It’s Pizza Grilling Time!

Alison Miksch - Photogapher / Heather Chadduck Hillegas- Prop Stylist / Erin Merhar - Food Stylist
Grilled pineapple dessert pizza. (Photo: Alison Miksch – Photogapher / Heather Chadduck Hillegas- Prop Stylist / Erin Merhar – Food Stylist)

October is National Pizza Month…as if we need a reason to eat pizza! Whether you’re talking about flatbread with caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms, grilled fruit dessert pizza, or just a good old-fashioned pepperoni and cheese, once you try making pizza on the grill, you’ll never want to cook pizza indoors again.

If you’re in a rush, you can actually place a store-bought frozen pizza on a hot grill for around the same length of time you would cook it in the oven. Be sure and rotate it occasionally so that it cooks evenly, and keep an eye on it so that the crust doesn’t burn. Whether you’re using gas or charcoal, it will create a nice crispy crust and will be much more flavorful than if cooked in a standard oven. Using charcoal or wood chips will help give it a gourmet smokey flavor.

If you have a few extra minutes, creating your own grilled pizzas is so much more fun! Everyone can be involved in the prep process and enjoy experimenting with combinations of their favorite ingredients. You can go low-tech by buying pre-baked pizza crusts, get a little more adventurous with store-bought pizza dough, or go full-on gourmet by making your own dough at home. If you’re using raw dough, be sure and spray the grill with cooking spray to keep it from sticking and cook the dough for 3 to 4 minutes prior to adding your toppings.

Smoked sausace, corn, and sweet onion grilled pizza. (Photo: Alison Miksch - Photogapher / Heather Chadduck Hillegas- Prop Stylist / Erin Merhar - Food Stylist)
Grilled smoked sausage, corn, and sweet onion pizza. (Photo: Alison Miksch – Photogapher / Heather Chadduck Hillegas- Prop Stylist / Erin Merhar – Food Stylist)

If you’re making an afternoon of it, you may want to considering pre-grilling some toppings to put on your pizzas. Grill-worthy toppings include chicken, ham, shrimp, pineapple, smoked sausage, corn, and garden vegetables. In addition to any pre-grilled toppings, other topping ideas can include artichoke hearts, spinach, banana peppers, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, kalamata olives, and fresh herbs. Of course, don’t forget the pepperoni, or the kids may revolt.

For a fun family activity, create a “pizza bar” prep station where each person can create his or her own fabulous pizza. For sauces, you can offer traditional pizza sauce, pesto, olive oil, BBQ sauce, and buffalo wing sauce. For cheeses, offer mozzarella, goat cheese, feta cheese, and crumbled blue cheese. If you want to finish off your pizza-palooza with a yummy dessert pizza, check out our recipe for grilled dessert pizza.

Happy grilling!

Grilled pizza photos courtesy Time, Inc.

Honor Grandparents with a Patriotic Backyard BBQ

There are certain words that just seem to go good together: peanut butter and jelly; Simon and Garfunkel; Grandparents and patriotism. It is hard nowadays to find a person from an older generation who does not have a deep love for their country. Many have fought for their country or have had friends or family who have served. This year, National Grandparents Day falls on the anniversary of one of the most devastating days in American history: September 11th. Take the opportunity to honor both your grandparents and your country by putting together a wonderful “America” themed backyard party that they are sure to love and remember.

Pulled pork sliders dressed with coleslaw.
Pulled pork sliders dressed with coleslaw.

What to Cook

Warning: the following recommendation takes about five hours to cook, so plan ahead.  For this party, try and cook some old fashioned pulled pork. Pulled pork is relatively easy if you take away the time it takes to cook it. Start by seasoning your pork with your favorite dry rub. Try ingredients such as brown sugar, salt and pepper, celery salt, chilli powder, paprika, thyme, and onion powder. Feel free to add whatever seasoning you desire. Wrap it all up in foil, and let it sit at room temperature while you heat up the grill. You want the coals to burn to a white ash, with temperatures reaching about 200 degrees F. Place some wood chips on top of the coals. This writer recommends pecan or cherry. Then place your pork on the grill using indirect heat. To keep this temperature, add coals every two hours to the grill. Once your pork has reached an internal temperature of about 170 degrees, remove it from the grill and add more foil to it to keep those juices in. The pork will be finished when you can easily pull the pork apart by hand. This whole process should take about five or so hours.

