Dinner Party Menus: Niman Ranch Burgers

Labor Day is fast approaching (I cannot even believe it’s September already), and I have the perfect burger-based menu for anyone who is planning a cookout to celebrate.  As is, the menu will serve six people somewhat generously; the recipes are easily doubled (or tripled!) for extra guests.

Appetizer:
Hummus with Peppers and Pita Chips

Meal:
Niman Ranch Burgers with Cheddar, Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Spicy Mayo
Orzo and Zucchini Salad
Grilled Corn

Dessert:
Ice Cream Cones

The hummus, pita chips, ice cream, and ice cream cones are all store-bought, which saves some time and prep work.  Here’s the prep schedule I followed for a 6 p.m. dinner party on a Friday:

Anytime Thursday:
Chill beverages
Wash and iron napkins (unless you’re using disposables)
Make caramelized onions (part of Niman Ranch Burgers recipe) and refrigerate
Make spicy mayo (combine light mayo and Chalula or other hot sauce to taste) and refrigerate

Friday morning or afternoon (work takes 60 – 90 minutes):
Slice peppers for hummus (I usually do a very large dice instead of strips because bigger pieces are better for dipping) and refrigerate
Slice zucchini for orzo salad and refrigerate
Wash, dry, and tear basil for orzo salad and refrigerate
Make corn packets (recipe follows) and refrigerate
Make burger patties (place squares of wax paper between each patty for easy use later; store on a plate and cover with plastic wrap or place in an airtight container) and refrigerate
Set table (unless you’re serving buffet-style)
Set serving dishes aside (this prevents me from having to root around for dishes and ask my guests to move while they’re enjoying appetizers at my kitchen island)

5:00 p.m.: Make Orzo and Zucchini Salad (zucchini is already sliced and basil is ready to go).  Cover and set aside until dinnertime.  (For best flavor, do not refrigerate.)

5:45 p.m.: Set out hummus, peppers, and pita chips.

6:00 p.m.: Guests arrive!  Make sure everyone has a beverage.

6:15 p.m.: Pre-heat grill on high.

6:30 p.m.: Scrub grill with wire brush.  Lower heat to medium-high.  Cook corn packets according to recipe.  While corn is cooking, slice tomato for burgers and set out caramelized onions, spicy mayo, and any other desired burger condiments. Slice hamburger buns (if they aren’t pre-sliced).  These are good tasks for guests if you want help!🙂

6:50 p.m.: Remove corn packets from grill and set aside.  Lightly oil grill and cook burgers according to recipe (about 4:30 per side).  Place cheddar cheese slices on burgers during last minute of cooking.

7:00 p.m.: Dinner is served!  Let guests assemble their own burgers, and serve with orzo salad and corn.

Once everyone’s food has settled, set store-bought ice cream on the counter for 10 minutes to soften.  Scoop ice cream into store-bought cones to serve. (Or, if you want to put in a little more effort, set up an ice cream bar with bowls, sprinkles, and other toppings.)

Here’s my corn recipe for anyone who wants to give it a try:

Jenny’s Grilled Corn
Serves 6

Ingredients:
6 ears sweet corn
Olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Method:
Remove the husks and silk from the corn.  Place each ear of corn on a large piece of foil.  Brush each ear with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Fold in the sides of the foil and roll around each ear to completely enclose the corn in foil. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat grill to medium-high.  Place corn on grill and cook for 20 minutes, turning occasionally.  Remove foil and serve.

Grilled Corn

This meal was seriously fantastic.  My friend Christopher equated it to restaurant food, which is a wonderful compliment.  The burgers were juicy and deliciously sloppy (have lots of napkins!), the corn was tender and smoky, and the orzo salad was bright and fresh.  I love that the appetizer and dessert courses were so easy thanks to store-bought elements, and the rest of the meal really did require minimal work while my guests were present.  Perfection!  I’ll definitely use this menu again.

TIPS:  Have a vegetarian guest?  Add Balsamic Portobello Burgers with Red Pepper and Goat Cheese or store-bought veggie burgers to the menu.  Also, I feel like a key element of a good burger (meat or veggie) is that the bread doesn’t overwhelm the patty.  I love, love, love SuperTarget’s mini Kaiser rolls (available in the deli section) for this reason; they’re the perfect size.

Recipe links: Niman Ranch Burgers and Orzo and Zucchini Salad

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