Admittedly, I am a reluctant cook who rarely touches a pot or pan except to wash them. So when I must make something, I look for recipes that wouldn’t challenge a 4-year-old.

In “The Summer Table: Recipes and Menus for Casual Outdoor Entertaining” by Lisa Lemke, I found some. Since in summertime the livin’ is easy, the cookbook is mostly about barbecuing and outdoor entertaining, and the food is meant to be easy and casual. The recipes serve 4 to 6, so you’d have to double many of them for a crowd.

Many of the recipes are vegetarian. Salads, side dishes, desserts and inventive drinks all share the space nicely. Although Lemke is Swedish (the book was first published there, where she works as a food stylist, recipe developer and television chef), the recipes are international in scope – Grilled Artichokes with Gremolata, Alfajores with Dulce de Leche, Mango Squares with Coconut Topping, to name just a few.

Her expertise in styling is apparent in the many nice photographs of food throughout the book. Despite the title, most of the recipes would work year-round, encouraging home cooks to add variety and jazziness to their daily cooking routines.

For those who like to experiment, there are ideas for simple dips, rubs, glazes, sauces and dressings and lots of homey tips, suggestions and variations. Not being one of those people, I opted to follow exact instructions.

The first recipe I tried, Cherry Squares with Crumble Topping, called for vanilla sugar. I had never heard of it! Apparently, it’s a staple in European kitchens and readily available there. I desperately searched the Internet for an idea of what it was and how to get it. Turns out it is easy to make but really should be done in advance … not when all the other ingredients are already in the bowl. Still, the squares tasted great and were easy enough to make. But they came out so dry my husband ran to the store for both ice cream and whipped cream to make up for the texture. Maybe it was operator error and I overmixed or overbaked them? More likely, the 400 F degree oven called for was too hot for what is essentially a pound cake spread out in a 9 by 13 pan; I think it would have fared better at 325 or 350 F degrees. I’ve already bought the cherries for a second try.

The second recipe, “Potato Muffins with Spiced Cheese,” came out well, though the muffins were closer to popovers (bready rather than cakelike). I think they’d go really well with beef stew, but since that’s hardly a summer dish, I served them with grilled steak and salad, which also made a nice pair. I’d definitely make these again. One drawback, they stuck to the muffin paper. Lemke offers an alternative – cutting parchment paper into 24 (6-inch) squares to serve as hand-made muffin cups.

So many of the recipes in “The Summer Table” sounded good, and not just for summer. My next foray will be the French Toast with a Twist. Or maybe the Onion, Mushroom and Sage Custard Tart.


Potato Muffins with Spiced Cheese

Makes 12 muffins, takes about 30 minutes


12/3 cups all-purpose flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

Scant 1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream

1/4 cup olive oil

31/2 ounces coarsely grated firm spiced cheese such as aged Gouda with cumin


6 ounces waxy or russet potato, peeled

Salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or set 12 handmade parchment muffin cups on a baking sheet.

To make the muffins, combine all dry ingredients; whisk the eggs in a bowl and add yogurt (or sour cream), scant 1/2 cup water and oil. Stir the liquid into the flour mixture along with 3/4 of the cheese and stir until smooth.

To make the filling, slice the potato very thinly and season the slices with salt and pepper. Fill every muffin cup about 3/4 full with the batter and evenly distribute the potatoes and rest of the cheese among the muffins. Press the potatoes slightly into the batter.

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes. These muffins are best served at room temperature – whether freshly baked or reheated. Though best freshly baked, if you want to prepare them in advance, freeze the muffins as soon as they have cooled and thaw and warm before serving.

For a nice variation, add fresh chopped dill to the batter. (I substituted Sabbathday Lake Shakers’ Fines Herbes, sprinkling it lightly over the top of half the batch before baking, and preferred those to the plain muffins).

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