Sides

Hopefully you have yourself a wonderful vegetable garden by now. Take advantage of the end of the season and pull the remaining veggies from the garden. You can also show off your gardening skills to grandma. Add your garden-fresh veggies to a salad, or cook them on the grill. Prior to grilling, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder and toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Entertainment

Seeing that you are going to have plenty of time to kill while you wait on that pork to cook, you should plan on some easy-to-play backyard games. A classic one that everyone knows is horseshoes. Just don’t let grandpa cheat. Croquet is another one that is fun for the whole family. A good croquet set is an inexpensive buy at your local sporting goods store. If you can, convince the kids to prepare and put on a funny skit for their grandparents. This could end up being the most memorable part of the day.

Homemade Old Fashioned CocktailCocktails

What’s a backyard BBQ without a few drinks? In addition to everyone’s favorite wine or light beer, try making some classic cocktails that grandparents surely know and love. A good old fashioned drink to serve your guests is, you guessed it, an Old Fashioned. Make it official by purchasing a few Old Fashioned glasses. Place a cube of sugar in the glass, then pour a few dashes of Angostura bitters on top. Put a splash of club soda or water into the glass. Crush the sugar with some sort of spoon or wooden muddler. Rotate the glass around so that the sugar and bitters line the glass. Place a very large ice cube in the glass. Proceed to pour in the rye, or bourbon if you prefer, then voila! You have yourself an Old Fashioned. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry. If you like it a little sweeter, you can also add some of the cherry juice.

Dessert

For dessert, once again do something simple and classically American. Baking a batch of cookie for grandma, rather than the other way around, is sure to put a smile on her face. Perhaps whip up an apple pie. This will keep the America theme going. After all, what’s more American than apple pie?

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!

Fall is the Perfect Time for a Backyard Movie

MovieNight_TALENT_005_renditionideas for enjoying your Belgard Backyard from Lifestyle and Entertaining Expert, Alexandra Hedin.

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Movie nights are a fabulous way to entertain guests of all ages – especially when they can be hosted outdoors. Setting up a movie night is as simple as a large white sheet and a projector. Turning a basic movie night into a fabulous event doesn’t take much more than decadently flavored popcorn made on the grill!

The Set Up

Arrange outdoor seating around an area where you can easily hang a large white sheet. Between two trees or against a wall is often the simplest. When arranging chairs, be sure to place them around each other and not in front of each other. For additional seating in front, add large pillows. Low tables around the seating area will keep treats and beverages nearby.

The Popcorn

Perhaps the most important part of any movie night is popcorn! There’s no reason to move your popcorn making indoors. A simple cast iron pan and a metal strainer become a perfect popcorn popper for your outdoor grill!

Here’s what you need

  • Cast Iron Pan
  • Metal strainer
  • ½ cup Popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons Canola Oil
  • Butter
  • Candies, toppings, salt

Here’s how you do it

Step 1: Warm the cast iron pan over high heat.

Step 2: Add oil and popcorn kernels to the pan.

Step 3: Cover the pan with a strainer and shake the pan back and forth.

Step 4: Continue shaking the pan as the kernels pop.

Step 5: Once the popping has slowed down, turn the heat off and shake the pan for one more minute.

Step 6: Remove pan from grill and pour popcorn into a bowl. Top with butter and favorite toppings while still warm.

*Hot Tip* Warm butter on the side of the grill while the popcorn pops so it’s ready to pour over the popcorn when finished.

•  •  •

Looking for some decadent popcorn flavors? Try these:

Backyard-Movie-1Buttered Pecan

In a dry cast iron skillet over high heat on the grill, toast 1 cup of chopped pecans for 3-5 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally to brown the nuts evenly. When nuts are browned, add ½ cup butter and reduce heat to medium/low. Swirl the pan to allow butter to melt evenly and pecans to be coated with melted butter. Pour over 2 cups of popped popcorn and toss to coat.

S’mores

While the buttered popcorn is still very hot, toss with 2 tablespoons butter, 1 cup Golden Grahams cereal, 2 cups mini marshmallows, and 1 cup chocolate chips. Cover with a lid to let the chocolate and marshmallows melt a bit before serving.

Cinnamon Roll

Gently warm 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk in ½ cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour over warm buttered popcorn and toss to coat.

For more inspiration, recipes, and crafts visit alexandrahedin.com.

Father’s Day Gourmet BBQ Ideas

It’s that time of year again where we set aside a day to say, “Thank you,” to that hard working man in our lives: Dad. The only problem with Father’s Day is that many of our fathers are humble guys who often say that they don’t want anything special. This year, tell Dad “Tough luck,” and do something special for him anyway. Here are a few ideas you can do for the “old man” this Father’s Day that will surely bring a smile to his face.

oh-onion-blue-cheese-mini-burgers-x
Gourmet burgers topped with caramelized onions, blue cheese mayo, tomato, and arugula. (Photo credit: Oxmoor House, Time Inc.)

