Chef and TV host Elena Besser is joining TODAY to answer summer cooking questions submitted by our viewers. She shares her favorite dishes that taste great at room temp, shows us how to perfect a watermelon salad, offers creative ideas for jazzing up burgers and hot dogs and shares a recipe for refreshing, kid-friendly Frozen Pink Lemonade Ice Pops.
What are the best dishes to make that can sit out at room temp for a long time?
The USDA recommends we follow the two-hour rule: Food should only be left out at room temperature for two hours.
- Crostini: Topped with tomato or cheese, crostini taste delicious at any temperature.
- Cheese plates: Many cheesemongers actually prefer to serve their cheese at room temperature to showcase their full flavor profile.
- Guacamole: Add a squeeze of lime juice over the top of the dip to prevent browning.
- Salads: Vegetable salads, grain salads or pasta (or noodle) salads.
- Veggies: Any grilled vegetable tastes great at room temp. My favorites are corn, onions and zucchini.
- Big salads: Top a salad with protein like grilled chicken, shrimp or tofu to make them into more of a full dinner.
- Skewers: Load 'em up with protein and veggies.
- Sandwiches: Sandwiches are a great choice for a day at the beach. I like adding chips to mine for extra crunch.
- Pre-batched cocktails: Bring the drinks outside and, just before serving, pour them over ice.
What's the easiest way to spice up a boring burger or hot dog at a barbecue?
- Seasonings: Add herbs and spices to the ground meat. Fresh chives are my favorite.
- Sauce it up: Brush sauces onto the burgers (e.g. barbecue sauce or buffalo sauce) or drizzled onto dogs (miso-mayonnaise or hot sauce).
- Add a briney bite: Combine water, vinegar, sugar and salt to pickle any vegetable of your choice. I love pickling anything from onions to beets to spicy peppers. They add great crunch and brightness to the meaty burgers and dogs.
- Make the most of the grill: Since the grill is on, you should make the most of it. Grill some onions or peppers and use them as toppers. Toasting the buns also adds great texture and flavor.
What's the secret to the best watermelon salad?
There are several key things to pay attention to enhance any watermelon salad. It's really very easy to bring out the best of this summer fruit.
- Pick a great watermelon: Rounder the watermelon, the sweeter it is. A deep hollow sound indicates it is perfect and full of juice. A light hollow sound indicates a thick rind and less ripeness. A seedless watermelon ensures you only sink your teeth into something refreshing, rather than texturally polarizing.
- Serve it cold: The cooler the watermelon, the more refreshing it will be on those hot summer days. My tip: Cut the watermelon and arrange it on a serving plate or bowl. Pop it into the fridge until you are ready to enjoy it. The cold vessel will keep it cold for longer!
- Top it right: Salt the watermelon to awaken its flavor. Add a creamy cheese and a glug of olive oil for textural contrast. Add a squeeze of lemon juice for brightness. Shower it with some fresh herbs to make it sing. Herbs like basil, cilantro, mint, tarragon or chives add a beautiful pop and another element of freshness.