I started a brand new job this week at a company in Brooklyn that is doing some really cool things with locally farmed foods. I am so excited that I finally found a place where I can merge my skills and my passion for food. To celebrate, I decided to have a small BBQ celebration. I ended up cooking for about 12 hours straight in preparation. When I start cooking, it’s hard to get me to stop. I start rummaging through the fridge and cabinets looking for ingredients that I can turn into dishes.
I’ll blend a big unused bag of nuts in into a nut butter or use the almond meal leftover from making almond milk to make almond meal cookies. I’ll pickle excess vegetables, make pestos out of the herbs over-growing on the porch and plop a stray piece of jalapeno into some tequila which will lead to a spicy margarita. I’ll turn stale bread into breadcrumbs and turn the breadcrumbs into a topping for a mac and cheese that I made to use up excess butts of cheese and half bags of dried pasta. I’ve created a monster....and it’s me. Here are some of the weekend’s planned and unplanned BBQ creations. I have no exact recipes for you this week because these are all recipes that you can play around with, adjust to your liking and put your own spin on. Don’t hesitate to comment below with any questions you may have.
Cilantro Mint Pickled Red Onions
These onions can be made a day or two ahead and will get better over that time. Fill a mason jar with very thinly sliced red onion (a mandolin slicer makes this a breeze). Fill the jar 3/4 full with red wine vinegar and then add water until onions are covered with liquid. Add a spoonful of sugar or honey (or a little of both), a big pinch of coarse salt, a few leaves of cilantro, and a large leaf of mint. Close the jar tight, shake it well and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Pickled red onions add a happy zing to tacos, pulled pork, burgers and dogs.
Creamy Deli Potato Salad
This salad can be made a day ahead. Choose Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold or red potatoes. Place them in a large pot of cold salted water and place the pot on the stove over high heat. Boil the potatoes until a fork can be easily inserted into the middle of the thickest potato. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water. You can also slice one potato in half to check that the middle is tender. As soon as the middle of the potatoes is tender, place the potatoes into the ice bath which will stop the cooking process. Remove the skins, slice the potatoes (in chunks or slices, any which way you like), place them in a bowl and drizzle them with a good amount of apple cider vinegar. Place in the fridge overnight or at least a few hours. Add enough sour cream to lightly coat all the potatoes, then add some mayonnaise (half the amount of the sour cream). Add salt and pepper to taste. For more dimension, add a bit of any of the following: mustard, white/rice vinegar, celery salt, paprika, minced scallions and garlic powder. I topped my potato salad with crispy shallots which I made by thinly slicing shallots, coating them lightly in flour and frying them in vegetable oil until nice and brown. Then I transferred them quickly to a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Sprinkle the fried shallots on the potato salad right before serving so that they stay crunchy.
Sweet and Vinegary Cucumber Salad (My favorite!!)
This salad should taste pleasantly (not cloyingly) sweet and refreshingly acidic and zingy. It’s a easy, crowd-pleasing side dish for a BBQ and will be a nice contrast to the heavier grilled foods. You can make this salad a day ahead. Add extremely thinly sliced cucumbers (seedless are best) to a large bowl. Add extremely thinly sliced shallots to the bowl (about 1 shallot per cucumber). Add seasoned rice vinegar until all the cucumbers and shallots are covered in liquid (if you’re making a large amount, you can fill halfway up with vinegar and toss frequently throughout the day). You can also add some white vinegar for extra zing. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and coarse salt to taste. Mix well and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.
You can make pesto a day ahead without it turning brown! The trick is to submerge your fresh herbs in boiling water for about 7 seconds and then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. Then make your pesto as usual. Pesto can be made with any fresh herb but basil is the most common. In a food processor, add a few handfuls of the boiled-and-cooled basil, a small palmful of optional toasted pine nuts (toast them in a hot dry pan until golden brown), a clove or two of garlic and a palmful of grated Parmesan cheese. Process while drizzling extra virgin olive oil through the feed tube until the pesto is smooth and has the consistency of a thick sauce. Add coarse salt to taste and serve. Leftover pesto can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. Pesto is great on grilled vegetables, meats, pasta and as a dip for bread.
This dip can be made a day ahead and will develop a nice onion flavor in the fridge. First, caramelize some onions (shallots, white onions, scallions or a mixture) by sautéing them with a sprinkle of coarse salt in a lightly oiled saute pan over medium heat until they are soft and golden brown in color. In a mixing bowl, add a container of sour cream, a big dollop of mayonnaise and the onions. Add coarse salt to taste and mix well. You can also add a sprinkle of onion powder, garlic powder and/or freshly cracked black pepper. Serve with a garnish of snipped chives. Or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. This dip is great with fresh vegetables or with chips.