Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Best BBQ Side Dishes in a Supporting Role

It's not exactly barbecue weather here this week. (Oh, how I wish I had managed to get my garden in before all this rain came! Oh well...) Nonetheless, I have a couple of items for you take to your next potluck gathering that are sure to be hits.

The first is a recipe for baked beans that I have made for years and years, but always play kind of fast and loose with. In fact, it's a perfect dish for cleaning out your pantry and fridge. And it's so hearty, it's almost a meal in itself (indeed...I had them for my lunch today). I first had beans like this at a divisional gathering in my first teaching position. Toward the end of my time at that school, I had a dreadful boss (division coordinator), but she could make some mean beans! And I currently have an English teacher colleague here at school that makes a similar dish that's just excellent. Here's my version, but again, feel free to swap out ingredients based on what you have on hand and what your mood is on any given day.

Meaty Barbecue Beans

1/2 pound ground beef
2 links Italian sausage (mild or hot*)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (a few cloves)
five cans of beans, one should be Bush's Baked Beans, but then add any combination of light red or dark red kidneys, pintos, black beans, cannelini (white kidney) beans, Great Northern beans, and my very favorite, butter (or large lima) beans--drained
a bottle of chili sauce (I only had half a bottle on hand, so this time, I added some leftover BBQ sauce from PJ's in Saratoga*, or you could also swap out ketchup in a pinch)
1/4 cup maple syrup (or 1/4 cup brown sugar, or 1/8 cup of each)
1/4 cup mustard (yellow or Dijon or spicy brown or what have you)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon chili powder (preferably, dark)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika (preferably, smoked)
salt and pepper to taste
half pound of bacon

*I used hot sausage this time, but if I had used mild, I would have added a pinch of red pepper flakes, or better yet, a minced chipotle.
**Had I not used a smoky BBQ sauce and smoked paprika, I might have added just a few drops of liquid smoke as I am wont to do. It gives it a little somethin-somethin!

In a large skillet, brown the hamburger and sausage with the chopped onion and garlic. Drain. Toss this mixture into your crockpot, and add all of the remaining ingredients except the bacon. Stir everything together and fire up the crockpot.

In the meantime, fry the bacon in the skillet until browned to the level that pleases you. Drain on paper towels and then cut into half-inch pieces. Toss them in with the beans and cook everything on high for an hour or two, or on low for several hours or until the barbecue is in full swing!

Yield: a crockpot-full of beany goodness

Alternately, if you want to be fancy about it and/or make this dish in the oven, pour the beans (sans bacon) into a 9 x 13 casserole, top with the bacon slices (cut them in half for ease of eating later), and bake for about an hour at 350 degrees or until the bacon is properly browned on top. (I have been known to parcook the bacon a bit beforehand to speed up the process when I'm in a rush.)

Ok, so you've got some sort of carcass burning on the grill, you'll have corn on the cob, of course, and the meaty beans. And you'll probably have the good sense to assemble a green salad as well. Now all you need is a dessert that's easy to throw together, looks nice, feeds a lot of folks, and transports well. I have just the thing...or rather, Anna does. Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Bars....YUM, YUM! These bars came together pretty easily, baked up beautifully, cut perfectly, and were easy to pack up and carry to trivia tonight. I think they would be a marvelous addition to your next to-do.

Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Bars
(Source: adapted from

8 oz (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (if you are using unsalted butter, increase this to 1/2 teaspoon)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans, divided (you may use walnuts if you must)
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam (I used non-seedless purple raspberry jam from the world's best jam-maker up the road, and I needed more than 1/3 cup...maybe 1/2?)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan (baking spray with flour added works great--they will come right out of the pan for easy cutting after they've cooled).

Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add flour and salt and stir until crumbly. (Note: I used a stand mixer, and it did not turn out crumbly, but formed a soft dough instead). With floured fingers, press 1 3/4 cups crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared baking pan; reserve remaining crumb mixture. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown (mine took 14 minutes).

After the crust is cooked, combine 1 cup chocolate morsels and sweetened condensed milk in small, heavy-duty saucepan. Warm over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and add vanilla; quickly spread over hot crust.

Stir 1/2 cup of pecans into reserved crumb mixture; sprinkle over chocolate filling (again, my soft dough did not "sprinkle"--I just pinched off small pieces of the dough and dropped them on top of the chocolate layer, and they spread during baking). Drop (half!) teaspoonfuls of the raspberry jam over crumb mixture. Sprinkle with remaining morsels and the other 1/2 cup of pecans.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set (it will probably even puff up to let you know). Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars (I opted for 32). Then I refrigerated them until party time which may have been unnecessary, but I wanted them to hold their shape and remain sturdy for transport.

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