We all know the undisputed star of Easter dinner is the ham and Thanksgiving has the turkey. And there’s always that one person who thinks they make “the best ham” or “the best turkey.” But if there’s one thing I’ve learned that has increased my holiday satisfaction ten fold, it’s this: DON’T GET TOO FANCY! It’s not just the meal, it’s the time before and after that you get to spend with family and friends. And nobody likes a cranky pants, so focus on small changes with big impact that won’t hog your time and stress you out. Here are a couple of my favorites, along with some pointers. Who knows, maybe you’ll even upstage the ham diva this year.
Simple Lemon & Garlic Asparagus
Trim and cut the asparagus into 1-2 inch lengths. Parboil and shock them like we did the Brussels sprouts a couple months ago and dry them off. You’ll also preheat a grill pan on the grill, like in the Brussels sprouts post.
While the grill is heating, toss the asparagus in a bowl with some cooking oil (not extra virgin olive oil – it’ll burn) and season with salt and pepper. Add to the grill pan and cook for 10 minutes or so, tossing every few minutes until the asparagus starts to develop dark spots but before it shrivels up.
Notice the bright green color? This photo has not been retouched. That’s the parboiling/shocking in action.
While the asparagus cooks, melt some butter in a pan on the stove on low heat and add minced garlic. You don’t want to fry the garlic, just sweat it. Once the asparagus is done, put it on a serving tray, top with the butter and garlic along with some freshly grated lemon zest and a small squeeze of lemon juice. I add a few grinds of fresh black pepper as well.
Public Service Announcement: If you add acid such as vinegar or lemon juice to green vegetables WHILE they cook, it actually turns the flesh kinda brown. The best time to add citrus to green vegetables is after cooking, just before serving. The more you know.
Bacon and Blue Scalloped Potatoes
This dish is a small change to traditional scalloped potato, but it’s so good you’ll never go back. A more thorough recipe follows, but we don’t stray too far from the classic steps of slicing potatoes, making a Béchamel, putting the two together and cooking them. The role the grill plays in this dish is to add smokiness via soaked apple wood chips added to the heat defuser beneath the grill grate, which is one of my favorite things to do with my Char-Broil® Tru-Infrared™ grill.
Changing a dish to make it better doesn't always mean making it more difficult. A few small changes to the classic scalloped potato will make this dish a frequently-requested item at your dinner table. Perfect for large groups and holiday dinners.
- 5 pound bag of russet potatoes
- 1 leek
- 5 strips extra thick bacon
- 1-2 grinds fresh black pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 4 cups of 2 percent milk, lukewarm
- 6 ounces grated Havarti cheese
- 3 ounces crumbled blue cheese
- Kosher salt to taste
- 6 additional ounces grated Havarti cheese
- Put a handful of apple wood chips in a bowl of warm water to soak
- Wash the potatoes and slice them thinly. Place them in a large bowl and cover with cold water to soak for 5 minutes. Drain the water; cover them again in fresh cold water.
- Trim the dark green end of the leek. Cut the leek in half and submerge in cold water, swishing around to remove any sand or dirt that may be trapped in between its layers. Pat the leek dry and cut it into thin slices.
- Heat a medium pot on medium-low heat on the stove.
- Heat your grill with one half of the burners set to high and the other half set to low.
- Preheat your oven to 375.
- Measure out the rest of your ingredients and have them on hand, grating and crumbling the cheeses as well.
- Drain the potatoes and remove them from the bowl to paper towels. Pat dry and add half the potatoes to a deep, large foil baking tray.
- In the heated pan on your stove, cook the bacon until crisp (sprinkle with fresh black pepper). Remove to paper towels and let cool.
- Add the sliced leeks to the bacon fat in the pan and season with black pepper. Sweat until translucent.
- Add the butter and melt together. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk together, creating a roux. Allow to cook for about 30 seconds until the roux begins to smell like popcorn and turns a blonde color.
- Whisk the milk into the roux until it becomes uniform. The roux will thicken the milk, but not until it boils. You will need to continue whisking until it boils and thickens to prevent scorching the milk.
- Once thickened and bubbling, add the grated Havarti cheese and stir until melted. Once the Havarti is melted, add the crumbled blue cheese and stir, again, until melted together and uniform. Taste and add salt if necessary. Once you've reached this point, remove the sauce (called a Béchamel) from the heat.
- Chop the reserved bacon into small pieces and sprinkle half of it over the potatoes in the pan. Pour half of the Béchamel over the potatoes and bacon.
- Add the other half of the potatoes on top of the first half, followed by the remaining bacon and Béchamel.
- Drain the soaked apple wood chips and add them that the side that is set to high. Add the chips directly to the diffuser pan of your Char-Broil Tru-Infrared Grill, below the grill grate. If you do not have a Tru-Infrared Grill, you can make a bowl out of tinfoil, add the chips to that and place it on the grill grate.
- Place the pan of potatoes onto the side of the grill that is set to low. Let smoke uncovered for 10-15 minutes.
- Once the wood chips have stopped smoking, remove the pan from the grill, place in the heated oven and bake for 30 additional minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the remaining 6 ounces of Havarti and place back in the oven.
- Bake for an additional 30-45 minutes, until the cheese is browned and bubbly and the potatoes are tender.
- Remove from the oven and let sit for 20 minutes before serving.
To make this for a smaller group, simply use one third of the noted ingredient amounts and reduce the overall cooking time by 20 minutes.