Saturday, July 12, 2014

SUMMER GRILLING: had me a blast!

While it might be too hot to cook in the kitchen, summer grilling is never a problem. Now days, with the super grills they sell, you can cook or bake just about anything outdoors. But even if all you have at your disposal is a tabletop charcoal grill, you can still be the top chef in the neighborhood.

People grill pizza and veggies, but the number one food to grill is meat. If that is what you plan to do, you should marinate your meat.

Marinades add flavor and moisture to meat, plus help break down the tissue, making the meat tender. There are countless marinades, but if you examine them, they all contain three basic elements: fat, acid and seasoning. How you want the meat to taste will determine the ingredients you’ll use.

These do three things in a marinade: Help transfer flavors in the meat, helps the meat retain moisture, and helps balance the acidic component. Most common fats used: Cooking oils (canola, vegetable and EVOO), coconut oil and even full fat yogurts.

Like fats, acids do several things to the meat: helps flavor penetrate the meat, breaks down the connective tissues to tenderize it, balances the flavor profile, and can add zing and freshness to the flavor.  Examples of acids in marinades are: citrus juices (lemons, limes, and oranges), wine, vinegar, yogurt and buttermilk.

The most important component in your marinade is the seasoning. With endless possibilities, here are some basics to consider. Use salt and pepper. Salt magnifies other flavors. Try using sea salt or soy sauce. If you want a little heat, think about chili peppers or hot sauce.
Aromatics are also important. Garlic, onions and shallots add the base. Herbs and spices add an extra layer of flavor. Remember to mince or finely chop onions shallots and garlic for better flavor.

If you want more of a citrus flavor without adding more acid, use the zest. And don’t waste the fruit! Slice them and toss into the marinade.

Add a little sweetness. The most common sugar additives are: honey, brown sugar, and molasses. If adding a lot of sugar, remember to grill in a lower heat so the sugar sears the meat, but doesn’t burn causing a bitter flavor.

How much to use? That’s a matter of personal taste, but the ratio of oil to acid is generally 3:1. The seasonings are a matter of taste, too.

Finally, unless you have a tough cut of meat, several hours is sufficient to marinate meat. Some cuts of meat break down faster. You don’t want grilled mush!


GREEK: oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic and oregano.

ASIAN: soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, garlic; minced ginger, honey, and if you want heat, red pepper flakes.

TANDOORI:  yogurt, oil, lemon juice, garlic, chopped chilies, fresh cilantro, cumin, curry paste, tomato puree.

STEAK: strong brewed black coffee, Dijon mustard, garlic, shallots, balsamic vinegar, oil, brown sugar, salt, black pepper

FRENCH: oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, tarragon, oregano.

ITALIAN: olive oil, vinegar, garlic, onions, salt and pepper, basil, oregano, dash cloves, sugar, tomato puree, red pepper flakes.

CHICKEN: oil, buttermilk, salt, pepper, parsley, chopped sage.

BBQ: Dr. Pepper/Cola/Root Beer, minced garlic, hot sauce, olive oil, soy sauce, onion, ground black pepper, lemon juice.

Friday, April 11, 2014



     We have slushed and plowed our way through winter. As spring breaks on the horizon, our thoughts turn toward growing greenery outside, specifically the garden.Now is the time for planning.
     In order to enjoy an early crop, as soon as the weather breaks, cool weather seeds like spinach and leaf lettuce can be planted. Stagger the sowing and you’ll have a steady stream of salad greens all summer into fall.
     Other seeds can be started indoors as early as March so they will be strong enough for transplanting outdoors after the last frost. The most common seeds started are peppers and tomatoes.
     If indoor space is not an issue, go to your local home and garden supply store and invest in a good starter soil mix with vermiculite and covered trays. Or buy dry peat pellets. They come in a kit or as refills and must be soaked in water before using. The kits come with clear lids which act as a greenhouse, keeping moisture contained for the seeds to germinate.
     If indoor space is an issue, it’s best to purchase ground ready plants from nurseries or greenhouses.
     Outdoors, like indoors also must be considered for the garden. The most important rule of thumb is NOT to ignore the sowing spacing requirements on the plant id tags. If it says eighteen inches apart, they mean it! When planted, the baby plants may look lost planted eighteen inches apart in rows 24 inches apart. But when full grown, they will fill the space and more.
     Other factors to consider are sunlight, drainage, soil type and fertilizer.
     If you don’t have a spacious yard, consider planting in containers or hanging planters. You’ve seen the infomercials for the upside down tomato planters. They also have the same container for peppers. Do you like strawberries? Get a few plants and make a hanging basket.
     For obvious reasons, planting zucchini or pole beans on a patio just won’t work. For most vegetables, there are dwarf or bush varieties:  Patio Tomatoes, bush beans, and some cucumbers. Leaf lettuce, spinach and green onions do well on patios.
     One of the most creative planters I’ve seen was made out of section of (new and clean) aluminum gutters.  This works ideally attached to a fence or the side of a garage. Chained together and it can hang under a patio roof. Measure the length of gutter you want. Securely attach the end pieces and drill drainage holes. Secure it to the fence or wall and you’re ready to go. If you want several layers, you’ll need a strong, but light weight chain. The shorter the gutter sections, the fewer supports you’ll need. Just be sure they are far enough apart (height wise) for the plants to grow unencumbered.
     Should you make the gutter planter, just remember there are only a couple inches for the roots to grow.  Leaf lettuce, baby spinach and green onions work great.
     Starting the garden takes work, but the payoff is more than worth it when you can harvest a salad from your back yard.