by Debra Caffrey

I once had a family member who was a good cook, but always tried too hard to make each side dish and course as elaborate as the entrée when hosting a holiday or having company. Often it seemed to just end in stress and failed recipes. This person never seemed to get out of that cycle of trying too hard to impress her guests, then ultimately failing anyway by taking too much on. I learned early from these experiences that when cooking for others and entertaining, simple is best! Hosting a holiday or party is not the time to try out fancy new recipes or complicated techniques. The majority of the time, your guests aren’t looking to be impressed by your culinary skills. Everyone just wants to feel comfortable and have a good time.

The general guideline I follow when it comes to hosting a meal for others is to let one dish shine, then keep it super simple with everything else. The way to make your guests feel at ease and relaxed is to provide enough recognizable and down-to-earth food. And the key to making everything delicious is often to concentrate on doing basic items correctly and avoid complicating things! When it’s summertime, having a backyard barbecue is the perfect way to not only get together with family and friends, but also to showcase this “keep it simple” concept. That said, you can still go beyond hamburgers and hot dogs and use the setting as an opportunity to try out some no-fail and no-fuss cookout classics.

My Easy BBQ Chicken is simple to make and hits all the right notes of sweet and savory grilled goodness. It can be the star of the show. Homemade cornbread is much easier to make than you might think and is a great accompaniment to the chicken. And finally, my sweet cole slaw is notoriously loved by everyone, but it’s seriously one of the easiest things I make. I’m revealing my recipes, but more important, the not-so-surprising secret that great home cooking is about simplicity and focusing on the classics. I hope you enjoy these dishes as much as I do!

Easy BBQ Chicken

Serves 4

• 2 teaspoons olive oil
• 1 shallot, minced
• ½ cup ketchup
• 2 tablespoons water
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 4 bone-in chicken leg-thigh quarters, skinned

1) Heat grill to medium high heat.
2) Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté one minute. Stir in ketchup, water, honey and vinegar. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
3) Sprinkle garlic powder over chicken and lightly salt and pepper. Place chicken on grill lightly coated with cooking spray and grill until done, approximately 15 minutes on each side.
4) Baste generously with sauce, grill one more minute, and then turn over and baste again, and grill over side for 1 minute.

Debra’s To-Die-For Coleslaw

Serves 4

• 1 (16 oz) bag coleslaw mix
• 1 small onion, diced
• 2/3 cup light mayonnaise
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/3 cup white sugar
• 1 tablespoon white vinegar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon poppy seeds

1) Combine mayonnaise, oil, sugar, vinegar, salt and poppy seeds in large mixing bowl, whisking until thoroughly combined and sugar is dissolved. Add coleslaw mix and onion, and toss gently to combine.

Super Simple Homemade Cornbread:

Serves 6

• 1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal
• 1 cup flour
• ¼ cup sugar
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup milk
• 1 egg, beaten
• ¼ cup vegetable oil

1) Heat oven 425 F.
2) In a mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly. Add milk, egg and oil. Whisk until blended.
3) Pour into 8×8 greased pan. Bake about 25 minutes or until golden brown.