Does anything beat a summer cookout? Really?
This Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer, and many of us will celebrate with a cookout or neighborhood get together. No matter your gathering, one thing is for sure – It’s Labor Day and people will EAT!
Hosting a successful cookout, like any get together, all comes down to preparation. The last thing you want to be doing when your guests arrive is running around a messy kitchen stressed out over what needs to get cooked first.
Some cookouts take relatively little planning – say, if you’re going to do a pot luck where everyone brings a dish and you just cook the meat. All you’re responsible for is meat and probably alcohol. No big deal. NBD!
But if you’re truly inviting people over for dinner, it’s safe to assume you should expect to take care of most of the food yourself. For this reason, I’ve found it best to plan out a menu for any get together, make a detailed shopping list, and hit the grocery store the day before your event. If you hit Whole Foods, you may find yourself there for a few hours trying every beer and wine sample they have to offer and then making a meal out of the food samples strategically placed throughout the store – or maybe that’s just me. Whatever you do, don’t forget your list!
Here are some of my all-time favorite dishes for summer cookouts. Mix and match and plan a menu of your own!
Watermelon, Tomato & Basil Skewers – from Giada de Laurentiis – I first made these for a bridal shower in Greenville, SC – remember Danielle? They are really refreshing, aesthetically appealing, and you can have your guy or another helpful assistant skewer everything while you take on more complex culinary adventures…
Meeting Street Crab Dip – my mom introduced me to this recipe she’s relied on for over twenty years – originally published by Charleston Receipts in the Junior League of Charleston cook book in the 1950s! Amazing appetizer to serve with crackers or chips – add shrimp and you have yourself a seafood casserole!
Artichoke Dip – I only started making this recently, pulled from a compilation of recipes made up from my co-workers at Markel Corporation. Artichoke dip is always a crowd pleaser.
3 cans artichoke hearts
1 small can diced green chilies
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Parmesean cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all above ingredients together well and pour into a 9” x 13” baking dish (you can substitute a can of artichokes for marinated or use all marinated, drained). Place into oven and bake uncovered for about 40 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top. Serve with Tortilla Chips or Frito’s. Serves 10.
Pear, Prosciutto & Blue Cheese Bruschetta – I first tried this recipe when we bought our Weber grill and got talked into buying the “Weber’s Time to Grill” cookbook to boot. This is a really unique combination of flavors and how often do you get to try grilling prosciutto and fruit on the grill?
Bacon-Wrapped, Guinness-Soaked Filets with Blue Cheese – I adopted this recipe from the July/August 2012 Issue of Traditional Home, contributed by chef-author Elizabeth Karmel… “Queen of the Grill.” And believe me when I tell you, this Queen knows what she’s doing.
4 (8-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks, cut 1 inch thick
1 (12 ounce) bottle stout beer (such as Guinness)
2 to 2.5 ounces Stilton or Gorgonzola cheese, cut into 8 small chunks
4 slices bacon
4 toothpicks, soaked in water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Thyme, salt, and pepper for seasoning
Place steaks in large, shallow dish. Pour beer over steaks; cover. Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, turning once. Remove steaks from beer. Cut pocket in each steak by slicing horizontally almost to the opposite side. Place 2 chunks of cheese in each pocket. Wrap 1 bacon slice around side of each steak; secure bacon ends with toothpick (note from Sara: also just as easy to buy filets pre-bacon-wrapped at Whole Foods or any specialty meat store) Brush filets with 1 tablespoon olive oil; season with thyme, salt, and pepper.
Place filets on grill rack over direct medium heat. Cover, cook to desired doneness, turning once halfway through grilling. (Allow 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare doneness [145 degrees F] or 12 to 16 minutes for medium doneness [160 degrees F]
Remove filets from grill; transfer to serving platter.
Another note I’ll add on this one – if the bacon falls off during grilling, our friend Matt Ruttle taught us how to chop up the bacon, throw it in a sauce pan with some Sweet Baby Rays and Jim Beam Bourbon – light on fire and flambe. As always, take care not to burn down the house. Serve sauce with filets and sides as desired.
