Cookout prep

Things I made or will make tonight: an ordered list.

  1. Vegan baked beans – another 2 hours to go, though I may not make it that long
  2. Pickled red onions
  3. Vegan chili
  4. Diced onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes
  5. Cole slaw
  6. Horseradish aioli which, if it turns out, will knock another item off my 25 Recipes

All of these things and more will be available as hot dog toppings at tomorrow’s birthday cookout. And for those concerned about my health (and by extension, their health) – don’t worry. I washed my hands about 100x.


0622 Potato Salad

Potato Salad with Horseradish & Bresaola
photo by sassyradish

The culinary theme of our Rockford reception, held this past weekend, was BBQ.  My family ordered the pulled pork and brisket, made (or modified) the salads, and got the bread and baked goods from various favorite spots around town.  Everything was delicious – and as always, we had plentiful leftovers, some of which made the trip back to Michigan with us carefully packed in ice.  We’ve been revisiting those leftovers for lunch and snacks the last two days, and let me tell you, that’s a damned fine way to eat.

Which brings me around to the subject of today’s post: potato salad.  Any cookout salad, really, but potato salad in particular.

Potato Salad
photo by FotoosVanRobin

I would imagine that there are approximately as many varieties of potato salad as there are types of potatoes (Wikipedia tells me 4,000+!).  You can do your potatoes up with vinegar, bacon, mayonnaise, mustard, eggs, onions, horseradish, celery, and every kind of herb and spice you can imagine in any possible combination.  Some people cube their taters, while others like them sliced thin, while still others smash ’em up so that the salad falls somewhere closer to mashed potatoes.

Tolan's mom's potato salad
photo by Panem et Circenses

While each of these varieties has its place, my family’s potato salads tend to fall in the mayo-and-mustard camp.  Not too much mayo, though, or you lose the essence of the potato itself. Most store-bought potato salads go overboard on the mayo front – in fact, when Mom ordered the potato salad, she asked for lighter mayo, and was told they couldn’t do it? That’s OK, she said, we’ll just doctor it up at home.  And she did.  And when I ate the last of the potato salad today for lunch, I was truly sad.

Classic Potato Salad
Recipe from my grandma, Kay Fesenmeyer

Combine the following in a large bowl:
4 cups cooked and cubed red potatoes
1 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the following, then stir into the potato mixture:
1 cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s, and don’t even THINK about using Miracle Whip)
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper (more to taste)
1 teaspoon mustard (more to taste)
1/2 cup dill relish (sweet relish is an abomination) or chopped up dill pickles

You can serve this up while the potatoes are still warm, or let it chill out in the fridge for awhile.  Either way it’ll be delicious.

0530 Notes on a Cookout

When we were planning our wedding, we realized that no matter where we had it, more than half of our friends and family would have to travel to be there.  We were also doing all the wedding budgeting and planning ourselves, so we talked to our families, who agreed to host reception/parties in our home towns.  We left it up to our families – the event could be as large or small, complicated or simple as they wanted – and so we found ourselves in the Cleveland Metroparks this afternoon, having a cookout with friends and most of Shane’s family.

Here are a few things we learned about throwing parties today:

  1. It is difficult to have a party at a place without a street address!  We realized at the last minute that we had the wrong name for the picnic area, which resulted in a lot of panic and confusion.  Somehow everyone made it, though, as did a few other friends who saw Shane’s signs and just stopped by.
  2. No matter how well you plan, there will still be unexpected problems.  Like the two groups that were already using our rented park shelter – one for what appeared to be a family reunion, the other for a small memorial picnic for a friend.  Everyone was very understanding, but I still felt pretty bad about kicking them out.  We scored a totally hot grill, though, so all’s well that ends well.
  3. My asbestos hands from Aroma paid off, as I found myself manning the grill armed primarily with a couple of plastic forks.  I made it work, though, and we had grilled asparagus and zucchini, burgers, sausages, and veggie burgers.
  4. Everyone likes chocolate cake.  For reals.

After the initial stress, though, we had a really lovely afternoon with cake and bocce, talking and playing on the swings, beer and still more grilling.  By the end of the day, we were totally sacked out, and barely managed to stay awake for a quick dinner at the Beer Engine for Spaceman Orin on the eve of his 21st birthday.

0517 Monday Night Cookout

Despite the beautiful weather all weekend, today was grim and rainy – perfect for a cookout, right?  Maybe not, but Garin’s leaving town either way, so we all persevered to send him off to Madison and the Underground Food Collective in style.  Matt and Shannon threw a great party under the merciful protection of a giant tent, and the rain didn’t stop intrepid souls from toasting marshmallows around a surprisingly vigorous firepit.  We brought my current favorite instant side dish – steamed or grilled asparagus with a mustard vinaigrette – along with assorted odd sausages, buns, and other remnants from our party over the weekend.  It was an evening of friends, of elaborate snacking, and of an amazing pig cake made by Olivia and Heather.    I’d show you a photo, but instead I’ll just have to tell you that it might have involved caramel, praline crunch, and maple.  And me licking my fingers a lot.

