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Barbecue Sidekicks

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Backyard barbecues, camping trips to the mountains, stays at the beach, or family reunions at the lake; no matter what you have going on during the summer, it usually has to do with a large meal of some kind. We see great recipes for ribs, steaks, chicken and pork chops, but what do you serve with them? I have some of my favorite go-to-sides for just such outings. Whether you’re at home or out enjoying the great outdoors these will be crowd pleasers. 

My first recipe to share is what we call Mom’s Two-Ton Potato Salad. We were enjoying our cabin in the mountains when my kids were younger and we were having a potluck with several friends at the lake. Not being close to a store, you would have to make do with whatever ingredients you had on hand. I was planning to make potato salad for my contribution to the potluck. I had plenty of potatoes, so I pulled out my big pot, filled it with water and started boiling my potatoes. But as I started to put together the rest of my ingredients, which I call the “goo” for the salad, I was short some ingredients for my normal potato salad recipe. So, I did what I do best, which is to improvise, and what happened? I created a new version of potato salad that we have been making ever since.

Two-Ton Potato Salad
10 lbs. red potatoes, boiled and cubed
1 large red onion, diced
1 full head of celery, sliced (including center and leaves)
1 large can sliced black olives
1 ¼ cups dill relish
¾ cup sweet relish
3 cups mayonnaise
2 cups sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Fill a large stock pot three-quarters full of water and add potatoes. Bring to a boil and let cook until the potatoes are soft, not mushy. Test them with a fork for tenderness. Once they are soft, drain them and let them cool before you try to cut them. In a large mixing bowl, place the remainder of the ingredients, except salt and pepper. Mix until combined. Set aside.

I prefer not to peel my red potatoes, so you can start cutting the potatoes into cubes or bite-sized pieces. If you are using white potatoes, I suggest you peel the potatoes first, then cut them into pieces.

Combine the goo (or dressing) with the potatoes and mix until all the potatoes are covered. At this time taste for salt and pepper and add at your discretion. I wait until now to salt and pepper because the olives and relishes have salt in them and you don’t want it to be too salty. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving. When you pick up the bowl to take it to the refrigerator you’ll know why we call it our Two-Ton Potato Salad. This recipe feed 12 to 15 people. If potatoes soak up the dressing and it seems to be a bit dry, mix equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream and stir into the salad. 

Next is the second of my favorite recipes. Let me just say for some reason there are never any leftovers, especially when my son-in-law and grandson are around. It’s always fun to watch when guests come in my front door, which leads them right through my kitchen, and they walk past my stove. If there’s a pot sitting on top, every person will lift the lid to see what’s inside. If it happens to be my baked beans, I will guarantee that by the time we eat it will be reduced at least by one-fourth. When I’m not looking, my son-in-law and grandson will sneak a bowl, fill it with beans and devour it. The only tell-tale sign will be the dirty spoon in the sink. I just love my boys and this tickles me to know that they love my food.

Best Ever Baked Beans
(Also known as Son-in-Law Sneak Beans)
1½ lbs. bacon
1 large red onion, diced
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 gal. can pork and beans
1½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup Mydingr’s Sweet and Spicy Sauce
¼ cup prepared mustard

I start by preparing all ingredients so I can put this together quickly and get it in the oven. Slice the raw bacon into ¼- to ½-inch slices, dice the onion and chop the bell pepper in 1-inch pieces. In a large cast iron pan, brown the bacon on medium high heat. When it is completely brown remove it from the skillet and place on paper towel-lined plate. Let the bacon grease cool a bit, then add the onion and bell pepper, cooking until it begins to get soft. Now remove them from the skillet as you did with the bacon. Open the can of pork and beans and pour the beans into a large cast iron Dutch oven, 6-quart or larger. I don’t drain the bacon grease; to me it becomes extra flavor. For camping out or taking to a picnic, I find using an aluminum tray works fine; just make sure you have a baking sheet under it so the tray stays sturdy for moving. Add the cooked bacon, onion and bell pepper, stirring them together. Add remaining ingredients, stirring to mix, then place in a 325-degree oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The beans will thicken and the flavors fuse and become a delicious side dish to any great barbecue. Remove it from the oven and place on top of the stove. You can reheat the beans if you need to on top of the stove.

I know it’s a whole gallon of beans, but believe me, the family will devour them and if you have leftovers, they are great the next day. 

Now moving on to number three, grilled mushrooms. This is one of those make-ahead and save time recipes that are cooked on the grill in a foil pouch.

Grilled Mushrooms
2 lbs. baby bella, crimini or button mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon pepper
2-3 cloves minced garlic
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Rinse mushrooms and pat them dry to clean off any dirt. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, salt, lemon pepper, minced garlic, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Stir until combined. Create an aluminum foil pouch for the mushrooms by using heavy-duty aluminum foil. Cut two pieces, one for the top and one for the bottom of the pouch. Laying one piece on top of the other, fold one of the long sides of the foil over 3 times, creasing with each fold to form an air tight seal. Now open the foil by lifting the upper side of the foil. Using the bottom piece, spread out mushrooms; they do not need to be a single layer. Once you have them on your foil, bend the open ends of the remaining 3 sides of foil up so that you can pour your liquid over the mushrooms without spilling it on the floor. Pour your liquid mixture over the mushrooms and fold over the other 3 sides of the pouch to form a tight seal for cooking. When you are ready, place the pouch bottom side down on the hot grill for about 8 minutes. The pouch will fill with air and puff up, which is normal. Then flip the pouch over carefully and do not tear the foil. Let it cook another 5 minutes; then you can place on the top rack of the barbecue to keep warm until ready to serve.  

Each of these ideas can be made ahead of time, which will give you time to concentrate on the fabulous protein that you will be serving. Whether it’s prime rib, baby back ribs or hamburgers, my sidekicks will make the meal a winner. All these recipes have been family tested and approved by my family for years; they’re three of our favorites from my recipe box. Grill away! ■