Grill season heats up with side dishes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For me cooking in the summer always seems centered on grilling out. Whether it be chicken, pork chops, flank steak for fajitas or any other meat, they all taste better on the grill.

My problem for meals is usually the side dishes, for some reason coming up with a side dish is just too much thinking.

Sometimes you don’t need a completely new dish, you need to renovate an old dish.

Most of us have made potatoes au gratin before but these are definitely bumped up a level. Potato and leek


2 leeks, white and light green

10 slices smoked bacon

1 tablespoon butter

4 teaspoons salt

Ground black pepper to taste

3 medium baking potatoes, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/4 inch slices

3 cloves garlic minced fine

1 teaspoon dried thyme

6 large eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

2 cups grated Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9-by-13 inch casserole dish with nonstick spray. Halve the leeks lengthwise and then cut them crosswise into small slices. Place them in a colander and rinse them well under running cool water. Take your time with this step, leeks are notoriously gritty and filled with sand. Drain well.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and fry the bacon until crispy. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. When completely cooled, crumble the bacon.

Drain off all but about a tablespoon of the bacon grease, add the butter and leeks, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Toward the end of the cooking time add the garlic. You don’t want it browned just sautéed. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs and half-and-half, then stir in the leek mixture, 1 and 1/2 cup of the cheese and the bacon, season with 1 teaspoon of salt and some pepper.

Pour a little of the cheese and bacon sauce in the bottom of the dish, add a layer of the potatoes, sauce, a layer of potatoes and then the remainder of the cheese and bacon mixture. Cover with foil and place in oven. Cook just until the potatoes are tender.

Remove the foil and sprinkle on the remaining 1 /2 cup of cheese. Turn your oven to broil and cook just until cheese is lightly browned.

Let the dish set for about 10 minutes before serving.

I’m always looking for fun appetizers, and I think I may have found one. I love stuffed jalapeno peppers, the drawbacks to them are that they are usually fried and you never know how hot they will be. This pretty cool recipe comes from food network and uses pepperoncini peppers instead of jalapenos.

Stuffed peppers

36 pepperoncini

1 pound cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese

8 ounces crab meat, shredded

1 1/2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Cut the stem end off the pepperoncini and carefully scrape out the seeds. Set aside. Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the crab and continue to mix. Add the Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, lemon juice and thyme and mix until blended. Place the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe into the seeded pepperoncini. If you want to serve them like this, simply dip the cream cheese end of the pepper in some chopped fresh parsley before serving and transfer directly to a serving tray. Or lay them in a grill basket and just warm them through. I use a pastry bag to stuff mine but if you don’t have one of these you can use a plastic sandwich bag with the corner snipped one corner off.

Christina Hall writes a weekly column for The Democrat. She can be reached at