Yummy Summer Slider Bar

An American classic: Beef sliders with American cheese on a sesame seed bun.

An American classic: Beef sliders with American cheese on a sesame seed bun.

Summer is a time for living and entertaining outdoors. Whether it’s the Fourth of July or just an average Monday in July, we Americans tend to spend the day focused on what we are known for: eating. Nothing like celebrating our independence by eating like the free men, women and children that we are. This year, maximize your freedom of food choice by setting up a slider bar. Sliders are smaller than regular burgers, which will allow you to try a few different kinds at once. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Nice Buns
The most underrated part of the burger: the bun. A bun can either make or break your burger. While the sesame seed bun is probably the most iconic bun out there, there are also several other types of buns. From Kaiser rolls to English muffins to croissants, be courageous with your bun choices. An excellent option is King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls, which are the perfect size for sliders and add a little extra sweetness to every bite.

Kicking it up a notch: Ground beef and pork with arugula, tomato, caramelized onions and blue cheese on a grilled bun.

Kicking it up a notch: Ground beef and pork with arugula, tomato, caramelized onions and creamy blue cheese on a grilled bun.

To Beef or Not to Beef
Ah, the heart of the burger, the meat. You could go traditional with ground beef, or you could even try chicken, turkey, or pork — or all of the above. When you’re going with a non-traditional slider, you can either grill cuts of meat or ask your butcher to grind the meat. Another option is to make pulled pork by cooking a Boston butt in the crockpot. Simply season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, brown sugar and apple juice, then cook it until the meat pulls apart. Is so easy, yet so good! There are also plenty of vegetarian options. You could try a portobello mushroom cap in lieu of meat, or you could pick up black bean burgers from the frozen food section of the grocery. Who knows, you may even have your meat-lover friends trying to swipe your veggie burger away from you.

It Actually IS Easy Being Cheesy
For those of us who require cheese on our burgers, make sure to have plenty of cheese options for your slider bar. American is always a classic, especially on the Fourth of July. But feel free to experiment a little. Excellent choices include pepper jack, Swiss, feta, blue cheese, goat cheese, and Havarti. If you want to be really adventurous, check out the gourmet cheese section of your grocery store and look for something interesting, like a Melkbus with black truffles. Mmmmm.

Now we're talking gourmet: Pulled pork sliders with kale-slaw on a ciabatta roll.

Now we’re talking gourmet: Pulled pork sliders with zesty kale-slaw on a ciabatta roll.

Veggie Tales
A good burger always has its fair share of veggies on it. Sure you could do the ole lettuce and tomato, but we’re trying to provide freedom of slider choices here. Try also providing an assortment of options like sprouts, arugula, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and roasted red peppers. Grilled fruits (like pineapple or mango) also make a great addition.

To Top it Off
No burger is complete without that special sauce. Ketchup and mustard are fine, but if you haven’t caught on yet, we’re trying to be a little different. On your sliders, try topping them with sauces such as sriracha, creole mustard, cilantro mayonnaise, hummus, any of the different flavors provided by Tabasco, or just doctor up some “secret sauce” in the kitchen.

Would You Like Some Fries with That?
Finally, we need a side dish or two to round out those slider options. Since a burger bar can be pretty labor-intensive, you may want to try and keep the sides easy. In fact, whatever you can do to prep ahead of time will keep you from spending the day chopping while everyone else is having fun. So keep it simple when it comes to the sides. Grill some corn on the cob, heat up some baked beans, grab a bag of coleslaw, or just throw some frozen fries in the oven. Honestly, no one is going to care about the side dishes because they’ll be filling up on yummy sliders.

Refreshing Watermelon Cocktails

Ah, watermelon…that sweet and refreshing summer fruit. On a hot day, nothing hits the spot like watermelon that has been iced down all day, just waiting to be cut and enjoyed. But if you’re ready to take your watermelon game to the next level, here are some delicious cocktails honoring this vibrant and juicy fruit. For the recipes that call for frozen watermelon, cube the melon, remove all seeds, and place in a single layer on a baking sheet in the freezer for a couple of hours until frozen.

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Photo: Chris M. Rogers; Styling: Lydia Degaris Pursell

Honeysuckle Watermelon Cocktail

Blend or process 8 cups seeded and cubed fresh watermelon until smooth, then pour into a pitcher through a mesh strainer. Add the following ingredients, mix, and serve with garnish of lime slices, watermelon slices, or fresh mint sprigs.

  • 1 cup honeysuckle vodka
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups lemon-lime soft drink

.   .   .

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Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Lindsey Ellis Beatty

Watermelon Bellini

Rub the rims of champagne glasses with a lime wedge and dip the rims in coarse sugar to coat. Blend or process the following ingredients.

  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 cups frozen watermelon
  • 1 cup sparkling wine, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • pinch of salt

Top off with an additional splash of sparkling wine and serve with garnish of a watermelon slice.

.   .   .

