Low-stress sides for outdoor barbecues

This past weekend was Memorial Day weekend, which to many people signals the unofficial start of barbecue season; if you missed the BDN garden show special insert at the beginning of April, you missed my tips for hosting a successful, low-stress barbecue event, as well as my recipe for foil packet potatoes on the grill. So this week, I’d like to share those with you,along with my recipe for chicken Caesar pasta salad, which I brought to a family Memorial Day gathering this weekend.

As the weather starts to get warmer, and spring is upon us, we know we have to enjoy every moment outdoors that we can before summer’s fleeting beauty slips from our grasps again. For many of us, that means barbecues. Barbecues are a great way to enjoy a meal and the outdoors with friends and family, but they can also be stressful events for the hosts. Here are a few ways you can make sure your backyard barbecue goes off without a hitch:
Keep the menu simple: Burgers and dogs are fine. They’re awesome, even — and so are chicken, steak, pork and sausage. However, the more different kinds of foods you plan to grill up, the more precautions you have to take to avoid cross-contamination. Stick to one or two selections for your protein, and provide the variety with your side dishes. Everyone will be expecting the usual potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw, but you can also include dishes like a cold rice salad or grilled veggies to keep it interesting and varied.
Know your audience: This helps with keeping the menu simple, and also means you’ll have fewer leftovers to fit into the fridge after the event. If most of your guests are vegetarians, for instance, a foot-high pile of steaks and burgers isn’t going to go over well; likewise, if your friends are all beer snobs, you probably don’t want to stock the cooler with Bud Light and PBR.
Ice: Yes, you will need it. Even if you think you won’t, you probably will; placing bowls of ice underneath cold salads will help them stay fresher longer in spite of the summer heat, and nobody likes to drink a warm soda.
Prepare everything in advance: Most foods grill up pretty quickly, but marinating chicken or steaks and making burger patties is a little more taxing on the time budget. Do it the day before the event, and all you’ll have to do is throw them on the barbie when you’re ready to eat. Most cold salads taste better given a day or two in the fridge for the flavors to meld, anyway.
Don’t break the bank: Few things can ruin a beautiful day as quickly as stressing over money. Opt for inexpensive cuts of meat, and buy bulk whenever possible. If you plan to throw a lot of barbecues, or you’re just on a tight budget, make it potluck/BYOB. It’s not unreasonable or ungrateful to ask your guests to provide a side dish or a six pack (especially if they’re coming over every other weekend!)
Be safe: Keep raw meats and veggies separate from each other and prepared food, use a thermometer to make sure you cook meats to the appropriate temperatures, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget to employ sunblock. The afterglow of a successful barbecue should not be overshadowed by a nasty bout of heat exhaustion or food poisoning, or outshone by the bright red hue of the sunburn you got while you were enjoying time with your friends and relatives.
Spicy Scallion Foil Packet Potatoes
  • 1 pound new potatoes, halved (or quartered)
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 tablespoons (half a stick) butter, sliced
  • salt (to taste)
  • lemon quarter
Place a square of tin foil down, shiny side up. In the center, place scallions and garlic, then potatoes. (I used Adirondack blues.) Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and place butter slices on top. Place another square of foil over the top and fold edges together to form a packet. Place on your grill, alongside whatever other foods you may be preparing, and cook approximately 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; be careful of escaping steam when opening the packet! Salt to taste, squeeze the lemon over the potatoes, and give everything a good toss to coat well before serving.
Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
  • 1 pound pasta* (cooked, drained and cooled)
  • 1 bottle creamy Caesar dressing
  • 1 can black olives
  • 4 chicken breasts (cooked, cooled and cubed)
  • 2 hearts of romaine, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese, shaved
  • croutons

In a large bowl, toss together pasta, olives, chicken and dressing. Top with Parmesan and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, toss to refresh, and serve with chopped romaine. Top with croutons for an added crunch. *I like to use a vegetable pasta, like Ronzoni Garden Delight tricolor rotini, because it makes the dish a little healthier as well as a little prettier, but you can make this with whatever kind of pasta you prefer in cold salads. For more recipes from my kitchen to yours, please visit http://www.forkable.net.

Fia Fortune

About Fia Fortune

Fia Fortune is a home cook who enjoys gardening, creating recipes for her two blogs, cooking for herself and her boyfriend, and trying to keep up with their blended family of four cats.