Labor Day: a weekend for beaches, campouts, barbeques, pool parties, family, friends, and food. It’s a time to celebrate the end of summer, the start of fall, and at least in southern California, the start of the new school year. For me, it was always a weekend to let loose one last time before the weather turned a bit cooler, schoolwork started, and the new football and band season began. And even as grown-ups, it is still our last three-day weekend to relax, have fun, and enjoy some great food and drinks before the hustle-and-bustle of the holiday season begins.
The key word here is to RELAX! So, no matter what the setting is for my Labor Day fun, I like to make simple, easy, healthy, and make-ahead dishes. Here are five of my absolute favorite dishes to make for any barbeque or campout. All are made ahead of time, so when it is party time, all you need is a beer or glass of wine (or two), a lounge chair, and some great friends to share it with. So enjoy this last hurrah of summertime calm; the chaos and craziness of the holidays season will soon be upon us all!
Wine note: For warm summer days, I love light refreshing wines that are easy on the palate and pair well with just about everything. Two of my favorite styles are the Pinot Grigio and a dry, French-style, Rose, such as the Curtis Z Gris from Santa Barbara County and Miramonte Pinot Grigio from Temecula Valley.
1. Spicy Halibut en Papillote(in pouch)
While this may seem complicated and elegant, it could not be simpler to make. Fresh fish, herbs, a little wine, and a few other aromatics, all wrapped in foil and grilled turns ordinary halibut or other white fish into something extraordinary. The true beauty though is that the pouches can be assembled ahead of time and cleanup is as simple as throwing the foil away. Make as little or as many pouches as needed and change up the aromatics to suit your tastes. The ingredients below are guidelines, so change it up and have some fun! Enjoy!
Aluminum foil (approx. 9" x 9" sheets)
4 fish filets (skin removed), Halibut, Tilapia, or other white fish
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lemon, sliced
Herbs de Provence
Several sprigs fresh Thyme
1 habanero pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 pasilla or poblano pepper, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Note: When working with spicy peppers like jalapenos or habaneros, rub a little olive oil on your hands first. The oil will prevent the spicy oils of the peppers from getting into your skin. Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after handling spicy peppers.
- Lay out the sheets of aluminum foil and curl up the ends to prevent the liquid from escaping as you are assembling the pouches.
- Set up an assembly line with all ingredients.
- In the middle of each piece of foil, drizzle a little of the olive oil to prevent the fish from sticking and place the fish on top.
- For each fish, add a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, Herbs de Provence (a pinch of each), a couple of slices of each pepper, sliced shallot, and the slices of lemon (about two slices of lemon per filet). Note: I only use one or two small slices of habanero pepper for a little heat. If you want a spicier fish, then add more habanero...it is very spicy so handle with care.
- Add one or two sprigs of thyme and a splash of white wine. Bring all ends of the foil together and seal into a little pouch. Make sure it is fully sealed.
- Place on a grill over medium heat (or in the oven at 350 degrees). Grill for about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. A 1 inch thick halibut will take about 15 to 20 minutes, but a thin tilapia filet will take less time, about 8 minutes. Remove and check for doneness. The fish should be flaky and white in the middle. If more cooking is needed, just refold (carefully) the foil and place back on the grill for another 5 minutes.
- When done, remove the foil packets from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Carefully unwrap the fish. You can serve fish in the foil or remove completely and plate it, but be sure to drizzle a little of the liquid from the packet onto the fish.
2. Potatoes with Veggies en Papillote (in pouch)
Just as with the Halibut en Papillote, this dish is just as simple and easy to make. The aromatics are the same as in the recipe above, except add the following instead of the fish:
Depending on the number of packets you are making, dice 2 to 3 Yukon gold or white potatoes (no need to peel).
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 poblano or pasilla pepper, diced
a couple of small strips of habanero pepper (optional)
Handful of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch long pieces
Prepare packets as shown above. Instead of the fish, add all of veggies and top with the aromatics. Evenly distribute the potatoes and vegetables amongst the aluminum packets. Top with the lemon, wine, olive oil, salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Seal the packets and grill over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
3. Summer fruit salad with Champagne dressing
Sweet and refreshing, this salad and dressing can be prepared hours ahead of time, chilled in the refrigerator, and then tossed together when ready to serve. Cool, sweet, and with a hint of mint, this is the perfect accompaniment to any outdoor gathering. While I love the combination of cantaloupe and watermelon for this salad, adding some sliced peaches, strawberries, and/or blueberries would also be delicious. So, use whatever fruit you have on hand or find in the local farmers markets. The result will certainly be divine! Click here for the recipe.
Broccoli slaw with citrus vinaigrette
This broccoli slaw is definitely my go-to slaw for any outdoor gathering. From garden party, to camping, to the beach, this versatile slaw is the perfect dish to pair with
anything from fish and chips to steaks bordelaise. It's light, refreshing, and so easy to make. Prepare the slaw and toss with the dressing several hours before serving. The longer it sits, the more it will soften and absorb the delicate flavors of the vinaigrette. And, unlike traditional, mayo-based, slaws, this one does not need to be refrigerated; although, if it is really hot outside, then I suggest keeping it in a cooler. No one wants cooked broccoli slaw! Enjoy! Click here for the recipe.
Summer berry medley with Marsala and ice cream
No party would be complete without dessert! While I am not a huge dessert fan, I do love desserts when they combine my favorite flavors of berries, wine, and yes, even a little chocolate! While this dessert can be made up to a day before serving, it does need at least a couple of hours of chill time to get the flavors to integrate together. I love these berries drizzled with dark chocolate and served over ice cream, but it is equally as delicious spooned over some pound cake.
Note: Use whatever fresh berries or fruits that are in season. Sliced plums, apricots, and peaches also work well with the Marsala wine. So, play around with the flavors and see what combination you like best.
1 box strawberries, hulled and diced
1 box blackberries
1 box raspberries
1 box blueberries
1 cup sweet Marsala wine (you can also use dry Marsala if you don't want the dessert as sweet)
1/2 cup sugar
- Clean all berries. For the ones that are larger, slice in half.
- Place berries in a clear serving bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and mix well.
- Pour wine over berries and mix. Cover and chill for at least two hours and up to overnight.
- Serve over ice cream or pound cake. Optional: Drizzle a little melted dark chocolate over the berries when serving and top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Oh, and why not, go ahead and add some shaved dark chocolate over the top too! Enjoy the simplicity of the decadence!