Shrimp Skewers – my brother Andrew taught me this one – marinate Tiger Shrimp for an hour in some splashes of Worchester, Olive Oil, Old Bay, Salt, Pepper, and Lemon Juice. Skewer them on water-soaked wooden skewers and place on direct heat for 2 mins per side. DELISH! Note: I buy deveined shrimp, but I leave the shells on when grilling and serving for an informal take – so your guests feel like they’re at a regular ol’ N’awlins crawfish pickin… but feel free to remove the shells for more of a formal take.
Sweet Potato Fries – Another stand-out recipe from Elizabeth Karmel, pulled from Traditional Home. Amaze-fest USA.
3 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
3 tablespoons olive oil
Thyme, salt, freshly ground black peper for seasoning
Leaving skins on, cut potatoes into 1/2-inch thick wedges; soak in ice water for 15 minutes. (This is called shocking the potatoes – you’ll see it with other types of recipes like baking asparagus) Drain; pat dry. Place wedges in resealable plastic bag. Add olive oil thyme, salt, peper. Seal bag; toss gently to coat. Place potatoes on indirect medium heat. Cover; grill for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Grilled Asparagus & Mushrooms – use a veggie grill pan to grill asparagus, mushrooms, thyme, salt, pepper, and some EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Easiest veggie dish in the world for a lot of flavor and color. I make this about once a week in our house – usually use half a bunch of asparagus and two handfulls of chopped mushrooms for 2 people.
Onion Pie – this is another favorite from a cookbook my company sold to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
30 saltine crackers, rolled fine
1/4 cup melted butter
1.5 cups thinly sliced onion
1 Tbsp butter
3 slightly beaten eggs
1.5 cups scalded milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb grated sharp Cheddar cheese
…add bacon and you’ve got yourself a Quiche Lorraine!
Combine cracker crumbs and melted butter and press into 9 inch pie plate to make a crust. Saute onions in butter until limp. Place them in the pie crust and cover with the grated cheese. 50 min before serving, combine eggs, milk and seasonings and pour over the onion-cheese mixture. Bake in pre-heated 325 degree oven until firm (approx 30 minutes in my experience). Cut in wedges and serve hot.
Cornbread Casserole (Cornbread CRACK!) – this dish always reminds me of a good old fashioned southern pig roast. I picked up this recipe from our good friend Kate who used to make it to serve after her husband John would slow-cook a pork shoulder in his Green Egg all afternoon. YUM. Can’t say enough good things about this recipe. Don’t eat it if you’re watchin’ your figure!
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
2 large onions, chopped
1 7-oz. can diced green chilies, well drained
2 17-oz. cans creamed corn
1 1-lb package of cornmeal muffin mix
2 eggs, beaten to blend
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup sour cream
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly butter 9×13 inch ovenproof glass baking dish. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and chilies and cook until onions are light brown, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes. Combine corn, cornmeal mix, eggs and milk in large bowl and blend well. Pour into prepared pan. Spoon onion mixture over. Top with sour cream and the cheese. Swirl through layers with knife. Bake until puffed and golden, about 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Eat, enjoy, have yourself a good long nap. (Makes 10-12 servings)
Roasted Vegetables – you can’t really go wrong here. I collected this recipe from MarthaStewart.com a few years ago when looking for a good holiday side dish. I’ve made a version of this for almost every gathering I have – from summer cookouts to Christmas parties. Mix and Match and choose what suits your fancy!
Assortment of tiny dessert foods from Whole Foods – that’s about as creative as I get, friends. Unless it’s someone’s birthday in which case I bake a cheesecake recipe handed down to me from my friend Caroline’s grandmother, which SHE finagled out of the head chef at the Waldorf Astoria in New York thirty years ago… I made a secrecy pact in blood on that one, so no dice posting it here.
As for my favorite summer cocktail? You can’t go wrong with an Arnold Palmer (sweet tea vodka and lemonade, which we served at our summer wedding)… but if you’re looking to get fancy on a budget, mix up some lemonade, add whatever vodka is sitting in your freezer, and toss in some leftover watermelon from your skewers.
Ah, the sweet taste of summer. What are some of your favorite summer recipes?