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Barbecue Secrets

Tips and recipes for hosting a great holiday open house

Dec 26, 2013

Hey barbecue fans. Happy Holidays! I hope you had a great Christmas. For many of us, the festivities don't stop between now and 2014, whether you're entertaining relatives, hosting a festive open house or planning a New Year's Eve party. Here are a few tips and some tasty recipes to make your entertaining easy, fun and delicous.

How important is planning ahead?

Be prepared and you and your guests will have way more fun. 

  • Do as much food prep in advance as possible. If you're grilling, have everything ready to go before the party starts.
  • Rearrange your furniture to make it easy for people to mingle and access the food.
  • Be sure you have lots of ice.
  • Greet your guests in holiday style by offering them a special cocktail when they arrive. (See drink recipes at the end of this post.)

What are the best kinds of food to serve?

The best food strategy is to make dishes that won't occupy a huge amount of your time at the party so you can visit with your guests. 

  • Go for bright colours and big, bold flavours to make it festive
  • Have lots of protein to soak up the alcohol and be sure you've got some options for vegetarians and gluten-free organically grown hipsters
  • Don't forget about the non-drinkers. Do something special for them like a non-alcoholic punch or some fancy soft drinks.
  • Try to showcase local products at your party. It's a great way to spread the word about the wonderful foods that are produced in your area. 

What else can you do to make a holiday party a success?

Here are a few more stray tips for making your event a memorable one. 

  • Don't forget about music, it really helps create a festive atmosphere. Put together a long playlist ahead of time so you don't have to be always tending to the stereo.
  • Accept offers from your foodie friends to bring something yummy to the party, and don't be afraid to suggest dishes that fit with whatever theme you've got going. It's fun for them, and it makes it easier for you.

Okay, enough free advice. Here are some recipes to make your holiday party super delish!

Grilled Stuffed Mushrooms

Makes 24 hors d’oeuvres

This classic stuffed mushroom recipe, adapted from an old Gourmet magazine, is wonderful on the grill. 

24 large button mushrooms (about 2 ½ lb | 1.25 kg)

12 oz | 375 g sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained, reserving 4 Tbsp | 50 mL of the oil

1/3 cup | 75 mL finely chopped shallot

1 tsp | 5 mL finely chopped garlic

pinch crumbled dried thyme

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp | 45 mL heavy cream

¼ cup | 50 mL freshly grated Parmesan

Carefully remove the stems from the mushrooms and finely chop 1 cup of the stems, discarding the rest.  Mince the sun-dried tomatoes. Brush the mushroom caps with some of the reserved tomato oil and arrange them on a baking sheet, stemmed side up. Cook the shallot and garlic in the remaining tomato oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Stir in the reserved mushroom stems, minced tomatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 5–10 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick. Stir in the cream, divide the mixture among the mushroom caps, and sprinkle them with the Parmesan.

Preheat the grill on medium-high for 5–10 minutes, or until the chamber temperature rises above 500°F | 260°C. Quickly and carefully place the mushrooms on the grill. Reduce the heat to low and cook them, with the grill cover closed, for 10–15 minutes, or until the filling has heated through.

Bacon-wrapped Oysters

Makes 4–6 appetizer-sized portions

This simple, old-fashioned way to grill oysters makes a great party appetizer.

1 pint | 500 mL container of large, fresh, shucked oysters

(about a dozen oysters)

1/4 lb | 125 g thinly sliced bacon, each slice cut in half

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Louisiana-style hot sauce

Fry the bacon over medium heat in a heavy skillet until it’s cooked but not quite crispy. Place the cooked bacon strips on a paper towel and set them aside.

Prepare your grill for direct high heat. Drain the oysters and pat them dry with a paper towel. Wrap half a slice of cooked bacon around each oyster, skewering it with a wooden toothpick. Place the oysters on the cooking grate and grill them for 2 or 
3 minutes per side, or until the bacon crisps and the oysters are cooked through and just starting to char. Remove them from the heat, place them on a platter, season them with salt and pepper, and pass them around with a bottle of hot sauce.

Rack of Lamb with Balsamic Reduction

Makes 4 main course servings or 8 appetizer servings

This is a delicious way to grill lamb racks. The balsamic reduction has an incredible sweet tanginess that offsets the earthiness of the dried herbs and brings out the flavor of the meat. Serve the racks cut into chops as an appetizer, or as a main course with rice, grilled asparagus, and a nice green salad.

4 racks of lamb, Frenched by your butcher

(trimmed to bare the ribs and remove the silverskin – lots of lamb is pre-packaged this way)

kosher salt to taste

2 Tbsp | 25 mL lemon juice

1/2 cup | 125 mL extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp | 25 mL Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp | 15 mL chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 tsp | 2 mL freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, smashed or pushed through a garlic press

1 cup | 250 mL balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp | 25 mL Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp | 15 mL granulated garlic

1 Tbsp | 15 mL granulated onion

1/2 tsp | 2 mL cayenne

1/2 cup | 125 mL Mediterranean Dried Herb Rub (see recipe below)

1 Tbsp | 15 mL olive oil

sprigs of fresh mint, for garnish

One to two hours before you are going to cook the lamb racks, lightly season the lamb with salt. Combine the lemon juice, 1/2 cup | 50 mL oil, 2 Tbsp | 25 mL mustard, rosemary, pepper, and fresh garlic in a nonreactive baking dish or resealable plastic bag. Add the racks, turning them once or twice to ensure they are evenly exposed to the marinade.

