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Celebrate dads and grads with delicious backyard barbecue

A grape-leaf wrapped Camembert round cooked on the grill makes a simple, elegant appetizer.
A grape-leaf wrapped Camembert round cooked on the grill makes a simple, elegant appetizer.

With Father’s Day just around the corner and graduation season in full swing, a backyard barbecue is an easy and festive way to entertain. Instead of grilling just the usual burgers and steaks, we’ll show you how to turn up the heat on flavor by adding these mouthwatering items to your grilling menu.

“Just think of what you can do in the oven. You can do it all on the grill. It’s just more fun to cook outside,” said Duane Spurbeck of Falco’s Fireplace and Spa, a Spokane Valley store that sells charcoal, gas and pellet grills. Duane and his wife, Jill, have cooked everything from pineapple to pizza on the grill. All it takes is a little bit of experimentation and imagination.


The Spurbecks prepare pizza for the grill by making it on a stainless steel pizza peel, which looks like a flat paddle with a long handle. Duane Spurbeck dusts the pizza peel with cornmeal and garlic powder first to add flavor and ensure the dough doesn’t stick to the peel. “You can slide the uncooked pizza right onto the grill,” said Duane, who cooks pizza on a pre-heated ceramic baking stone on the grill, but says a cookie sheet would work also.

You can make your own dough, or save time with a frozen crust or buy fresh pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. For an even simpler pizza, pile your favorite toppings on pita bread and place it directly on the grill for just a few minutes until the cheese melts. The result is a no-fuss pizza with a thin, crisp crust and smoky flavor that tastes almost like it came out of a wood-burning pizza oven. Grill a few veggies and some fruit for dessert and you’ll have a meal your guests will love.

Grilled greens

Spokane’s Rock City Grill has a grilled Caesar salad that is popular, according to restaurant manager Steve Wills. “The salad definitely has a smoky flavor to it that seems to work with Caesar dressing. Also the texture of the romaine heart (whole as opposed to chopped) is part of the allure,” Wills said in an email.

Grilling greens like romaine or Belgian endive is simple – just 30 seconds to a minute on the grill. “Another thing that is great is grilled radicchio,” said Anna Vogel, co-owner and chef of Italia Trattoria restaurant. Cut this red, leaf vegetable into wedges, keeping the stem intact in each section. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill for about a minute, turning the wedges constantly. Vogel likes to put warm grilled radicchio in a bowl and add crumbled gorgonzola and a bit of frisée. The cheese melts, making a delicious, smoky salad.

Savory fruit

When it comes to fruit, “There’s all kinds of stuff you can grill,” said Jennifer McClelland, also known as the Fruit Girl for Farm Fresh Fruit in the Spokane Public Market. “Peaches, nectarines, and apricots – they’re fantastic grilled,” McClelland said. Cut them in half, take the pit out and brush them with olive oil and garlic powder. Set them directly on the grill over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes per side. “The fruit lets you know when it’s ready. You’ll smell the sugars as they start to caramelize,” she said.

Cut pineapple into thick ( 3/4-inch) slices so it doesn’t dry out, and baste it with barbecue sauce, or try bananas sliced in thirds lengthwise and sprinkled with lime juice and chile pepper or cinnamon. For a delicious summertime meatless meal, McClelland suggests serving a grilled Portobello mushroom filled with grilled fruit. Rub the mushroom with garlic powder or seasoning salt and then marinate it in Italian dressing for 30 minutes and grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side. Fill with your favorite grilled fruit.

Cheese please

Adding some grilled cheese and rustic bread is a fun way to round out a menu of grilled fruits and vegetables into a complete meal. Halloumi is a Greek cheese, most commonly made from goat and sheep’s milk, that doesn’t melt when it’s heated.

“You can slice it into thick slabs. Salt and pepper is kind of nice,” said Kate Allison, manager of Saunders Cheese Market in Spokane. “I like to drizzle it with balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses (available at Rocket Market),” she said. Grill it for a few minutes on each side until it browns slightly. This mild cheese is great tossed into a salad or served with hearty, flavorful bread.

