Start summer with some sizzle


Summer is just a few weeks away and it's time to get your grilling game on. We've lined up some easy recipes to ensure your season sizzles. All are easy, time-effective and sure to please.

This weekend marks the start of the unofficial grilling season, and menu includes two side dishes, two main dish options and a lemony cocktail to top it all off.

Not only can you prep them all in advance, you can grill some in advance so you can spend more time with guests. Plus, these dishes easily feed a crowd (those cooking for just a few can grill once and eat for days). Here are tips for our recipes from the Free Press Test Kitchen and Joseph Gilbert, corporate chef for HoMedics, a Commerce Township, Mich.-based manufacturer of relaxation and wellness products:

Marinated Tri-Tip: If you've never tried this cut of meat, it's well worth a try. If your local market doesn't carry it, request it at the butcher counter. It's great for a half-dozen guests -- it's about 11/2 to 21/2 pounds of solid meat cut from the bottom sirloin -- reasonably priced (average is $6-$8 a pound for a whole roast) and very lean and tender. Look for tri-tip at Hiller's Markets, Nino Salvaggio International Market Place, Costco and Trader Joe's stores.

Tips: Don't overcook it; it's best cooked medium-rare or medium.

"Marinate with a rub or a flavor that suits you and sear it over medium-high to get good marks on all sides, good color and caramelization and then cook over indirect heat," says Gilbert. "Let rest on a cutting board or serving platter for 10 minutes and cut against the grain in thin pieces."

The final internal resting temperature should be 130 degrees for medium-rare.

Chicken leg quarters: They are inexpensive -- anywhere from 39 to 59 cents a pound--and one leg quarter (about 10 to 12 ounces) is plenty for one serving. Or you can split them in half at the joint (leg and thigh). These are best marinated. Keep the skin on, score several slices through the skin and marinate overnight. Grill with the skin on and give guests the option of removing it.

Tips: Pat the chicken dry after removing it from the marinade. "Spray it with nonstick spray, giving the chicken a light glaze, and then put it on the hot grill to get char marks on both sides," says Gilbert. Turn down the heat and watch them, says Gilbert, who cautions grillers not to just shut the lid and walk away: "Don't crowd chicken pieces on the grill because the high fat content from the skin will cause flare-ups."

Grilled vegetables: Add a simple drizzle of olive oil, some kosher or sea salt and black pepper, and the veggies are ready for the grill. Serve hot off the grill or toss in mixed greens salads or pasta salads.

Tips: Cut vegetables uniformly (you can do this a day ahead) and large enough so they don't slip through the grates. Don't marinate longer than 30 minutes or they will get mushy.

"Put the vegetables on grill grates and grill to get good char marks and then remove to a cookie tray and cook another 3 to 5 minutes," says Gilbert.

You can cook vegetables before the main course, platter them and lightly cover with foil.

"I want my meat or chicken to be the center stage. The vegetables can stay out 45 minutes to an hour without a problem," he says.

Bourbon-marinated tri-tip

Preparation time: 15 minutes (plus marinating time)
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 8

You can grill the tri-tip whole or cut the roast into individual thick steaks.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

1 tri-tip roast (2 to 21/4 pounds)
Oil for the grill grates

In a glass measuring cup, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Puncture the beef all over with a fork and place in a sealable plastic bag.

Pour about two-thirds of the marinade over the beef; reserve remaining marinade to use as a sauce. Seal bag, squeezing out the air. Massage the outside of the bag to work the marinade in. Refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.

About 30 minutes before grilling, remove the beef from the marinade (discard marinade) to a platter and set aside while the grill is heating.

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Oil the grates and heat another five minutes. Add the tri-tip and sear on all sides to get nice grill marks.

Move to indirect heat (no heat source under the beef) and finish cooking to desired degree of doneness, about 35 minutes (depending on the size) for medium-rare or until an internal temperature reaches 125 degrees. Remove from the grill and let it rest. The temperature will continue to rise to about 130 degrees.

Heat the reserved marinade briefly, thinly slice the tri-tip against the grain and drizzle with the sauce.

Adapted from "The Complete Meat Cookbook" by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly (Houghton Mifflin, $35).

Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Analysis based on about 5 ounces cooked tri-tip.