Photo: Southern Living

Photo: Southern Living

Watermelon Mint Margaritas

Rub the rim of cocktail glasses with a lime wedge and dip the rims in coarse sugar to coat. Blend or process the following ingredients and serve with a garnish of fresh mint.

  • 4 cups frozen watermelon
  • 1/2 cup tequila*
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lime rind
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

*For a kid-friendly version, substitute tequila with orange juice or apple juice.

.   .   .

Photo: Lee Harrleson; Styling: Virginia Cravens

Photo: Lee Harrleson; Styling: Virginia Cravens

Slushy Watermelon Mojitos

Blend or process the following ingredients and serve with a garnish of fresh mint sprigs or lime slices.

  • 5 cups frozen watermelon
  • 1 cup sparkling water, chilled
  • 3/4 cup white rum
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 (6-oz) can frozen limeade concentrate, undiluted

.   .   .

Recipes and photos courtesy of time inc.

Memorial Day Kabobs

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Where has the Spring gone? May has been alive with hustle and bustle, and just when you think you can’t do any more, Memorial Day pops up to give you a long weekend to unwind with friends and family, as well as gather together to celebrate our freedom and honor the men and women who have served our country.

Gatherings like this are a great time to get into the kabob spirit. Kabobs never discriminate! You can be a carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, or just about anything you can think of. This time of year, farmers’ markets and family gardens are becoming abundant with zucchini, squash, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and eggplant — just to name a few potential vegetable ideas. Fruits such as pineapple, bananas, cantaloupe, and honey dew melon are easy to cut up and have ready to make up some fruit kabobs. If you are looking to stick to a Memorial Day theme, use blueberries, strawberries, and bananas for “red, white and blue”. Or buy a fresh pineapple, leave the core intact, and cut slices into star shapes. If you have little ones, this is a great time to enlist their help. They can help wash and thread fruit or veggie kabobs. Wooden skewers, rather than the metal ones, are probably the better option when you have kids involved. Just be sure to soak wooden skewers in water ahead of time if you plan to put them on a grill.

For tastier veggie kabobs, you will want to season your vegetables somehow. If you are not into making your own marinades, you can try any number of store-bought options. The easiest is some kind of oil-based salad dressing. The oil helps coat the vegetables to make them grill-friendly. You can hardly go wrong by choosing Italian dressing. Whatever you choose, the overall goal should be to add a light flavor while not disguising the flavor of the veggies or meats.

Most meats are kabob-friendly. Chicken and steak are the most common, but feel free to branch out. Choose meats without bones and cut them in to bite size pieces. For best results, marinate meat for a least an hour in a covered container or food storage bag prior to cooking. For a more intense flavor, marinate the meat overnight. Like with veggies, oil-based dressings also work well for marinating meat. Or for a zesty home-made honey BBQ marinate, try the following:

  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 3-4 tbsp honey or agave nectar
  • ½ cup of your favorite BBQ sauce

Quick and Easy Backyard Fiesta

iStock_000023365878_MediumCinco de Mayo is on a Thursday this year, which may make you inclined to think that it will be a little hard to pull together a fabulous celebratory backyard bash. After all, it’s been a crazy week with a mile-long to-do list, plus all of those end-of-school-year activities. All the more reason to take a deep breath and relax with a mid-week margarita!

Here is a list of some easy tips for pulling off a casual backyard Cinco de Mayo fiesta like a pro — with nothing more than a quick trip to the grocery store and a peek inside the back of your hall closet.

Decorations

Ok, so you’re the type of person who typically likes to channel your inner Martha Stewart when it comes to preparing for a party. Well, it’s doubtful you’ll have time to make your own paper maché piñata in time, so it’s time to get creative with existing supplies. Unless, of course, you happen to have an old piñata in the back of your closet, in which case, dig it out!  For other decorations, think in terms of earthy textures: wooden items, wool blankets, burlap sacks left over from the 4th of July sack race (which make excellent table drapes)…you get the idea. Fruits and vegetables also make festive table decorations — for example, a glass bowl or trifle dish filled with limes, avocados, or tomatoes.

Menu

When planning your menu, think dishes with minimal prep. A slow cooker and a packet of taco seasoning can come in handy for making “crock pot chicken fajitas” or “pulled pork tacos”. Another idea is to turn meal prep into a party activity by making Mexican pizzas on the grill. For a quick-and-easy “homemade” salsa recipe, throw a large jar of cheap salsa, a can of mild Rotel, and some fresh cilantro into a food processor. Spice it up with a little cumin and garlic powder, then puree everything together. It looks and tastes like restaurant quality, and they’ll think you whipped it up from scratch.

