Just because Labor Day is looming, that doesn't mean it's time to put the grill away until next year.
There should be plenty of grill-worthy days over the next couple months. And, frankly, standing over hot charcoals is more appealing when it's 68 degrees instead of 88 degrees.
Burgers and dogs are fine, but I've been trying to improve my grill game.
A molasses-mustard glaze gives garlic hazelnut chicken breast with mustard glaze an appealing caramelized color after a few minutes on the grill.
A couple years ago I picked up ''Mastering the Grill,'' a cookbook by Andrews Schloss and David Joachim that is billed as ''The Owner's Manual for Outdoor Cooking.''
The book is filled with advice on how handle the coals (or the gas), when to use direct heat and when to use indirect heat and other tips that will come in handy for the novice and the veteran griller.
It also has hundreds of recipe, entrees and sides as well as rubs and sauces to add a new zing to old favorites.
Garlic hazelnut chicken with mustard glaze
Gas: Direct heat, medium (350 degrees F); clean, oiled grate on lowest setting
Charcoal: Direct heat, medium ash; 12-by-12-inch charcoal bed (about 3 dozen coals); clean, oiled grate on lowest setting
Wood: Direct heat, medium ash; 12-by-12-inch bed, 3- to 4-inches deep; clean, oiled grate set 4 inches above the fire.
1/2 cup hazelnuts
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 1 1/2 pounds
No-stick spray oil
Oil for coating grill grate
1/2 cup mustard-molasses glaze (see directions below)
Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. If the nuts have skins, rub them in a kitchen towel to remove the skins.
Put the hazelnuts, garlic, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small food processor and process until very finely chopped, scraping down the sides as necessary.
Put the chicken breasts, one at a time, between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap, with the smooth side down. Pound with the flat side of a mallet or heavy skillet to an even quarter-inch thickness, being careful not to tear the meat.
Spread the hazelnut mixture over the chicken, leaving a quarter-inch border around the edges. Roll up jelly-roll style from a short side, pushing in the sides as you roll, to enclose the filling. Secure each roll with a wooden toothpick or short skewer and generously coat all over with spray oil.
Heat the grill as directed.
Brush and oil the grill grate, then grill the chicken until it is no longer pink and the filling is hot, 10 to 15 minutes total, turning often. Keep the grill lid down except to brush the chicken with the mustard glaze during the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking.
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup prepared brown mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Combine all of the ingredients. Makes about 1 cup.
1/2 pound bacon, cut into about half-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 15 oz. can pork and beans
1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can butter beans, drained
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 cup ketchup
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook bacon and onion together in skillet until bacon starts to brown and the onions are translucent.
Drain excess fat and add to a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.
Bake until the liquid is absorbed into the beans, about two hours.
One recipe I've made a couple times this summer and is destined to become a part of the regular repertoire is garlic hazelnut chicken breast with mustard glaze.
This is outdoor cooking that looks good enough for fine dining.
The boneless, skinless chicken breast is rolled with a fresh pesto made with flat-leaf parsley, garlic, olive oil and toasted hazelnuts. It comes together fast; the biggest headache is trying to get the skins off the hazelnuts (if you can find the hazelnuts already sans skin, buy 'em).
The recipe calls for rolling the chicken kind of like a jelly roll. I did more of a tri-fold, spreading a generous dollop of the pesto in the middle and folding each over to enclose it in the meat. I thought that would cut down the chance of some undercooked chicken in the center or dried out chicken on the outside from trying to make sure the center is fully cooked.
Use a couple toothpicks to hold them together. I haven't had any trouble either time I've prepared this dish with the pesto running out during the time on the grill. And remember to spray the uncooked chicken with a non-stick oil. I didn't do it this last time and had some minor sticking issues with a couple of the breasts.
Complementing the moistness of the chicken and adding visual appeal to the dish is a molasses-mustard glaze that is brushed on during the final minutes of cooking. It's a simple sauce that gives the chicken a caramelized color and a hint of tangy sweetness.
For a backyard cookout to celebrate my mom's 75th birthday, I paired this new dish with an old favorite.
As a shower gift for our wedding (23 years ago this month), my wife received one of those blank cookbooks that everyone is invited to fill with favorite recipes.
Out of the dozens shared inside by family and friends, the one that has been made the most is the baked beans recipe from her Aunt Judy Conti, who also is the one who gave her the cookbook.
It's always a crowd pleaser at parties and family get-togethers. And every time I've made this recipe, I've doubled it because no one has just one serving, and it makes great leftovers.
The recipe uses three different kinds of beans, which gives it a different look and texture than other versions. And anything that combines bacon and brown sugar can't help but satisfy.