Nutrition information:
285 calories (44 percent from fat ), 14 grams fat (5 grams sat. fat ), 3 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams protein, 520 mg sodium, 107 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber .

Spicy garlic chicken leg quarters

Preparation time: 15 minutes (plus marinating time)
Total time: 50 minutes
Serves: 8

8 chicken leg quarters (about 10 ounces each)
Oil for grill grates

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced sweet onion
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Glaze (optional):
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons Dijon
1/3 cup orange marmalade or apricot jam

Trim any excess skin from the leg quarters. Using a sharp knife, score several slits on the skin and a little through the flesh of the chicken. Place the leg quarters in a large, plastic, sealable bag.

In a bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning for a flavor balance. It should be a little spicy and garlicky followed by a hint of sweetness. The mixture will be almost paste-like.

Pour the marinade over the chicken in the bag, massaging it into the meat. Seal the bag and refrigerate chicken at least four hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before grilling. Remove the chicken from the bag and blot dry with paper towel.

If using the glaze, place glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and whisk until the marmalade is melted; set aside.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Oil the grill grates and heat another five minutes.

Place the chicken pieces over direct heat on the grill skin -side down first. Do not crowd. Grill until you get nice char marks, about eight minutes.

Turn chicken pieces over, reduce the heat to medium and continue to grill until the pieces are thoroughly cooked, 15 to 18 minutes depending on how big the leg quarters are.

If desired, about five minutes before the chicken is done, brush the skin side with the glaze, turn over and grill a few minutes on the skin side. Remove from the grill and serve.

Nutrition information:
Serving: per 1 leg quarter with skin and glaze: 328 calories (49 percent from fat), 18 grams fat (5 grams sat. fat), 10 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams protein, 220 mg sodium, 105 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber .

Grilled red skin potato salad

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Serves: 8

2 to 21/2 pounds small to medium red skin potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
4 green onions or small bunch chives, chopped
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, chopped
11/4 cups reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Favorite all-purpose seasoning blend to taste

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Scrub the potatoes and cut them in wedges. Place the wedges in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for two minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, Dijon, salt and pepper. Pour over the potatoes and toss to coat.

Place the potatoes cut side down on the grill grates and grill about five minutes or until you get nice grill marks. Turn and continue grilling so the potato wedges are grill-marked on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove from the grill and place in a serving bowl; let cool about five minutes.

Add the celery, green onions and eggs and mix. Add the mayonnaise, Dijon, salt, pepper and, if using, seasoning blend. Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings. For a creamier potato salad, add more mayonnaise. Serve immediately or cover and chill before serving.

Nutrition information:
322 calories (34 percent from fat ), 12 grams fat (2 grams sat. fat ), 48 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 478 mg sodium, 114 mg cholesterol, 5 grams fiber .

Grilled vegetable platter

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Serves: 8

1 package of small mixed bell peppers, washed
2 medium zucchini, washed, sliced 1/2-inch thick on the diagonal
12 asparagus spears, washed
1 medium sweet onion, peeled, cut 1/2-inch thick
1 medium red onion, peeled, cut 1/2-inch thick
1/4 cup olive oil
Favorite all-purpose seasoning, such as Morton's Nature Seasons Seasoning
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Minced fresh herbs such as tarragon, thyme and parsley, for serving; optional

Preheat the grill to medium high.

Prepare all the vegetables and place on a sided baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning blend, salt and pepper.

Place the vegetables on the grill, and grill on each side until you get nice marks on all sides. The asparagus and zucchini take just a few minutes on each side; remove them when they are still crisp-tender to a serving platter while you finishing grilling the peppers and onions.

Remove the peppers and onions to the platter. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if desired, and serve.

Nutrition information:
102 calories (44 percent from fat ), 5 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat ), 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 114 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.

Lemon vodka coolers

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves: 8

1/2 cup simple syrup (see note)
1 cup fresh lemon juice
11/2 cups vodka
1 liter chilled club soda
Ice cubes
Lemon slices for garnish

In a pitcher combine the simple syrup, lemon juice, vodka and club soda. Stir to mix. Pour over ice in cocktail glasses and garnish with lemon slices.

Cook's note:
To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally until the sugar dissolves and mixture is clear. Cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.


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