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  • Kara Kimbrough

Jimmy Buffett has the right idea when it comes to summertime food

By Kara Kimbrough

Jimmy Buffett has the right idea when it comes to summertime food
Cheeseburger in Paradise Pasta Salad is the perfect summer salad filled with ground beef, pasta. vegetables and a special burger dressing.

“Nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake,” has to be one of the most hummable summertime lyrics. Penned by Mississippi native Jimmy Buffet, the line from the song "Margaritaville" is the perfect hot weather ballad except for one tiny detail. Something more substantial than sponge cake is necessary to get the party started at upcoming outdoor gatherings.

Memorial Day officially kicked off movable feast season. It’s when families and neighbors get together, bring food and catch up on each other’s lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family reunion, beach vacation, neighborhood block party or backyard cookout, food is the tie that binds family and friends together for the rest of the year.

Casual gatherings bring out the best of classic American food. In this category are appetizers like homemade dips and antipasto platters; cold salads and grilled meat ranging from burgers to dogs to sausages and ribs. All that's needed to top off a hot weather meal are simple desserts like cookies, cobblers and brownies.

In the midst of summer fun, remember hot weather can spell danger for some summer favorites. Travelling long distances without keeping food chilled or letting dishes languish in the heat can prove disastrous. Potential problems can arise with potato salad and other mayonnaise-based dishes; dips filled with sour cream; custard-based pies and seafood. Two hours is usually the cut-off point for these items. If it’s out of the refrigerator or cooler longer than that, bad things can happen.

On a brighter note, many dishes can be assembled quickly and enjoyed until the party's over. Choose well-cooked, marinated beef and poultry; cold pasta and vegetable salads with vinaigrette and oil dressings; fresh fruit skewers minus sugar or syrup; salsa instead of creamy dip and crisp homemade cookies instead of cakes with butter-cream or cream cheese frostings.

As for me, I’ll take a cue from another of Buffett’s hit songs as I plan my own summer gatherings. I'll add lots of "lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes" to my Cheeseburger in Paradise Pasta Salad and other light, cool dishes.

Cheeseburger in Paradise Pasta Salad

1 pound of your favorite pasta

1 small onion

1 pound ground chuck

1 tablespoon olive oil

1cup chopped cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped red onion

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup chopped pickles

1 cup shredded lettuce

Salt and pepper to taste


2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1-1/2 tablespoons ketchup

Boil pasta and drain. Chop onion and garlic, pour olive oil into a pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic with salt and pepper until soft.

Add ground beef to pan and cook through. Drain any excess oil from the ground beef and set aside in another bowl.

Chop the tomatoes, onion, pickles, and lettuce. Combine the ketchup and mayo until smooth in a small bowl.

Once the pasta and ground beef have cooled, add 1 1/2 cups of the ground beef mixture to the pasta. Then add the tomatoes, onion, pickles, lettuce and cheddar cheese. Combine everything.

Stir in desired amount of the burger sauce dressing.

Fruity Cooler

1 quart boiling water

4 tea bags

1-1/2 quarts cold water

½ cup orange juice

½ cup lemon juice

Sugar substitute to taste

Pour boiling water over tea bags in heat-resistant pitcher; allow tea to steep five minutes. Add cold water and juices; chill thoroughly. Sweeten to taste with sugar substitute.

Marinated Chicken Sandwiches

1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

4-1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1-1/2 tablespoons black pepper

1-1/2 tablespoons honey

¾ teaspoon minced garlic

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine lemon juice, vinegar, pepper, honey and garlic. Pierce chicken breasts and place in a shallow pan. Pour marinade over chicken, turning once to coat both sides. Refrigerate at least one hour. Marinated chicken can be grilled, baked or broiled.

When done, place in French or hoagie rolls and top with mustard spread.

Summertime Mustard Spread

½ cup prepared mustard

1 teaspoon parsley

1 teaspoon horseradish

1 tablespoon dried onion flakes

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Use as a spread for hot dogs, hamburgers or sandwiches.

Campfire Stuffed Dogs

8 hot dogs

2 tablespoons finely chopped green bell pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

8 hot dog buns

Partially split hot dogs. Mix pepper, onion and cheese together. Fill each hot dot with mixture. Grill over charcoal, split side up, until cooked thoroughly. Top with Summer Mustard Spread and place in hot dog buns.

Summer Coleslaw


1 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 tablespoon celery seeds

1 tablespoon prepared white horseradish

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper


2 heads green cabbage, about 3 pounds each

1 head red cabbage, about 3 pounds

1 red onion, sliced thin

6 carrots, peeled and shredded

3 large red bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

3 large green bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Prepare dressing by combining all ingredients in a blender and blending well, about 30 seconds. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour or up to four days.

Prepare slaw by cutting cabbage into quarters. Remove cores and shred quarters as fine as possible across the width. Toss with onions, carrots, peppers, dill and parsley in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 24 hours. Add dressing to slaw mix 5 minutes before serving. Toss well.

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at



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