Gourmet Burger Bar

Sure, Pop probably barbeques burgers regularly. However, ketchup, mustard, lettuce and tomato can get boring. This Father’s Day, stock up on new ingredients to add to your burgers and setup a gourmet burger bar. Here is a quick list of items to get you started. Don’t be afraid to experiment with other toppings that are not listed here. The idea is to just try something new.

Have fun experimenting with any sort of possible topping. Examples included avocados, over-easy style eggs, sprouts, various greens, caramelized onions and mushrooms, and literally any pepper that comes to mind. While the grill is hot, try grilling some fruit toppings, like pineapple or peaches.

Next up, the cheese layer. Sure, you’ll need standards like American, cheddar, and swiss, but don’t be afraid to mix it up a little with something like pepper jack, gouda, havarti, blue cheese, and goat cheese.

Then the coup-de-grace, the sauces. Here’s where you really get to have a little fun. Options include wasabi mayo, humus, honey mustard, Boursin sauce, garlic aioli, and (don’t laugh until you’ve tried it) peanut butter and jelly.

And, what shall all of these delicious toppings rest upon? Try different types of buns: onion, poppy seed, rosemary focaccia, or brioche would all be excellent options. Check out your local gourmet grocery or bakery for more ideas. The point is to try something different. Dad may find his new favorite burger after all is said and done.

Bacon-wrapped stuffed peppers, ready for the grill. (Photo credit: Photo: William Dickey; Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey - Time Inc.)
Bacon-wrapped stuffed peppers, ready for the grill. (Photo: William Dickey; Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey – Time Inc.)

On the Side, Dad Style

Whether we like it or not, most dads are starch fans, so be prepared to starch it up with some dad-friendly side items. Dishes like potato salad, baked macaroni, and loaded baked potatoes come to mind. But, you can also get dad to step outside of his norm a bit by adding some grilled vegetables to the table. One idea is to stuff peppers with gourmet cheeses from your burger bar and grill them. To make it a little more dad-friendly, you can always add bacon. For other grilled fruit and veggie ideas, check out our “Garden to Grill Ideas” blog.

Microbrew Tasting

What is simpler than burgers and beer? Both cooking burgers and drinking beers are two of the favorite pastimes for many American men. While your father may have his beer of choice, most likely something he learned to love in college, it may be time to broaden his horizons.

Make it festive and set up a microbrew tasting table. Visit your local specialty liquor store and get a variety of samples from around the country. Many specialty stores will have a wide variety of single beers for sale or will allow you to break a six-pack for the purpose of doing a sampling. If not, plan ahead and order from an online distributor. It also will be helpful if you have small drinking glasses or shot glasses at your BBQ for beer sampling.

Beer tasting

Old Fashioned Mother’s Day Backyard Picnic

Summer Vacation Picnic SceneMother’s Day is fast approaching and families are trying to find the perfect way to say “Thank You” to Mom. What better way to do that than an old-fashioned picnic? You don’t even need to go anywhere to do it. Simply grab your picnic basket and head to the backyard. This is a super easy and endearing way to show your appreciation for that one woman who has always been there for you. Unsure of what to pack in your basket? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Her Favorite Things

Keep it simple. Think finger foods. Possibilities include tea sandwiches, antipasto plates, or whatever quick meal you know your mom will enjoy. This shouldn’t be hard; after all, think of all the times you came home from school and had a homemade snack from Mom waiting for you. Does your mom have a strong affinity for Chinese food? If so, go to the nearest Chinese restaurant and grab some of her favorites, like egg rolls or potstickers. Maybe she’s more into salads. Salads are quick and painless to make, and even quicker to find ready-made at your local health foods store. The point is that you will be spending a special afternoon with your mother.

Fun and Games

Pack a fun little game with you, such as a deck of cards or a travel-sized chess board. If your mother enjoys being active, plan on some fun yard games like badminton, croquet, or cornhole toss. These activities will be especially fun if you and your mom love to compete with each other, and they work well for both intimate and large gatherings. When in doubt, pick any fun activity that your mom loves to do and bring the necessary materials.

Special Jams

Are you a musician? Bring a guitar with you and play some songs for your mom. Maybe even write her a song. Any mother who says she wouldn’t like a song made just for her is either extremely humble or a liar, or both. Not musically inclined? That’s fine, too. Make a playlist with some of your mom’s favorite tunes and play them on a portable speaker.

Treasured Memories

No matter how you decide to plan your picnic, make it something that your mom will always remember. You should know your mother better than most people. Make it a unique experience for her. Fill it with items that you know your mother enjoys. Also, don’t forget to pack chocolate and flowers. But, that should go without saying.