Tips for Your Summer Cookout

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Although our weather has been slow to reflect it, summer is on its way to Southern Maryland. Many of us have summers that are full of weekend get-togethers with family and friends. Whether they are for a milestone occasion (like graduation parties), a holiday, or for no reason at all, these gatherings usually include good food, and plenty of it. Even if we’re tailgating before a Southern Maryland Blue Crabs game, we make sure everyone has more than enough to eat.

A great option for a casual, non-catered event is the potluck. Going the potluck route enables the hosts to enjoy the day more and avoid being overwhelmed by preparations. It also guarantees a nice variety of dishes and a chance to sample favorites from other families.
In order to avoid a party with nine varieties of fruit salad and not much else, a little coordination is a good idea. If you decide to go potluck, let your guests know what your entrée will be and let them provide suggestions for accompaniment. You can be as specific as you like, i.e. “I’d love it if you would bring baked beans” – or more general, by asking folks to provide a dessert or pasta dish, for example.
If you aren’t the host, there are a few things you’ll need to know to make sure your contribution to the day’s menu is appropriate. Certainly quantity is important. If you’re making a dessert, you want to know how many other people are bringing something sweet and how many are expected to attend. Also try to find out ahead of time if any of the guests have dietary restrictions. One of my sisters has celiac disease, so when she is here for a cookout I make sure my creamy mustard pasta salad is made with gluten-free pasta.
Family, friends, and food are a great combination, especially when you do a little advanced planning. Fingers crossed that our changeable Southern Maryland weather cooperates with your plans for a picnic, cookout, tailgate, or barbecue.
Creamy Mustard Pasta Salad
Serves 4 (but multiplies beautifully for larger crowds)

8 oz fresh green beans
2 cups dry pasta (I like to use wagon wheels)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 tsp grainy mustard (or Dijon)
½ tsp salt
8 oz baked sliced ham
½ cup chopped red onion

Trim green beans and cut into one-inch lengths. Steam them for about 4 minutes. They should be slightly crisp. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente (firm to the bite). Drain pasta. Rinse and drain again. Combine mayonnaise, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well to make the dressing. Add warm pasta to the dressing and stir gently. Cut the ham into thin one-inch strips. Add the green beans, ham, and onion to the pasta mixture. Toss gently to combine, then serve.