Cottage Cuisine

Leave gourmet sit-down meals for another time and place and savor what’s in season at your favorite haven. // Photography by Caroline J. Beck

CherriesSummering at a lakeside cottage locks affectionate memories into your DNA: a thin veneer of sand migrating from the beach across the kitchen floor; cushions left wet by swimsuit-clad 3-year-olds; jam jars filled with tiny shells, beach glass and other found treasures.

But most of all, you may recall casual meals served family-style around the table or spread out on a beach blanket, because the foodie mantra “local and seasonal” is nothing new for the cottage crowd.

It’s a way of life.

While gourmet ingredients eat up space in city kitchens, cottage cuisine is happily set in its ways. Meals emerge from whatever’s in season at roadside stands and corner markets, community groceries and backyard gardens. And with hundreds of farmer’s markets dotted throughout Michigan, farm-fresh ingredients can be relished almost every day.

Following are a few hallmarks of the original happy meal.

Fresh is everything.

From the bounty of fruits and vegetables blessing Michigan’s landscape, it’s easy to find inspiration for cottage menus. Make the most of spring asparagus, summer squash, a basket of just-picked corn or a box of blueberries: Let whatever’s fresh be the centerpiece of your meals.

Get out while you can.

You’ve managed to escape urban routine, so enjoy meals while savoring sunny skies, fresh air and water views, too. Outdoor entertaining is a must, whether you’re rolling out the grill or digging out sand for a barbeque pit. Extra benefit: Clean up is a breeze.

Share and share alike.

The perfect trick to simplifying cottage entertaining is hosting a potluck. Those with a favorite family dish to pass will love hearing accolades it earns, and guests will enjoy the party more when they can lend a helping hand.

Stop the clock and keep it simple.

Cottage life is all about savoring time with family and friends, not being locked in the kitchen. If a recipe takes more than 30 minutes, pick another one. If it can be prepared a day in advance, plan ahead. And remember that simple, semi-homemade solutions can really speed things up.

Self-serve is de rigueur.

Whether you serve a meal family-style or make it a buffet, keep it free-flowing and fun. Save sit-down dinners surrounded by stacks of flatware and crystal for another time and place. (Besides, buffets make getting seconds so much less obvious.)

Cottage cuisine is a 24/7 thing.

Cottages are often magnets for spontaneous guests. Be ready with a prepped stash of fresh fruits and vegetables, dips and chips. A little hospitality goes a long way on a hot summer day.

If you’re a seasoned cottager, you likely have more than a few tricks of your own tucked away. But taking continual stock of what makes summertime gatherings more fun and less work should be on everyone’s radar.

Michigan Pineapple Cherry SalsaMichigan Cherry Pineapple Salsa (Yields: 6 servings)

1 pound sweet cherries, pitted
½ pound fresh or canned pineapple
1 jalapeno pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chile pepper, or to taste
¼ cup parsley, minced

In a blender or food processor, puree all ingredients until the mixture reaches a chunky sauce consistency. Serve immediately or marinate for up the 3 hours to allow flavors to marry. Serve with tortilla chips.

Colorful Corn SaladColorful Corn Salad (Yields: 6 servings)

6 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
½ cup red onion, diced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
Mixed salad greens
Lemon juice
½ cup cilantro, chopped

Cut corn kernels from cob. Combine with bell peppers and onion.

Working in two batches, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in large skillet over medium flame. Add ½ of the corn mixture and sauté for 2 minutes. Add ¼ cup water and cover for 2 minutes. Remove cover and stir in salt and pepper, cooking until water is fully absorbed. Set aside to cool. Repeat with remaining corn mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Line platter with mixed salad greens, dressed lightly with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Mound corn salad in center and garnish with cilantro. Serve room temperature.

Sweet Pea GuacamoleSweet Pea Guacamole (Yields: 6 servings)

1 pound fresh sweet peas, shelled
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers or to taste, chopped
Juice of 2 limes
2 ripe avocados, mashed
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup cilantro, minced

Steam peas until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cool.

In a blender or food processor, puree peas, olive oil, shallot, garlic, lime juice and jalapeno a until almost smooth but still a bit chunky. (Jalapenos can be very hot or mild, so test the level of spice before adding to your dish according to your preference.)

In a medium bowl, combine mashed avocado with pea mixture, adding salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.

Visit the Michigan Farmer’s Association at to find just-picked produce nearest you. Regular BLUE contributor Caroline J. Beck lives in California’s wine country and Lexington, Mich.

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