Everybody loves to be invited out for a backyard barbecue or family potluck. But the excitement dies down when you see the array of frozen or store-made sides that you could have bought yourself.
Don’t get huffy if you are one of those people who struggle in the kitchen — I realize something you pay for could well be better than something you make.
But when nothing on the table is a scratch dish, those of us who bring a homemade favourite feel a little bit cheated.
So, today I’m going to help you be the hero at the very next opportunity to bring along a special side. All the recipes today are simple but delicious.
Cheesy stuffed jalapeno peppers
These are not nearly as hot as you might think. When they get roasted or grilled, they take on a sweetness that allows you to taste the freshness of the chili. Most of the heat is in the seeds and membranes anyway. Allow one whole pepper (two halves) per person, but I’ve seen folks really tuck into these, so it’s up to you.
If you don’t buy many fresh hot peppers, look for the same things you would when buying sweet bell peppers. The skin should be taut and shiny, not wrinkled. Small blemishes can be cut off but watch out for grey striations all over the surface. Avoid larger brown or black spots, as well. The pepper should be firm all over and the stalk will resist when you tug on it. They should also feel heavy for their size.
6 fresh plump jalapeno peppers
1/2 tsp. coarse salt (or 1/4 tsp. table salt)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ranch salad dressing, regular or light
1/4 cup plain sour cream or plain yogurt, regular or low-fat
Cut the stalks off the tops of the peppers then cut them in half lengthwise, keeping the two halves uniform in size. With the tip of a spoon, scoop out the seeds and membranes. Sprinkle the cut sides with salt, pepper and garlic. Divide cheese among them, pushing it into the peppers so it doesn’t spill out. Top with Parmesan. Roast, cheese side up, at 450 F for 10 to 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and Parmesan is starting to brown. Serve immediately or let them cool to just warmer than room temperature and serve with the ranch dressing and sour cream stirred together as a dipping sauce.
‘Homemade’ barbecue beans
Baked beans make a fantastic side dish and are a great choice for potlucks, but straight out of a can is not the right strategy for getting yourself invited to the next party. These are not much harder than using a can opener, but look and taste homemade. As an added bonus, they keep getting better, so enjoy them on the second day with breakfast, cold or reheated. This makes plenty to feed a crowd, but halve (or double) the recipe as you wish.
8 strips bacon, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can baked beans — any brand and flavour you like
1 14-oz. can white or red kidney beans, rinsed and well drained
1/2 cup bottled barbecue sauce (something spicy would be my choice)
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Fry bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp and the fat is rendered. Remove and drain on paper towels. Discard all but two tbsp. of the bacon fat. Fry onion until soft and starting to turn golden brown. Add red pepper and garlic and cook just until fragrant — about 30 seconds. Add baked beans, kidney beans, barbecue sauce, and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes, until slightly thickened and well blended. Serve with bacon sprinkled on top or stirred in at the last minute.
Baked (or grilled) salami and cheese rolls
These will go first from the buffet table and no one will know that you spent five minutes making them. You can roast them at home or wrap them in foil and throw the whole thing on the barbecue. You can also get them ready for the oven the night before without any loss of flavour or texture, because the butter keeps the buns moist. Allow one per person, but I’d make lots if I were you because they’re fabulous for lunch the next day.
1/2 cup soft butter or margarine
1 tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
12 soft dinner rolls
24 small or 12 large thin slices salami
12 slices provolone cheese (or any you like)
Combine butter, brown sugar and pepper, stirring until sugar is absorbed and mixture is not too gritty. Split rolls in half (if they aren’t already cut) and spread a small amount of butter on each cut side — do this sparingly because you don’t want to use more than half the butter mixture on the insides of the buns. Trim the salami and cheese so they don’t hang over the edges and divide among the bottoms. Put the halves together and place in a single layer in a baking dish. Choose the dish so that there isn’t a lot of space between the buns, but you don’t want them on top of each other, either. Melt remaining butter mixture in the microwave and pour over the top of the buns. Bake at 375 F about 20 minutes, until the tops are crusty and golden brown and the cheese is melted. Alternatively, wrap in foil and cook on the top rack of the barbecue until toasty and melty.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram,
P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.