By Gretchen McKay


Memorable recipes for Memorial Day

Categories : Food
Burgers with homemade slaw, pickles and BBQ sauce. Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette


Burgers and potato salad are traditional fare at Memorial Day picnics, but it’s also fun to shake things up every now and again with an unexpected new flavor. And if the recipe for said dish is as easy as it is lip-smacking? So much the better for the cook, who would much rather be relaxing in the sunshine with his or her guests than fretting over complicated details.


Here, we offer two burgers — one made with beef chuck and another built on a bun topped with portobello mushroom and a garlicky spinach pesto — that are sure to make your guests flip. They’re paired with a grilled potato salad that my husband declared is one of the best he’s ever had, not to mention a good deal healthier than the standard made-with-mayo version.

So burger lovers can enjoy her recipes all year long, celebrity chef Rachael Ray suggests the indoor method of cooking them in a cast-iron skillet or grill pan on top of the stove. But I had no problem making either on my grill, and you shouldn’t either. Plus, the smell of them sizzling over the hot coals will drive you (and your neighbors) crazy.

For the beef burger, be sure to bring the meat to room temperature and pat off excess liquid using a paper towel. Also, make sure the center of the patty is thinner than the edges when you form it with your hand, because patties plump when you cook them and “as of yet they do not make Spanx for burger bulge,” Ms. Ray writes.

Because no cookout is a good one without some kind of dessert, we’ve also included a recipe for an easy blueberry tart that will have you kicking summer off on the right foot.


Portobello Mushroom Burger with Spinach Pesto. Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette


Portobello Burgers with Spinach Pesto

PG tested

Not everyone eats red meat, so it’s smart to have at least one vegetarian dish on your Memorial Day menu.

This recipe features portobello mushroom caps, sometimes called the “steak of the vegetarian world” because of their hearty beef-like flavor and meaty texture. I substituted pine nuts in the pesto, because no one in my family is too crazy about walnuts.

Look for caps that are smooth and firm, without any slimy patches. Store, unwashed, in a brown paper bag in the fridge until you’re ready to use them (they’ll stay fresh for up to a week).

  • 2 cups packed baby spinach, plus a few leaves for garnish
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or pasted
  • A few grates of nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella or smoked fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 4 crusty rolls, split
  • Thinly sliced red onion

Make pesto by placing spinach in a food processor with walnuts, grated cheese, garlic and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

Turn on the processor and stream in 1/4 cup olive oil to form a thick pesto.

Make burgers by brushing portobello caps with a damp towel to clean them. In a large plastic food storage bag, combine the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar and rosemary. Add mushroom caps and slush around to coat with seasonings.

Heat a grill pan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Shake the marinade off the mushrooms and cook the caps, turning once, 10 to 12 minutes, or until well browned on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Top the caps with the mozzarella, remove pan from heat, and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes to melt the cheese.

Place mushrooms on the roll bottoms and top with pesto, a few spinach leaves and a few slices of red onion. Set the top rolls in place.

Serves 4.

— “The Book of Burger” by Rachael Ray (Atria, June 5, 2012, $24.99)


Brooklyn Beer Chili Sliders

PG tested

Make the pickles and barbecue sauce ahead of time, and all you’ll have to do the day of the picnic is assemble these taste-tacular burgers, which I patted into regular-sized patties instead of sliders.

For pickles
  • 2 cups white balsamic or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 large clove garlic, halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small fresh red chile, such as Fresno, sliced
  • 4 Kirby (seedless) cucumbers, sliced 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • A few sprigs fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
For slaw
  • 1/2 pound shredded red cabbage
  • 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Celery salt
  • Kosher salt and pepper
For BBQ sauce
  • 1 cup good-quality ketchup, such as Heinz Organic
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark amber maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • Coarsely ground pepper
For sliders
  • 2 pounds ground beef chuck
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 cup Brooklyn Ale or other beer of choice (I used Guinness Stout)
  • Grill seasoning, such as McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning, or kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper
  • Vegetable or olive oil, for drizzling
  • 12 slider rolls

Make the pickles: Bring vinegar, 1/3 cup water, sugar, salt, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes.

Put chile, cucumbers, onion and dill in a small food storage container and sprinkle in mustard and coriander seeds. Pour hot brine over pickles. Cool, cover and chill overnight, shaking every once in a while.

When you are ready to make the sliders, make slaw: In a bowl, combine cabbage, onion, vinegar and oil. Season with celery salt and salt and pepper. Toss until cabbage is coated.

Make the BBQ sauce: In a small saucepan, combine all sauce ingredients and cook over medium-low heat to thicken and combine flavors, 15 to 20 minutes.

Make sliders: Heat a large cast-iron pan, griddle or grill pan over medium-high to high heat. In a large bowl, combine beef, Worcestershire sauce, marjoram, thyme, chile powder and beer; season with grill seasoning or with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Divide into 4 equal portions, then form each portion into 3 equal patties thinner at the center than at the edges for even cooking and to ensure a flat surface (burgers plump as they cook). Drizzle the patties with oil. Cook sliders a few minutes on each side, or until done to your taste. Baste liberally with barbecue sauce during the last minute of cooking.

Place sliders on roll bottoms and top with a little slaw and slices of pickle. Set roll tops in place. Pass the rest of the pickles and sauce at the table.

Makes 12 sliders.

— “The Book of Burger” by Rachael Ray (Atria, June 5, 2012, $24.99)


Grilled Potato Salad. Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette


Grilled Potato Salad

PG tested

You won’t miss the mayo in this terrific potato salad. It’s so good, in fact, that I made it twice in one weekend, the second time with some lovely fingerling potatoes I picked up at Butler Farm Market in Renfrew.

  • 2 pounds medium Yukon gold potatoes
  • 2 medium yellow onions, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings and skewered with toothpicks
  • 1/4 cup white or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for coating the potatoes and onions
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Place potatoes in a large saucepan of water and season with a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Drain and slice into 1/4-inch-thick disks.

Preheat a grill over medium-high heat. Drizzle potatoes and onion slices with enough olive oil to coat. Grill potatoes for about 5 minutes per side, until the surface is browned and crisp. At the same time, grill onions for about 4 minutes per side, until lightly caramelized and soft.

Combine vinegar, mustard and sugar. Whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Combine potatoes, onions, bacon, bleu cheese and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Toss with dressing. Makes 6 servings.

— “Grill This, Not That” by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding (Rodale, May 2012, $19.99)


Blueberry Tart. Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette

Blueberry Tart

PG tested

The best picnic desserts not only use whatever ripe, juicy fruit is in season, but also can be made in advance so you don’t get stuck in the kitchen when everyone else is out in the sun. In the case of this easy (and crowd-pleasing) tart, it’s blueberries.

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 5 cups blueberries
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 9-inch square or round tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray.

To food processor, add 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and salt; pulse until blended. Add butter; pulse just until coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle with vinegar; pulse just until blended. Turn out dough and bring together with fingers.

Press dough into bottom of tart pan. Top with 3 cups berries. In medium bowl, mix remaining 2 tablespoons flour, 2/3 cup sugar and cinnamon. Evenly sprinkle over berries; drizzle with almond extract.

Bake tart 50 to 60 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from oven and top with remaining 2 cups blueberries. Cool in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 servings.

— “Best of Summer” (Hearst Publications, 2012, $9.99)