Our fingers are crossed for an Indian summer—but if Labor Day weekend is your finale feast, we’ve got you covered for food, drinks, music, and decorating. It’s all delicious, simple, and (mostly) portable. Blaze on!
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GRILLER’S BLOCK: Dead tired of rib-eye or trying to grill more than a few steaks to everyone’s taste? To keep it easy but still give your guests their main meat, try these tasty alternatives:
Pork Chuck Loin: Basically the last six inches of the pork loin, where the loin intersects the shoulder, giving good marbling (aka fat). A good butcher will know what you’re talking about; grab a few for a group of eight. Chef Ethan Stowell, who serves it at Staple & Fancy, brines it overnight in salted water with thyme, garlic, and rosemary. Then dress it with olive oil, lightly salt, and pepper heavily. Since it’s shoulder, it needs to cook slow and low—about four minutes per side (there are four sides) at 140 degrees. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes.
Thin-Cut Short Ribs: Marinate overnight in any of your favorite grilling sauces. You can pack a dozen or so on the grill and start flipping ’em after you’ve laid down the last one. Easy and finger-lickin’ good.
Fruit Sausage Pastries: In Queen Anne, I love A&J Meat & Seafoods Inc.’s take on pigs in a blanket: blueberry and apricot pork sausages wrapped in pastry that you can pop in the oven.
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SUPER SIDES: A no-stress recipe for the perfect end-of-summer salad starring best-of-the-season peaches and tomatoes, from Nate Crave of TanakaSan:
Sweet Corn Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Pence Peaches, Toasted Quinoa, and Champagne Vinaigrette (serves 4)
1 cup quinoa
2 cup vegetable stock or water
2 ears yellow corn (cut off cob about 2 cups)
¼ cup Walla Walla sweet onion (small-diced)
1 medium heirloom tomato (medium-size chunks)
¼ cup summer squash (small-diced)
1 each Pence or other sweet peach (medium-size chunks)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Salt to taste
Toast quinoa in a small saucepan until light brown. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes. Once cooked, lay flat in a pan and cool.
While quinoa is cooking, cut corn off the cob.
Dice tomato, sweet onion, squash, and peach.
Make vinaigrette by whisking vinegar, Dijon, and honey together and slowly adding the olive oil to emulsify ingredients together. Salt to taste.
Mix the vegetables and quinoa together. Add the vinaigrette and adjust seasonings with a little salt.
Traditional potato salad gets a wildly flavorful boost (sans mayo) in this recipe from downtown Asian-fusion restaurant Wild Ginger:
Burmese Potato Salad (serves 4 to 6)
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
2 ounces white onion, chopped
2 green chilies, seeded and finely minced
1 tablespoon shallots, fried until golden in 4 tablespoons of oil
½ cup mint, roughly chopped
2 slices bacon, cooked and minced
4 tablespoons oil (use the oil you fried the shallots in)
4 tablespoons tamarind juice
½ teaspoon shrimp paste
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted and pounded
Prepare dressing in jar and shake.
Steam or boil potatoes until tender; let cool slightly. Peel and cube while still warm. Toss warm potatoes with dressing and all other ingredients. Serve immediately as part of a multicourse event.
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BIG OL’ BATCH OF COCKTAILS: You don’t have to rely on just beer and wine when you’re serving a large group or going to a barbecue. Batched cocktails require one preparation, and are portable to boot. Nik Virrey, bartender at Capitol Hill’s Liberty Bar, provided this end-of-summer cocktail that he calls, “delicious, simple, and refreshing as hell.”
June Up Here (serves 12)
24 ounces gin (Oola/Sun Liquor/Batch 206/Big Gin)
9 ounces fresh lime juice
6 ounces ginger syrup (use 110 grams of fresh diced ginger per 8 ounces of 1:1 simple syrup)
Peel of 10 lemons
Pour all ingredients except cucumber in a glass container and keep refrigerated. When ready to serve, slice and muddle half a cucumber at the bottom of a serving glass and fill with ice. Pour mixture into glass and top with ginger beer (better yet, let your guests do it themselves!). Garnish with cucumber slice (optional).
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THE SOUNDS: Any barbecue worth its sauce serves sultry summer tunes with the food. These picks from local musicians, DJs, and foodies will ensure your beats are as good as your eats:
“Peach,” Prince: Any song that starts with the phrase “Here she comes/She got them gold hot pants on again” deserves summer-jam recognition. One of Prince’s most underrated and best.
—Ma’Chell Duma LaVassar, Critic/Tequila Lover
“Sister Golden Hair,” America: I grew up in Southern California, and this song evokes the smell of citrus and eucalyptus. It’s the reason for my love of AM gold/yacht rock.
“Moving in Stereo,” the Cars: Duh. Phoebe Cates . . . total end-of-summer (boner) jam.
“Slow Ride,” Foghat: No other song represents summer better than this one. I don’t care who you are, you hear this and you want to punch the air and eat barbecue.
—Ms. Michael Stevens, aka DJ Mike Steve, private-event DJ
“Summertime Sadness,” Lana Del Rey: Anything by Lana Del Rey makes me think of California. California makes me think of summer. I love this record. Pair this music with banana cream pie. The crust and the pudding must be made from scratch. I use the Crisco recipe for pie crust. Yeah, I know that Crisco is bad for you. But it makes the best pie crust . . . and it ain’t gonna kill you.
“Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above,” CSS: Any great barbecue starts early and ends late. Firepits are a must at the end of the night. There is nothing better than sitting around the fire and drinking with friends once the sun goes down. For those who find themselves paired off in a corner, some CSS might provide inspiration for the next step. This song pairs well with chocolate. Brownies might be best.
—Brent Amaker (of Brent Amaker and the Rodeo), Musician/Foodie
“Boys on the Radio,” Hole: Disregard everything you don’t like about Courtney Love and just listen to this song. It sounds like a crappy American car with the windows rolled down on an endless Midwest summer night.
—Matt Ashworth, High Potentate, NadaMucho.com
“Take My Bones Away,” Baroness: Unfortunately, sometimes the grill can be an unruly beast. This track is a superb compliment to help digest the items left on the heat a bit too long.
“Feel-Good Hit of the Summer,” Queens of the Stone Age: This song is not about “Get(ting) Lucky” or “Blurred Lines.”
—Michael Welke, Drummer, the Not-Its
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OUTDOOR DECOR: No need to be fussy when it comes to a barbecue, but a little stylin’ will bring everything together and make it feel like a real event.
* Go retro and use old vinyl records as placemats or serving trays (ones you won’t mind getting potentially ruined, of course).
* For a pretty seasonal effect, grab a bunch of dahlias (in one color or many) while they’re still blooming and “garnish” each napkin or plate with a single stem.