Cool Cuisine

Two light dishes for the hottest days of summer.

ith temperatures hovering around the 100-degree mark, it's the time of year for cool meals to temper the weather. Dana Topham prepares the Summer Slimmer for August afternoons; better known as gazpacho, this cold soup is made with fresh vegetables and tomato juice.

Topham describes the soup's taste as a "very lively Bloody Mary without the alcohol," each taste packed with the flavor and textures of different vegetables used in the mixture. "It's very light and very good for hot days," she says. "We love tomatoes ' anything with tomatoes in it." She prefers using Creole tomatoes while they're in season.

Topham, a teacher at Ascension Day School, has been a Junior League member for three years. She is the organization's assistant chair to public relations and has a hand in organizing this year's cookbook. She used the Summer Slimmer recipe that is included in the first Talk About Good cookbook, which contained nearly 800 recipes.

"If you look at the book, it's thick because everyone was asked to submit at least five recipes, and everyone submitted five," she says.

The new cookbook, Something to Talk About, due out in autumn 2005, contains about 250 recipes with full color photos of the dishes and will include menus and sidebars about decorating and food styling.

One of the recipes in the new book is a Crab Meat Salad with Cane Syrup Vinaigrette, submitted by Topham and her husband, Michael. The vinaigrette is a concoction created by Michael. As the owner of the now-defunct Lagniappe Catering Company in Morgan City, Michael prepared dishes for weddings and other special events, and his custom dressing has been a favorite for 15 years. Dana says the dressing is best served drizzled over a green salad ' like spinach with crabmeat.

"If seafood is in season, then we usually have shrimp or crab and the dressing we make ourselves," she says. "We like light vinaigrettes. The salad is a nice combination of saltiness and when the crab has the vinaigrette on it, it changes the taste to sweet."

Topham, a New Iberia native, says both her and Michael's mothers are "excellent cooks" and had a hand in teaching their children to cook.

"My mother even learned to cook a few dishes from Michael," Topham says. Michael has been passionate about cooking since high school, and his mother encouraged the interest. He later graduated from college with a degree in restaurant management, and has worked with chefs at top-scale restaurants such as Café Vermilionville and Ruth's Chris, as well as cooking with his family at its catering company. Topham says now her daughter has become interested in cooking.

"My children like to be in the kitchen," she says. "They like to sit at the bar and watch us work. My daughter loves Emeril Live on the Food Network."

Michael now owns his own drilling company and continues to prepare meals for his family and co-workers in the Tophams' large and luxurious kitchen ' which contains an indoor grill that also offers a respite from hot summer days.

Summer Slimmer Gazpacho

1 cup peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup celery
1/2 cup cucumbers
1/2 cup green pepper
1/3 cup snipped parsley
1 small clove garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 2 1/2 cups V-8 juice

Chop or mince all of the vegetables very fine. Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel or glass bowl. Cover and chill thoroughly for four hours or overnight. Serve in chilled bowls. The soup will keep for several days. Serves 2-4 or 6-8 if doubled.

Crabmeat Salad with Cane Syrup Vinaigrette

1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cane syrup
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped green onions
Mixed salad greens
1 pound lump crabmeat, shells removed and flaked

Combine the olive oil, cane syrup, balsamic vinegar, garlic and green onions in a jar, and shake well. Arrange the salad greens on 12 individual salad plates. Spread the crab meat over the greens. Shake the vinaigrette, and drizzle it over the salad. You can also top this salad with salted, roasted pecans or toasted pine nuts. Serves 12.

For more information about The Junior League of Lafayette's cookbooks, call 988-2739.