty!

Here’s the sweet handwritten recipe for the cake. So sweet. I love that Mary’s hand and phone casts a shadow over the page. Lol!

Sarah Kate! Are you reading this? I have all the ingredients you need to whip this up! Can’t wait. Love, mom.

Basil Lemon Yogurt Cake

3 cups of flour

5 tsp baking powder

1.5 cups sugar

Zest of 4 lemons

1.5 cups of plain yogurt

2 tbspn lemon juice

1 cup oil

4 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla

2/3 cup chopped basil

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour cake pan. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix sugar and lemon zest. Add yogurt and lemon juice and mix well. Add oil, eggs and vanilla. Add basil and mix well. Fold in flour mix just until it crumbles. Pour in bundt pan or cake pans and bake 45 minutes.

Glaze: 1 cup of powdered sugar, 4 tsp lemon juice, and 1 tsp milk. Pour over cooled cake.

Cocktails That Taste Like Summer

When life gives you lemons, mint, basil, and thyme add some vodka and hurry to the porch.

-Shannon Hunter (that’s me)

Summertime brings about the most delicious herbs. Whether you grow them yourself, go to the farmer’s market or the grocery store, now is a great time to enjoy fresh basil, thyme and mint. My neighbor, Elizabeth, brought over an entire bouquet of basil and a craving for a lemon, basil and vodka cocktail. So I made her one. I always have lemons and vodka just in case.

I like to grow basil and mint in containers on the porch near the kitchen door. That way I can run out with my kitchen shears and cut some to add to whatever is on the stove or muddle in a drink. Basil and mint together is so good in sweet iced tea with lime. Love it!

So far this summer I have three delicious cocktails that are my favorites! I will say a gin and tonic is my absolute favorite in the summer, but I decided to make use of overflowing pots of basil and mint. I am not growing thyme so I have to get that from the farmer’s market or the grocery store when they have it.

They are so easy to make but you must have two things on hand…simple syrup and good quality tonic and soda. I highly recommend Fever-Tree. It truly is the best brand of tonic and soda I have ever had. Indian, Mediterranean and Elderflower are my favorite flavors. Here is a picture in case you aren’t familiar:

The best bargain for Fever Tree is to order it by the case on Amazon – otherwise it is between $5 – $6 for four bottles. Here are the links to my favorites:

Indian Tonic Water:

Elderflower Tonic Water:

Meditarranean Tonic Water:

To get started on porch sitting and sipping, you must have chilled simple syrup.

Simple Syrup:

1 cup of sugar – I also squeeze in a little honey. Especially if I add a sprig of thyme to the water.

1 cup of water

Bring water to a boil and stir in the sugar and honey. Turn heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk. Pour into a Pyrex cup or heat resistant container and let it cool. I keep in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Thyme infused simple syrup – add a sprig or two to the simmering water.

Basil, Lemon, Vodka Cocktail:

Muddle 2-3 leaves of fresh basil in a glass – leave them in the glass

Fill glass with ice

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the ice

Add a shot of vodka – roughly 1.5 ounces

Add 1 tablespoon of simple syrup or more to taste

Top with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic

Garnish with a lemon slice and basil leaf

Stir and Serve!

Thyme, Lemon, Vodka Cocktail:

Fill a glass with ice

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the ice

Add one shot of Vodka – roughly 1.5 ounces

Add 1-2 tablespoons of thyme infused simple syrup or more to taste

Add Fever-Tree tonic or soda to top – I prefer tonic but others prefer soda – make two and decide!

Stir and garnish with lemons and a sprig of fresh thyme.

Mint Juleps aren’t just for The Kentucky Derby ya’ll. It’s a great drink that is so refreshing during the summer. And helps with what to do with all that overflowing mint.

Mint Julep:

5 fresh mint leaves, muddled

2 ounces of simple syrup

2 ounces of bourbon – Woodford Reserve is my favorite mixing bourbon

Muddle 5 mint leaves in a glass. Fill the glass to the top with ice. Add simple syrup and bourbon. Garnish with mint sprigs.

What is your favorite summer cocktail? You know I’d love to hear!