Clever Up Your Cookout

Throughout these warm summer months, we are often challenged to find new ideas for cookout components. For this issue, I tried to come up with a few unexpected offerings to take to your next event.

Cheddar-Corn Muffins
Cheddar-Corn Muffins

With the “bunless” craze going on these days, no one will be able to resist the savory Cheddar-Corn Muffins. These take advantage of fresh corn at its peak, and they pair beautifully with BBQ or a summer vegetable plate. For a sweeter option, make a loaf of Corn Light Bread. This old-fashioned recipe uses only a few ingredients and packages up for an attractive hostess gift.

It’s always nice to include a lighter option for those watching their calories. Serve Thai Cucumber-Watermelon Salad with its sweet-and-spicy dressing as a refreshing option. Be sure to use lots of fresh mint and basil for garnish.

Zucchini-Tomato Gratin provides a nice alternative to an expected potato or pasta dish. It screams summer in a baking dish! The recipe can be assembled the morning of the cookout and refrigerated until ready to bake. It also pairs beautifully with a steak.

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My grand finale is the easiest, most delicious dessert I’ve made in a long time. Key Lime Bars simplify your final course. One recipe makes about 14 servings and is much easier than baking two pies. It’s the perfect four-bite dessert to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth, and it’s sure to be your new dessert go-to!

Cheddar-Corn Muffins

Makes 12

1¼ cups flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons shredded cheddar
cheese, divided
2 tablespoons butter, melted
¾ cup fresh corn kernels
3 tablespoons chopped jalapeños
Heat oven to 425°.

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, half of the cheese, and the melted butter. Stir into flour mixture. Add corn and jalapeños. Divide batter among greased muffin cups, and top with remaining cheese. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.

Thai Cucumber-Watermelon Salad
Thai Cucumber-Watermelon Salad

Thai Cucumber-Watermelon Salad

Serves 10 to 12

8 cups watermelon, cut into bite-size pieces
2 English cucumbers, cut into bite-size pieces
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 red or green jalapeños, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped, plus more for garnish
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish
½ cup coarsely chopped cashews

For the dressing:
½ cup water
¼ cup sugar or honey
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons red chili sauce
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
Juice of 1 lime

Make the dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; then simmer for 5 minutes. Allow to cool. Refrigerate until ready to use. This can be done up to 24 hours in advance.

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, cucumbers, and next 4 ingredients. Toss with dressing. Garnish with additional fresh mint, basil, and the cashews.

Learn from Leslie: The watermelon, cucumbers, and remaining vegetables can be chopped in advance and stored in a serving bowl in the refrigerator until ready to toss with the dressing.

Corn Light Bread
Corn Light Bread

Corn Light Bread

Makes 1 (8-inch) loaf

2 cups white cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon drippings

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine cornmeal and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. In a measuring cup, combine buttermilk and oil or drippings. Add buttermilk mixture to the dry cornmeal mixture. Combine thoroughly.

Place mixture into a greased loaf pan.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until golden brown.

Slice and serve warm with lots of butter.

Zucchini- Tomato Gratin
Zucchini- Tomato Gratin

Zucchini- Tomato Gratin

Serves 6

3 zucchinis, thinly sliced
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
Salt and pepper
½ cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup buttery cracker crumbs

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease an 8- x 8-inch square (or 2-quart) baking dish with butter.

Starting with zucchini, evenly layer zucchini, onions, and tomatoes in a baking dish. Top with half of the butter pieces, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then repeat the layering process, ending with tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper again, Parmesan, cracker crumbs, and remaining butter pieces.

Bake 1 hour and 15 to 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and crumb topping is golden brown. Allow gratin to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Key Lime Bars
Key Lime Bars

Learn from Leslie: You can make these up to 2 days in advance; the crust will soften slightly over time, but they are still delicious! I prefer to make them just 1 day in advance or the morning of for best results.

Key Lime Bars

Makes 14 bars

For the crust:
1½ packages graham crackers (about 15 sheets)
8 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar

4 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup key lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest (about 2 limes)
Freshly whipped cream and lime wedges or lime zest for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a food processor, pulse graham cracker sheets until finely ground. Empty the graham cracker crumbs into a mixing bowl, and add melted butter and sugar. Stir to combine. Press the crumb mixture into a 9- x 9-inch baking dish. Press firmly with the back of a measuring cup to make it even and crack-free. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

In a second mixing bowl, combine first four filling ingredients with a whisk. Pour over the graham cracker crust, and bake an additional 15 minutes until set. Allow the bars to cool on a wire rack before slicing. Bars can be refrigerated up to 2 days.

Right before serving, remove from the refrigerator, cut into bars, dollop with whipped cream, and garnish with lime wedges or zest.

Leslie Likes: I bake my Key Lime Bars in a rectangular baking dish by Emile Henry measuring approximately 6 x 14 inches; available at The Cook Store in Mountain Brook Village.

Recipes and Photography by Leslie Byars Register

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