Gail Simmons’ Secrets to Easy-Breezy Summer Cooking

Summer cooking
Photo Credit: Johnny Miller

May 22, 2018

By Beth Lipton

We always want to cook crowd-pleasing, chef-worthy food, easily and effortlessly—but especially in the summer. #Goals, right?

So we turned to one of our favorite experts: Gail Simmons. The Top Chef judge shared two of her fave summer dishes from her cookbook Bringing It Home (below) and chatted with us about what makes them special, and how to make them yours, stress-free.

“In the summertime, you want to be out in the sunshine, spending time with your family, not sweating over a hot stove,” Simmons tells Clean Plates. “Especially for summer entertaining, keeping it simple is important.”

One way to do this is to look at recipes with a fresh eye. “Be more loose with your recipes,” she says. “Not the technique per se, but with the ingredients. Most cooks are either really improvisational or really by-the-recipe. Learning to be a really good home cook and learning to be the least stressed in your cooking is to be somewhere in the middle. Look at a recipe and then make simple ingredient exchanges. Making a filet of fish and cooking a hangar steak is the same technique, so it’s freeing to be able to look at a recipe and look beyond the exact ingredient list.

“Use basic recipes that you can alter in 5 different ways,” she adds. “Do them your way. Don’t be afraid to stray from the path.”

Here are two of hers, with an inside look at how she elevated them. Make them as is, or add your own spin.

Bumbleberry Buckwheat Pancakes with Cinnamon Cream

  • Serves: 4
Bumbleberry buckwheat pancakes


  • Pancake Batter
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1∕3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1∕2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1∕4 cups chilled well-shaken buttermilk (low-fat or whole; see Note)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted, plus more for griddle
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
  • 1 (6-ounce) container blackberries (about 1 1∕2 cups), cut in half if large
  • 1 (6-ounce) container raspberries (about 1 3∕4 cups)
  • 1 (6-ounce) container blueberries (about 1 1∕3 cups)
  • Cinnamon Cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1∕4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1∕2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pure maple syrup, warmed, for serving


  1. For the batter: In a large bowl, combine the buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the buttermilk, eggs, coconut oil, and lemon zest; stir together until just combined (a little lumpy is OK; do not overmix). Allow the batter to rest for 15 minutes. Gently fold in all but 1∕3 cup of each type of berry.
  2. For the cinnamon cream: Beat the cream in a medium bowl to medium peaks. Fold in the yogurt and cinnamon and continue beating just until stiff peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  3. Heat a heavy-bottomed griddle over medium heat; brush with coconut oil. Working in batches, drop 1∕3-cupfuls of the pancake batter into the griddle. Cook the pancakes until the undersides are deep golden and bubbles start to form around the edges, about 3 minutes, then flip. Reduce the heat to low and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, until the underside is golden, too. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the pancakes topped with a generous dollop of cream, the remaining berries, a drizzle of warm syrup, and any remaining cream on the side.

Gail says: “The batter in these pancakes is really simple, fun and easy. It’s great for kids but sophisticated enough to make for adults. It has lots of lemon zest, and buckwheat flour, which is really hearty and healthful, and gives a really nutty flavor to the pancakes.

“The bumbleberries are key,” she adds. “It’s a mix of three different kinds of berries. I grew up with bumbleberry pie in Canada. It’s just a mixed-berry pie, but I love the word ‘bumbleberry.’ The reason for mixing berries is that the depth of flavor you get is richer and more interesting than if you just use one. And the cinnamon cream is super simple—it’s rich with a bit of tartness, not cloying. So the pancakes are pancakes, but they have a couple of little elements that you might not do with everyday pancakes. It makes them very layered but still really familiar.”

Note: In place of buttermilk, you can use 1 1∕2 cups whole milk mixed with 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar for this recipe.


Excerpted from BRINGING IT HOME Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating by Gail Simmons.  Copyright © 2017 by Gail Simmons. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Life & Style.  All rights reserved.

Summer Vegetable Salad with Charred Lime Vinaigrette

  • Serves: 4
Summer vegetable salad


  • 2 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 medium red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inchwide strips
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled and cut into half moons
  • 5 radishes, thinly sliced
  • Charred Lime Vinaigrette
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 ounces ricotta salata cheese, shaved (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped mixed fresh tender herbs, such as mint, basil, cilantro, tarragon, and/or chives


  1. Prepare a grill or grill pan for medium-high heat. brush the corn and bell pepper with oil and grill, turning occasionally, until charred and tender, 6 to 8 minutes for the pepper and 12 to 15 minutes for the corn. Transfer the grilled vegetables to a cutting board as they are finished and let cool slightly.
  2. Cut the corn kernels from the cobs and roughly chop the bell pepper. Arrange the grilled vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber, and radishes in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper; gently toss to combine. Sprinkle with the cheese and herbs and serve.

Gail says: “It’s an everything salad, and it’s interchangeable—you don’t have to be fussy about it. There’s no lettuce, so it keeps really well; it doesn’t get soggy, so you can take it on a picnic. And you can add other vegetables, or swap some—it would be great with asparagus, or fennel. You could even add watermelon. It’s a real crowd pleaser. Put some grilled hangar steak on top, and that’s dinner. I think of it like the one-pot stew you’d make in the winter.”

Kitchen Wisdom: Grilling Limes
Grilling limes before juicing gives the dressing for this salad a delicious charred flavor, but that’s not all. Warming the fruit also relaxes the flesh, which helps you squeeze every last drop of its tasty juices.


Excerpted from BRINGING IT HOME Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating by Gail Simmons.  Copyright © 2017 by Gail Simmons. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Life & Style.  All rights reserved.

BIO: Beth Lipton is a contributing editor at Clean Plates.
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Clean Plates

Good food brings people together.
So do good emails.