Don’t forget dessert

Cooking on the grill is a perfect way to make summertime desserts. A medley of grilled fruit served over vanilla ice cream or fruit kebabs drizzled with balsamic vinegar can be an elegant way to finish a meal without heating up the kitchen. Baked apples are fun too, Jill Spurbeck said. “You can fill it with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. It infuses the flavors as the apple bakes,” she said. Set the stuffed apple directly over medium-high heat and cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until the apple is soft.

It’s possible to bake cookies on the grill by placing the cookie dough on a small, metal baking sheet in the center of the grill with the side burners on and bake for 12-15 minutes or until done. Jill Spurbeck also bakes simple pies and quick breads on the grill. “A lot of people think you can’t do that on a barbecue, that it would be too smoky, but it’s not,” she said.

Vogel is adding a new dessert to the menu at Italia Trattoria this summer: grilled cornmeal cake with lemon mascarpone cream and berries. “The cream kind of melts on warm bread. It’s also good with cherries and blackberries,” she said. (See recipe below for a similar dessert.)

Grilled Tomato Bread Salad

Courtesy of Chef Anna Vogel, Italia Trattoria, Spokane

2 large tomatoes cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup torn basil leaves

1 1/2 cup of fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes

2 cups arugula

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tablespoon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 pinches of black pepper

4 large slices of ciabatta, sourdough or focaccia bread, 1-inch thick

Preheat grill to medium high. While the grill is heating, assemble tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, arugula and olives in a large salad bowl. Make the salad dressing by whisking together balsamic, 3/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Brush bread generously with remaining olive oil and grill until tan in color with grill lines – about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove bread from grill, cut into 1-inch cubes and toss bread into remaining ingredients with salad dressing. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Grilled Pound Cake with Strawberries and Lemon Mascarpone Cream

Courtesy of Anna Vogel, Italia Trattoria. A store-bought pound cake makes this impressive dessert easy to assemble.

8 ounces of mascarpone cheese

1/2 lemon, grated zest and juice

1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream

3/4 cup of powdered sugar

1 medium-size loaf of pound cake, sliced into 6 (1-inch) slices

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pint of strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

Preheat the grill to medium-high. While grill is heating prepare the lemon mascarpone by whisking together mascarpone cheese, lemon zest and juice, whipping cream and powdered sugar.

Brush the pound cake slices with olive oil. Grill for 30 to 40 seconds per side, rotating 45 degrees halfway through cooking time to make cross-hatch grill marks on the cake. Watch the cake carefully so it does not burn.

Remove the cake from grill and place on individual plates. Top with lemon mascarpone cream and sliced strawberries.

Yield: 6 servings

Grape Leaf-Wrapped Camembert with Pesto

From Williams-Sonoma’s “Essentials of Grilling.” The heat from the grill melts the cheese while the grape leaves add a subtle briny flavor to this stunning, sumptuous appetizer.

10 large brined grape leaves, rinsed and patted dry

1 small round of Camembert cheese, 10 ounces, well chilled

2 tablespoons basil pesto

Rustic country bread for serving

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Lay four grape leaves, vein side up, on a baking sheet with stems just touching. Center a fifth leaf where the stems touch. Place the Camembert round on the center of the fifth leaf. Spread pesto evenly over the top of the cheese. Fold the tips of the other four leaves up over the cheese. Center a leaf on the cheese and tuck its ends under. Arrange the remaining four leaves, vein side down, atop the cheese with their stems touching center. Tuck the tips of these leaves under the cheese. The leaves should enclose the cheese tightly, with none of its rind exposed.

Place the cheese on the grill rack directly over the heat elements. Cover the grill and cook, turning the cheese once with a spatula, for 4-5 minutes per side. Monitor the cheese carefully; the leaves should char slightly, with no more than a drizzle of cheese escaping. Transfer to serving platter, unwrap carefully and serve with bread.

Yield: 4 servings.

Grilled Caesar Salad

Courtesy of Rock City Grill, Spokane

1 romaine lettuce heart

Caesar dressing

Parmesan cheese

Preheat grill. Cut romaine heart in half, leaving stem intact, and brush with olive oil. Place romaine halves face down on hot grill for 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to plate, charred side up and drizzle with Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese. Serve with a steak knife.

Yield: Serves 1-2.

Kirsten Harrington is a Spokane freelance food writer. She can be reached at kharrington67@