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Labor Day Cookout

Labor Day is this Monday! A tribute to American workers, Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. In addition to honoring workers and their achievements, Labor Day, to me, has always represented the end of summer. If you're fortunate to get this Monday off from work, it's a perfect time to enjoy some end-of-summer outdoor time and have a cookout.

The majority of this menu can be made ahead. You could make some things Saturday and Sunday, then enjoy your Monday break without spending all day cooking. While I enjoy cooking and like to have a more "involved" menu for holidays, I feel like sipping an ice cold beer while grilling hotdogs and hamburgers with your loved ones is equally fabulous. If you want something a little more spesh, this is a scrumptious menu for a Labor Day cookout.


Day Before...

  1. Buy tzatziki and pita bread

  2. Make sangria

  3. Make orzo salad

  4. Marinate chicken

  5. Make shortcake dough, refrigerate

Day of Cookout...

  1. Bake shortcakes (store at room temperature)

  2. Finish orzo

  3. Make salad

  4. Prepare fruit

  5. Whip cream (will keep in fridge for a few hours)

  6. Grill chicken

To start, serve Ina Garten's Rosé sangria. I like sangria, but sometimes find it cloyingly sweet. Using a dry Rosé limits the sweetness, along with lemon juice, pomegranate juice, Cognac, and Grand Marnier. The end result is a refreshing, lightly sweet pink drink. (And who doesn't love that?) Sangria needs to sit overnight for the flavors to marry, so combine all the ingredients in a big pitcher, stick it in the fridge, and it's ready to go for your cookout. Sangria originated in Spain and Portugal, but this is essentially a French Sangria, using a Provence Rosé, Cognac, and Grand Marnier - delicious.

So... a funny story about my sangria: I had some peaches sitting out to use for the shortcakes, and I guess I really got into the zone slicing the plums, because I ended up putting my shortcake peaches into the sangria -- oops! While I was less than thrilled that I had to run out to get more peaches for dessert, the peaches in the sangria tasted delicious. A happy accident!

I was initially going to make tzatziki, then realized 'why on earth would I do that to myself?' Instead, I opted to pick some up from a local Mediterranean market, along with some fresh pita bread. I served this with some cucumber slices for a simple appetizer.

To marinate the chicken, Courtney Dial Whitmore's marinade recipe from her book The Southern Entertainer's Cookbook is simple and delicious. I bought 3 massive chicken breasts, weighing a collective 3-pounds. I should have pounded the chicken breasts thinner or sliced them in half because they took forever to grill. Seriously, it felt like it took hours. (I'm being slightly dramatic, I was really hungry at the time.) Despite my poor planning with cook time, it turned out perfectly. Courtney mentions in her book that this makes the best chicken sandwich, which I definitely plan on trying with the leftovers.


Charleston Chicken Marinade

For 3 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts

Serves 5-6

2 cups pineapple juice

1 cup dry sherry

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

4 garlic cloves, minced

Combine all ingredients in a measuring cup and whisk. Add chicken breast to a zip-loc bag, pour over marinade, and refrigerate overnight, flipping once.


For a side, serve Ina Garten's orzo with roasted vegetables. Make this recipe the day ahead and refrigerate. Two hours before serving, set the pasta out and let it come up to room temperature. Add the pine nuts, feta, basil, and scallions, and it's ready to be enjoyed. I left out the eggplant, finding it boring. (If you like eggplant, let me know how you cook them, I have yet to find a way that I like.) I also cut the added salt in half. I tasted before serving and felt like it needed an extra squeeze of lemon to brighten up the flavors after sitting in the fridge. (I used half a lemon.)

For a salad, this kale option with fig preserves is excellent. This recipe was initially passed around between my mom and her friends as a copycat of the one served at Houston's Restaurant. I modified it slightly and make it all the time for my family. I tried to measure out the quantities when I made it this time, but truthfully, it's different every single time, depending on how much kale I use. The important thing with this recipe is to get the amount of oil, salt, pepper, and fig preserves to your liking before adding the tomatoes. You want to handle the salad as little as possible once the tomatoes have been added so they aren't crushed. I taste after adding the oil, again after adding the salt and pepper, then I go in with the fig preserves. I buy fig preserves from the grocery store, but if you make your own, that's even better.


Kale Salad with Fig Preserves

Serves 5-6

1 bunch of kale (about 1 pound), ribs removed

1/4 cup olive oil

Freshly cracked black pepper

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons fig preserves

1 tomato, seeded and diced

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup salted cashews, roughly chopped

Wash and dry the kale, then roughly chop. Add kale to a large bowl, add olive oil, and massage kale with tongs. Add salt and pepper to your taste (about 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt). Warm up the fig preserves (about 30 seconds in the microwave), and add to the kale, combing with tongs. Add tomato, cilantro, and cashews. Keep in fridge until ready to serve.


For dessert, serve Ina Garten's Peach Raspberry Shortcake. It's a simple, yet elegant finish to this cookout. You can make the shortcakes the morning of your cookout, then cut up the peaches and whip the cream right before your guests arrive. The fruit and cream will keep in the fridge during dinner. The shortcakes don't have a lot of sugar (only 1 tablespoon), which prevents the sweetness in the fruit from being overpowered. My shortcakes didn't rise as much as I hoped (this is a chronic issue for me when I make biscuits, I'm working on it - HA), so instead of splitting them in half, I served the fruit and cream on the side. I really like how it looks and will probably do this in the future, even if my shortcakes do get an ideal rise. Ina's recipe recommends garnishing with orange zest, but after talking and enjoying dinner, I forgot to add it. (The three glasses of sangria I enjoyed may have also played a hand in my forgetfulness.) While I'm sure the orange zest is delicious, I didn't feel like the shortcakes were missing anything.


Get the Look:

I was initially going to do a red, white, and blue theme, but after using that combination for Fourth of July and Memorial Day (blog posts here and here), I decided to stick to my favorite color combination: navy blue and white. I found this navy and white table runner on sale at Williams Sonoma for a steal and based my whole table setting around it. I placed the last of our summer hydrangeas in a large vase. You can't see it at this angle, but I used a combination of mathilda gutges dark blue, endless summer light blue, and limelight white. I pulled out my favorite woven chargers and some flax and white striped linen napkins to complete the look. Our outdoor table has lived a full life (as evidenced by all the scars), but I love how rustic it looks against the more elegant table decorations.


Thanks for reading!

- Sam


Sep 03, 2021

Everything was delicious!!

Sep 03, 2021
Replying to

Thank you 😘

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