Oh, and because I’ve been asked a couple of times, here’s the rough formula for my vinaigrette.  All of these amounts are approximate, and are negotiable based on what tastes good to you.

1 part whole grain mustard
2 parts white wine vinegar OR apple cider vinegar OR regular old vinegar (in order of preference)
a couple of pinches of kosher salt (tonight I used lavender salt)
fresh ground pepper

Shake or whisk it all up and taste it.  If it’s too tart or astringent, add a little sugar.  If you want more bite, add a very wee bit of crushed red pepper.  If you have fresh herbs, a fine chiffonade of basil or thyme or both can be quite nice.

If you’re dressing steamed or grilled veggies, use 1 tablespoon mustard to 2 tablespoons vinegar to start.  You really won’t need THAT much dressing.  Double it for a large salad.  This dressing will keep well in the fridge for at least a few days, and is just as good on cold things as on warm.

0515 David Byrne Day (Observed)

In lieu of a local wedding reception, and also in celebration of the birthday of our favorite Talking Head, we threw a party tonight and called it David Byrne Day (Observed).  We’d been anxiously watching the weather given the omg constant rain, so were delighted to have a beautiful day and clear night for grilling and campfire sitting.

But before I get to that, let me tell you about what we did earlier in the day!

First, we got up and drove to WCCC so that I could run the Washtenaw County Start! Heart 5K .  Last night’s sausages and polenta proved to be excellent fuel, and I logged my best 5K yet, although I don’t think the distance was actually 5K.  To celebrate, we grabbed breakfast at Beezy’s, where Shane overheard a fortuitous conversation: a sever had spotted a moped at a yard sale!  So off to the yard sale we went, returning home with a non-running $100 Suzuki FA50.  Shane spent a good part of the afternoon poking around at the ‘ped, while I camped out in the kitchen and prepped for the party.

I never know how much food to make for parties, especially potluck-y cookout-y type parties.  You always end up with too much of this and not enough of that, with way too many buns and not enough condiments, etc.  The thing you decide not to make is always what someone else also forgets.  We decided to just do a variety of things, knowing that a cake and other delicious treats would be coming with our guests.  Worst case scenario? We order a pizza.

No pizza was necessary tonight, though!  We had tiny pork burgers – made from our pork, ground by me – on homemade dinner rolls topped with delicious pickled red onions.  The roll recipe was supposed to make 24 and instead made 40, so we have a bunch of delicious yeast rolls for the freezer.

Rolls + rolls

I also made cole slaw with the remaining cabbage from last weekend, and a lovely and simple asparagus crostini that disappeared within the first half hour of the party.

Asparagus crostini

In addition, friends brought salads, lots of grillables, homemade bread and prosciutto, dulce de leche ice cream, and a totally beautiful wedding cake (pictures forthcoming).  We ate well, and then we sat around the fire and talked until late.  It was a fantastic evening.

(One of these days I really will talk about our wedding.  I promise.  We’re still working on the photos, and I want to be able to show you guys instead of just telling.)

Pork Sliders With Pickled Red Onions from Moogie & Pap
Pillow-Soft Dinner Rolls from Taste of Home

0430 First Cookout of the Season

Cat on a leash, originally uploaded by sukisuki.

Over the winter, we bought a grill off a guy on Craigslist – Shane really needed was the propane tank, but for $25, we got a nice gas grill with all the rocks and racks, plus the nearly full tank that alone would’ve cost nearly $25. I mention this because it was unexpectedly gorgeous today, and at the last minute, we invited a couple of friends over to grill out and break in the firepit (which didn’t end up happening).

While Shane and Aaron wrestled the grill into shape, Suz let Basil drag her around on his leash (hence the photo courtesy of Suz). The little dude LOVES being outside, so this was pretty much the best thing ever for him. He ate grass, rolled around in the dust, and generally claimed the yard as his own. Too bad he isn’t better behaved on said leash or we’d let him out more often.

This being the first cookout of the year, it’s fair to say that our technique needs a bit of work. It took two dudes with at least five combined college degrees to light the grill, and once lit, parts of our pork chops were a little overcooked, while parts of the veggie dogs were cool when served. I put water on to boil for asparagus, then went outside and got distracted – the asparagus ended up a little overcooked as well, but I did my best to disguise it with a vinaigrette. Everything was great – but not the pinnacle of grilling cuisine – pretty much what you’d expect at the beginning of the season.

As if the spring evening couldn’t get more picturesquely Midwestern, after dinner we walked to Dairy Queen in the gathering dark and ate our cones on sidewalk benches. A totally happy evening if I do say so myself.