Beverages

Of course, let’s not forget the best part of Cinco de Mayo celebrations! Obviously, you will add Mexican beer to the grocery list. But for a perfect pitcher of homemade “top shelf” margaritas on the rocks, forget the bottled mixes — instead buy frozen limeade. Mix the limeade per directions, replacing one can of water with gold tequila. Add a healthy splash of orange liqueur (like Triple Sec), salt the glass rims, and you’re good to go. If you want to add a pitcher of mojitos, use rum instead of tequila, and grab some mint from the garden for muddling in each glass as you serve it. If you want to get really fancy, muddle in some strawberries, too. For kid-friendly versions, just make the limeade per package instructions, using water only, then garnish with salt (or mint/strawberries) and lime.

Now…make a quick grocery run, and get ready to enjoy your fiesta!

The Secret to Perfect BBQ Ribs

BBQ Ribs on the Grill

For those who subscribe to the “Hail to the Pig!” philosophy, there is nothing more fabulous than perfectly cooked ribs. Many people shy away from cooking them at home, instead preferring to trek to their favorite local BBQ joint, knowing the ribs there will be perfectly seasoned and fall-off-the-bone tender. After all, cooking ribs is a science that can’t be mastered at home. Home-cooked ribs are typically tough and lack flavor, right? Wrong! Read on to learn the secret to cooking perfect BBQ ribs at home.

STEP ONE: THE RIBS

There are a number of different cuts, but if you’re cooking at home, your best options will be spareribs, St. Louis cut ribs or babyback ribs. Babyback ribs are smaller, leaner and include delicate loin meat, which makes them a little pricier. Spareribs are cut from the ends of babybacks down to the breast bone. The flavor of the meat is typically richer because of increased marbling, but the texture is less delicate. St. Louis cut is simply spareribs with the rib tibs cut off, which can be a little more manageable for both cooking and eating.

STEP TWO: THE RUB

Lay aluminum foil on a baking sheet — at least double the length of the rib rack — and place your ribs meat-side down for rubbing. There’s no one recipe for a good dry rub. In fact, feel free to buy a prepared rub or experiment with different flavor profiles. The key is to use only dry seasonings and use way more than you think you’ll need. Liberally coat both sides of the ribs and pat it in. For a basic foolproof homemade rub, try sprinkling salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin and coriander on your ribs. You CAN overdo it with the salt and cayenne pepper, but be generous with the others. For best results, sprinkle all seasonings on the underside, pat everything in at once, then flip and repeat. Remember…use lots of rub!

STEP THREE: THE WRAP

Completely wrap your ribs in the foil. Now do it again. Now a third time. Why so much foil? Simple — you want to tenderize the meat by allowing it to steam in its own juices, so a tight wrap is important to the process.

STEP FOUR: THE BAKE

Nope, that’s not a typo. You will finish the ribs on the grill to get that smokey flavor, but first you want to cook them low and slow in the oven. Bake them at 325 degrees. The time will vary depending on the type and quantity of ribs. Babybacks will cook more quickly, and a single rack will usually be ready for the grill in about 1.5 hours. For two racks, you might want to add about 10-15 minutes. Spareribs or St. Louis ribs will need to cook for about 1.75 hours for a single rack, adding 10-15 minutes for a second rack. To test the ribs, unwrap a section and test the meat with a fork. You don’t want it falling off the bone yet, but it should be fully cooked. The meat should be firmly attached to the bone, but tender.

STEP FIVE: THE SEAR

Unwrap your tenderized ribs and transfer them to a hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side. Whether you’re using charcoal or gas, you’ll want to add wood smoke, if possible. Cherry or pecan, in particular, will add an excellent flavor. Sear both sides of the ribs until you create a nice brown outer layer on each side. If you like wet ribs, coat with your favorite BBQ sauce before the last five minutes of cooking time. Otherwise, leave them dry and serve the sauce on the side for those who like to dip.

STEP SIX: THE MEAL

Remove your ribs, slice and serve with your favorite fixins. You’ll never go back to that BBQ joint again.

Rosemary Skewered Scallops

scallops-cl-1012604-xSea scallops are a succulent treat that many people are afraid to cook at home, and for a good reason. If they’re not prepared properly, scallops can have a rubbery consistency or taste a bit fishy. However, with this simply grill recipe, the scallops will melt in your mouth and leave you wishing you had more! If you’re not a scallop fan, this dish also works well with unpeeled shrimp. For a little extra flavor, use garlic infused olive oil.

Ingredients

12 large sea scallops
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 (12-inch) fresh rosemary sprigs
Hot cooked basmati rice
Garnish: lemon slices

 

Preparation

  1. Combine scallops and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl; cover and chill 30 minutes.
  2. Pick leaves off 6 inches of one end of each rosemary sprig, leaving the other end intact. Soak rosemary sprigs in water in a shallow dish 20 minutes.
  3. Place 2 rosemary skewers side by side, leaving a small space between. Thread 3 scallops onto bare part of rosemary skewers. Repeat with remaining rosemary and scallops.
  4. Grill over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
  5. Serve on a bed of basmati rice with lemon slices, if desired.

Recipe courtesy Coastal Living. Photo: Howard L. Puckett.