While the lamb is marinating, pour the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook it, watching it carefully, until the vinegar has reduced to about 1/2 its 
original volume (10–15 minutes). It should be a thick syrup that coats the back of a spoon. Set it aside to cool.

Prepare your grill for medium direct heat. Take the lamb out of the marinade, pat the racks dry with paper towels, and brush them with the remaining 2 Tbsp | 25 mL mustard. Combine the granulated garlic, onion, and cayenne in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture lightly over the lamb racks. Coat the racks generously with the herb rub, patting it on with your hands so it sticks to the meat. Drizzle the olive oil over the rubbed racks and pat it into the rub.

Using cherry wood as a flavoring agent (optional), grill the racks for 4—5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature at the thickest point is 135–140˚F | 57–60˚C. To serve, cut the racks into individual chops, arrange them on plates, and drizzle them with the balsamic reduction. Garnish the lamb with sprigs of fresh mint.

Mediterranean Dried Herb Rub

Makes enough to coat several racks of lamb or a whole leg of lamb or pork roast

These days, food lovers tend to shy away from dried herbs in favor of the fresh ones that are so readily available. We tend to associate unpleasantly stale, dirty flavors with dried herbs, but that’s probably because we use them so rarely that the ones in our pantry are too old. Dried herbs, when used within a few months of purchasing them, can add a wonderful earthiness and complexity to grilled foods. In fact, the high heat of grilling often destroys the delicate flavors of fresh herbs. In most cases fresh herbs, other than the very strong rosemary and sage, are best used after your meat is off the grill, as a finely chopped sprinkle to add color and aroma. Use this rub for meats like chicken and pork, but it also works well with grilled vegetables. Just toss the veggies with oil and sprinkle them with the rub and some kosher salt. 

1 Tbsp | 15 mL dried (not powdered) oregano

1 Tbsp | 15 mL dried mint

1 Tbsp | 15 mL dried basil

1 Tbsp | 15 mL dried rosemary

1 tsp | 5 mL dried parsley

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix them together well.


Super-Simple and Incredibly Delicious Grilled Beef Tenderloin

This tasty and spectacular dish is excellent warm or at room temperature if you want to make it ahead of time.

For the condiment:

¼ cup grainy mustard

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp | 15 mL  prepared horseradish

1 Tbsp | 15 mL freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the roast:

1 whole beef tenderloin, trimmed

3 Tbsp | 50 mL course salt (like Malden Salt or French Fleur de Sel)

3 Tbsp | 50 mL  coarsely ground black pepper

3 Tbsp | 50 mL  dried rosemary

1 tsp | 5 mL granulated onion or onion powder

1 tsp | 5 mL granulated onion or garlic powder

½ tsp | 3 mL  cayenne pepper

Olive oil

Mixed lettuce greens

Hardwood chips for flavour (cherry, hickory, mesquite or apple)

Preheat your grill for medium direct cooking.

Mix the salt, black pepper, rosemary, onion and garlic powder and cayenne together and sprinkle the mixture evenly on a large chopping board or a baking sheet. Roll the tenderloin in the mixture to coat it evenly. Drizzle some olive oil on the seasoned roast to moisten the spices.  If you’re using hardwood chips as a flavouring agent, wrap them in foil, poke the package with a fork, put it under the cooking grate and wait until it starts throwing off some smoke.

When the grill is ready,  place the tenderloin on the cooking grate and cover the grill. Cook the roast for about 15 or 20 minutes, turning it often, until a meat thermometer reads 120F at the thickest part of the roast. Remove the roast from the grill and transfer it to a cutting board. Loosely wrap the meat in foil and let it rest for about half an hour.

To serve, carve the tenderloin into ½-inch rounds and present it on a bed of fresh greens on a platter or cutting board accompanied by the condiment.    




Pimm’s No. 1 Cup  and Ginger

Makes 1 drink

These sneaky little cocktails are innocuous enough, until you’ve had a couple and your face starts to feel as if it’s made of rubber.

11/2 | 45 mL oz Pimm’s No. 1 Cup liqueur

cold ginger ale

1 orange slice

1 cucumber slice (optional)

Fill a highball glass with ice, pour in the liqueur, top it with ginger ale, and garnish the drink with an a slice of orange and cucumber, if you like. 



Makes 1 drink 

Hand one of these to your guests as they arrive and suddenly it’s a special occasion.

1/2 oz | 15 mL crème de cassis

4 oz | 120 mL crisp dry white wine

(white Burgundy Aligoté is the classic)            

Pour the crème de cassis into a white wine glass. Gently pour the wine over top, taking care not to mix them too much. The drink should look like a clear version of a Tequila Sunrise, with the heavier cassis lurking at the bottom. (For an extra-special Kir Royale, subsitute chilled champagne for the white wine.)