YOU Magazine - June 2008 - Summertime Cookouts So, What are You Going to Bring? by Kirk Leins
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Summertime Cookouts
So, What are You Going to Bring?
by Kirk Leins

Summertime Cookouts - So, What are You Going to Bring? - by Kirk Leins

Whether you realize it or not, we are closing in on a very important time of year. Aside from the much-awaited warm weather, we are staring into the crosshairs of both Father's Day and 4th of July weekend. What's one thing got to do with the other, you ask? The answer can be summed up in one word - cookouts!

Whether you call them cookouts, potlucks or barbecues, summertime is filled with many occasions that are appropriate for an outdoor feast. This also means that there is a good chance you'll be invited to attend a few over the course of the next few months. As shocking as it may seem, I have a couple observations regarding the food at these events.

Observation number one is that it's fairly common for a host to ask his or her guests to bring along an item or two. I'm sure you know the drill.

Observation number two concerns the actual items that many people choose to contribute. Let's put it this way. It's no coincidence that there's never a shortage of stuff like napkins, disposable cutlery, or paper plates. These items usually arrive in droves because they're not only useful, but no one ever judges them for their quality. After all, when is the last time you heard someone say, "These plastic forks are horrible. Who brought them?"

While you do escape any potential criticism, there are two problems with bringing non-food items to a cookout. For starters, overabundance reduces their usefulness to the host. Raise your hand if you have cupboard filled with unused bric-a-brac from the last cookout you hosted.

Problem number two is that you completely forgo the chance of receiving some really nice compliments. This sentiment doesn't make me a narcissist, just honest. There's nothing like hearing from a host or hostess that your potato salad was the perfect compliment to their burgers, or a fellow attendee asking for the recipe for your baked beans because their kids really loved them. Trust me when I say that you end up conversing with a lot of people when you bring a dish that's a hit.

Now that I've stated my case, I highly urge you to pass on bringing anything to a cookout that can be readily purchased at a local convenience store. Instead, I want you to think about making a dish that you can proudly present. The following recipes are for a few of my favorite side dishes, perfect for any cookout.

Leins Family German Potato Salad
Let it be known that this is the very first time I have ever given out this recipe. This is not because there's a secret ingredient or that I'm sworn to any type of secrecy. It's just a pretty special recipe to me since it's the potato salad I grew up eating and still eat today. Truth be told, it's so good that it has actually ruined me in terms of eating any other potato salad.

The ingredients are simple, yet its taste is truly extraordinary. Slightly creamy with a vinegar bite and a hint of smokiness, I guarantee that this potato salad will become a staple at your outdoor cookouts. Feel free to double, triple, and even quadruple this recipe. You're going to need it.

  • 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. red potatoes
  • 6 strips of smoked bacon, chopped into half-inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip!)
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley (finely chopped)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the potatoes into a large pot and fill with cold water until it covers them by three or four inches. Place the pot over a high heat and allow it to come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and gently cook the potatoes until they are fork tender (about 12 to 15 minutes). You'll know the potatoes are done when a small pairing knife can be inserted into the center of the potato and you don't feel a crunch.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to cool just enough so that you can handle them.

While the potatoes are cooling, heat the olive oil in a skillet and fry the bacon until it is crisp. Turn off the heat and remove the bacon from the skillet, allowing it to drain on paper towels. While the skillet is still warm, add the vinegar to the bacon drippings and mix well.

Peel the potatoes and slice in half lengthwise. Slice potatoes into ľ-inch half moons and place into a large mixing bowl. While the potatoes are still warm, add the vinegar mixture and toss well. Add the mayonnaise, onions, parsley, bacon bits and season liberally with salt and pepper. Mix well, being careful not to break up the potatoes, and give it a taste. Re-season if necessary and refrigerate for at least two hours.

This potato salad can be made one or two days in advance.

Compromise Cole Slaw
Cole slaw is one of those side dishes that I'll put on my plate and enjoy, despite its potential for flaws. Regardless of the overall quality, its cool crunch provides balance to meals that normally consist of hot and/or spicy foods. The problem I find with cole slaw in general is that many versions are overly creamy, vinegary or sweet.

What's truly ironic is that cole slaw should have every one of these characteristics, but here's the secret. In good cole slaw, they not only exist simultaneously, but also in the proper ratio.

The following is my recipe for a cole slaw that embodies the idea of compromise. It's creamy enough to satisfy, acidic enough to brighten the creaminess, and sweet enough to balance the acidity. The result is a cole slaw that's the perfect accompaniment for anything from a hamburger to a plate of good barbecue.

For the salad:

  • 1 large head of cabbage, core removed and thinly shredded
  • 1/2 head of red cabbage, core removed and thinly shredded
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 2 tbsp onion, finely minced

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip!)
  • 1/4 cup whole buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • The juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp dried mustard
  • 1 tbsp celery seeds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, red cabbage, carrot and onion. Mix well to combine and set aside.

In a smaller bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dressing and mix well. Season accordingly with salt and pepper. Add the dressing to the cabbage mixture and toss thoroughly. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours before serving.

Easy Macaroni Salad
For me, macaroni salad is hit or miss. While I sometimes question the choice of ingredients in the salad, my biggest complaint is usually about the dressing, or the amount of it. The following is my recipe for an easy macaroni salad that utilizes some fairly interesting ingredients. While I think you'll love it, I do encourage you to play around with the salad ingredients. In other words, omissions, additions and/or substitutions are all welcome.

For the salad:

  • 2 cups dried elbow macaroni
  • 2 to 3 celery ribs, chopped small
  • 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 2 to 3 dill pickles, chopped small
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (you got it, no Miracle Whip!)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp bottled Italian dressing
  • 2 tbsp pickle juice

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the macaroni and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are al dente. It's important to note that many times the directions on the box call for far too long of a cooking time.

Drain the macaroni in a colander and immediately place onto a cookie sheet. Toss the macaroni with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and place in the refrigerator to cool.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dressing and mix well. Set aside.

Once the macaroni has cooled, transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients for the salad. Add the dressing and mix well. Taste the macaroni salad and season it with salt and pepper if necessary. Refrigerate the salad for at least two hours before serving.

Note: Finely chopped red bell peppers, sliced black olives and chopped hard-boiled egg are all great additions to this salad.

Super-Easy Baked Beans
Who doesn't like baked beans? Preparing them may not be a difficult process, but it is time-consuming. The following is a recipe for some great tasting baked beans that can be thrown together in a pinch. Let it be known that it's a total cheat and is not meant to take the place of an authentic version made from scratch. But donít be surprised if your fellow partygoers start hounding you for the recipe.

  • 2 large (28-ounce) cans of Bush's Original Baked Beans
  • 1 lb. Jimmy Dean ground sausage
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 1/2 cup catsup
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, fry the sausage until browned, breaking it up into very small pieces with a wooden spoon. Add the onion to the skillet and cook until softened, approximately 3 or 4 minutes. Drain off the majority of the fat and add catsup, vinegar, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well and allow the mixture to come to the simmer. Add the beans to the skillet and mix well. Transfer the contents to an ovenproof casserole dish and bake uncovered for 50 minutes.

There are no more excuses, my friends. You've now been given the equivalent of culinary gold; four easy dishes that are sure to fit in at any cookout. So, gone are the days of contributing non-food items to your outdoor cookouts. Offer instead to bring along one or more of my side dishes. And once the compliments start rolling in, feel free to claim them as your own.

Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. His free newsletter, The Everyday Gourmet, is available by contacting Kirk at

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