Dog days of summer potluck delicacies

Cynthia Stone
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Although we talk about the weather incessantly, it's almost as if we are afraid to plan too far ahead because we've been burned in the past - well, frozen, I guess.

This summer is the one that reminds me of those endless childhood days, trying to scrape up a quarter to walk to Brake's Store or begging reluctant parents to let us go alone to Cook's Brook for a swim.

I'm counting on the dog days to carry on for another little while, just so we can soak up the sunshine that we missed last year.

Every warm day needs to be celebrated with a trip to the park or a barbecue or an outdoor meal with family and friends. And what better way to share the effort than a potluck?

Here are two celebratory summer recipes, one virtuous and one seriously decadent.

Broccoli dinner salad with creamy feta dressing

This perfect-bite dinner salad is not as sweet as the traditional broccoli and raisin version, but is every bit as satisfying.

You don't have to blanch the broccoli and carrots, but I find sometimes they can be a little tough.

Feel free to use low-fat feta and skim milk and this is truly a nutrition powerhouse. I like the dressing smooth but consider adding a spoonful of crumbled feta at the end for extra texture.

This amount makes about 6 servings, but if there are many choices on the potluck table, it will stretch.

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup evaporated (or fresh) milk

1 tbsp. each honey and lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 cups broccoli florets cut into bite-sized pieces

1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 14-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 small chopped red bell pepper

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1 large handful Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

2 tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram or oregano leaves (optional but wow)

Make the dressing first. Place cheese, milk, honey, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and blend or process until smooth.

Add a little more milk if it is too stiff - that will depend on the type of feta. Set aside; refrigerate if not using within half an hour.

Blanch broccoli and carrot slices in boiling water for three minutes. Rinse to cool under running water and set aside in a colander to drain thoroughly.

Combine broccoli, carrot, chickpeas, red pepper and onion. Toss with dressing and chill at least 15 minutes to allow the flavours time to bloom. Stir in parsley and marjoram just before serving.

Banoffee ice cream cake

Banoffee pie is a heavenly mixture of banana and toffee in a pastry crust, often with chocolate topping.

This is my version, the perfect make-ahead dessert for a hot summer's potluck. This is really three recipes in one and each is good enough to stand on its own.

There are two obvious shortcuts here. You can buy the cake, although this one has the texture and flavour to hold up to the ice cream and only gets better as the hours go by.

You can also buy a jar of caramel sundae topping instead of using the toffee sauce, although it will never freeze firmly enough to stay in a layer on top.

One last thing: to toast the pecans, put them in a dry frying pan and heat over medium, stirring, until they are fragrant and changing colour. Cool and chop.

Banana pecan ice cream

1/2 of 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 medium bananas)

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup toasted chopped pecans

One-bowl vanilla cake

1-1/8 cups (1 cup plus 2 tbsp.) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter

1/4 cup sour cream

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

Toffee sauce

1/2 of 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. Irish Cream liqueur (or use all cream)

1 tbsp. whipping cream

1 tbsp. butter or margarine

1 tsp. vanilla

Make the ice cream first. Whisk together sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and bananas. Whip cream until stiff - be careful at the end that it doesn't turn to butter. Fold, along with pecans, into banana mixture.

Cover and freeze two hours before assembling cake. Beating once or twice with a hand mixture during this time will make the ice cream smoother.

For the cake, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using an electric mixer on low speed, add the butter and beat until mixture is crumbly. Whisk together sour cream, eggs and vanilla and add a generous half to the batter.

Beat until smooth - about 30 seconds - then add remaining half and beat just until combined. Spread - batter will be thick - into a greased and floured nine-inch springform pan and bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until top is golden and a tester in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

For the toffee sauce, combine sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar in a small pot. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over low heat and cook until thick and golden brown, about six minutes - don't leave this even for a second and have remaining ingredients standing by.

Remove from heat and immediately add liqueur, cream, butter and vanilla; whisk until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

To assemble, cut cake into two layers. Place one layer back in the bottom of the springform pan. Spread on half the not-quite-frozen ice cream.

Top with remaining cake layer. Spread on remaining ice cream, then the toffee sauce.

You can sprinkle on more chopped pecans or drizzle over some chocolate sundae topping if you like.

Wrap tightly and freeze at least six hours but up to several days.

Allow to sit at room temperature for a few minutes before slicing with a knife dipped in hot water and dried.

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