The standard menu for a cookout on the Fourth of July: steaks on the grill, a salad, ice cream for dessert. Add a few condiments: steak sauce, salad dressing in a bottle, jars of ice cream toppings and you're done. Simple, right?
What if you could create a gourmet version of this menu with just an hour's work? And you could do that work as much as a week ahead?
You would be a relaxed host, and your guests would be impressed by the food and the ease with which you present this meal.
It can be done, and three chefs from the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group in Atlanta agreed to show us how.
Chef Charlie Schwab heads the kitchen at the Buckhead Diner. His contribution to our menu is a classic steak sauce, a Buckhead Diner standard. The recipe was created by Pano Karatassos, Buckhead Life Restaurant Group chief executive officer and founder. This combination of kitchen pantry staples proves to be much greater than the sum of its parts.
Our salad dressing is two recipes in one. The basis is a classic blue cheese dressing that gets a little crunch from finely chopped celery and shallot. Wanting to update the traditional wedge salad, Atlanta Fish Market chef Bobby Holley started playing around with the recipe and came up with a reduction of brown sugar, balsamic and bacon that he swirls into the blue cheese dressing to add a whole new set of flavors.
Make-your-own ice cream sundaes are hard to resist. Pricci's pastry chef Jenny Etchison caps the meal with two classic sauces: hot chocolate fudge and creamy caramel. Add her salty, sweet candied nuts, and your dinner will have an unforgettable finish.
And what about that steak? Schwab shared grilling tips from his kitchen at the Buckhead Diner. His favorite cuts of steak to grill are New York strip or rib-eye.
Want a burger instead? Schwab's recipe: certified Angus ground chuck, an 80/20 blend ground twice, seasoned with just salt and pepper. (Schwab recommends certified Angus beef for its quality and flavor.)
Take your meat out of the refrigerator 45 minutes to an hour before grilling. Allowing it to come to room temperature means it will cook more evenly.
If cooking over charcoal, light your fire, let it burn down to coals and then push them to one side of the grill. On the hot side of grill, sear meat on both sides to create grill marks. Then move it to other side of the grill and close the lid. Let the indirect heat cook the meat to the desired temperature.
If cooking on a gas grill, light only half of your grill and follow the same procedure.
Skip the fancy seasoning; salt and pepper is all you need with a good cut of meat. That and a good steak sauce, of course.
Once the meat reaches the desired temperature, take it off the grill and let it rest for 10 minutes before you cut into it. This allows all the juices to settle back into the meat so they don't rush out onto the plate when the meat is cut.
Your Fourth of July cookout? Kicked up a notch.
This is one recipe where the right ingredients really make a difference in the final flavors. Chef Charlie Schwab recommends Cattleman's mesquite-flavored barbecue sauce and A-1 steak sauce.
1 cup steak sauce
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. cracked black pepper
In a medium bowl, combine steak sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, vinegar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Whisk thoroughly to combine. May be made ahead and refrigerated up to two months. Makes 3 1/2 cups.
– Buckhead Diner
Warm Bacon Blue Cheese Dressing
At the Atlanta Fish Market, this dressing is served over wedges of iceberg lettuce and slices of ripe red tomato.
Raw bacon is most easily chopped if it's very cold or frozen. Chef Bobby Holley says you can use grocery store blue cheese crumbles in the dressing but recommends using high quality blue cheese for the garnish.
2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup finely minced celery
1 shallot, finely minced
1 1/2 cups blue cheese crumbles, divided
4 ounces bacon, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup light brown sugar, not packed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Additional blue cheese and chopped chives for garnish
In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, Worcestershire and pepper. Stir in celery, shallot and 1 cup blue cheese crumbles. Taste for seasoning. May be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to two weeks. May be served at this point as blue cheese dressing.
In a small saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove 1 tablespoon crisp bacon and set aside for garnish.
Add onion to remaining bacon and fat and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add brown sugar, stir to combine and then pour in vinegar. Bring mixture to a boil and cook until liquid reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool and stir in remaining 1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
When ready to serve warm bacon dressing, combine the reserved bacon/onion mixture with blue cheese dressing. In a large skillet, gently warm dressing mixture, being careful not to heat so much that the blue cheese melts. Pour dressing over salad. Garnish with chopped chives, blue cheese and reserved cooked bacon. Makes 3 1/2 cups.
– Atlanta Fish Market
Creamy Caramel Sauce
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water and stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture turns a light amber color, about 20 minutes. Do not stir again while mixture is boiling. Begin watching carefully after 15 minutes because sugar begins to brown quickly and can burn in an instant.
When syrup has reached desired color, reduce heat and slowly add cream. Be careful as mixture will bubble and splatter. When all cream has been added, whisk sauce until cream has been incorporated and mixture is very smooth. Whisk in butter and salt. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Makes 3 cups.
Gourmet Hot Chocolate Fudge Sauce
This easy recipe makes a sauce that is not overly sweet. Etchison recommends Amaretto, brandy or rum to flavor the sauce. If you'd prefer to make your sauce without alcohol, substitute an equal amount of additional water.
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
12 ounces dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup liquor
1/4 cup granulated sugar
In a medium saucepan, combine corn syrup, water and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and stir in chocolate, cocoa, liquor and sugar. Whisk until smooth and remove from heat. Allow to cool before storing. Sauce may be used hot, warm or room temperature. Sauce may be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to two weeks. Reheats easily in the microwave. Makes 4 cups.
Easy Candied Nuts
2 cups whole pecans or walnuts
1 egg white
Scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split, scraped, seeds only, optional
2 tsp. unsalted butter, optional
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
In a small bowl, mix nuts with egg white and stir to coat. Add sugar, salt and vanilla bean seeds if using. Toss to coat evenly. Spread nuts on baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant. If using butter, add after nuts have cooked about 18 minutes.
Remove nuts from oven and allow to cool on parchment paper. If nuts are sticking together, separate while warm. Allow to cool completely before storing. May be made up to one week ahead and stored at room temperature, or frozen for longer storage. Makes 2 cups.
Pricci's Caramel Turtle Ice Cream Toppings
Pastry chef Jenny Etchison's ice cream sundaes at Pricci are actually gelato sundaes using cherry and sabayon flavors. She suggests you use chocolate and/or vanilla ice cream at home.
To assemble a sundae, layer scoops of ice cream in a serving dish. Top with Gourmet Hot Chocolate Fudge Sauce and Caramel Sauce, sprinkle with Easy Candied Nuts and garnish with whipped cream and a fresh cherry.