Spring tips for grilling season

The goslings are in the creek. The fish are spawning. The daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips are up. The tomato seedlings are getting ready for transplant. The radishes and lettuces are sprouting.  I’d say the sun was out, but that may be stretching the truth a bit in Erie. And the Golden Snowglobe contest is finally over.

Spring is here. Erie won.

My non-competitive nature could give a hoot about the latter. I’m ecstatic about the former.

I’m a spring kind of gal. I was born in the spring. I’m like a plant. I thrive on sun, water, and warmth. If I never wear another pair of jeans, turtleneck, or sweater again, I will be a happy camper. That’s because I’m a dress and skort kind of gal. Goes with spring, summer, and even parts of fall.

I’m also a grill kind a gal. Give me fire and I’m a happy cooker. I cook with both the Big Green Egg (charcoal) and a gas grill. Depends on my mood. And tastes.

I have lots of toys for winter cooking. Each year I add another (or two). In the fall I added the InstaPot. Makes a mean broth, mushroom risotto, beans, and more. Sous vide cooking (hot water bath) was also a hit. Makes an awesome poached chicken and salmon. Both devices require little attending (the sous vide even works off an app on my phone).

Yet nothing gives me more cooking joy than fire – whether it be for fish, steak, chicken, pork, lamb, or even vegetables. I make a really mean grilled ratatouille. And pizza. And cobblers.

Each year I’m honored Karen Duran asks me to be a judge for Duran’s Down Home Days Cast Iron Cookoff at the Waterford Fair Grounds – May 19 and 20. The teams cook over an open fire in various categories over the two days – vegetable, dessert, protein, etc – using secret ingredients they find out on cooking day. The competitors are amazingly creative in their use of the secret ingredient (some coming up with 3 variations on one plate) and their dedication. One year it snowed.

5  tips for cooking protein over an open fire:

  1. Pound your chicken breasts so they are uniformly thick, about 3/4 of an inch.
  2. Brine your chicken, turkey, or pork. The night before, fill a zip baggie with 1/3 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup sugar in 2 quarts  water (Serious Eats). You can add seasonings like lemon, rosemary, thyme, peppercorns. Add your chicken or pork (this works for about 2 pounds) for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. Remove from brine and pat dry about a half hour before cooking. Brush with a neutral oil. You can add a rub at this point.
  3.  For steaks, I like to  dry brine/r. You can read more about it here and  here.I rub the steaks with salt and pepper (or seasoned salt and pepper).  Place on a rack on a baking sheet (or a plate) uncovered in the refrigerator the night before cooking (ideally 24 to 72 hours). Alton Brown wraps his in paper towels and does this 4 days before cooking. I rarely think that far ahead. Remove from fridge 30 to 60 minutes before grilling.
  4. For fish steaks (tuna, swordfish, salmon steaks), make sure it is well oiled. I like a semi-neutral-flavored oil like sunflower/olive oil blend. Or use canola oil. Do not use extra-virgin olive oil because that is not for grilling. I do not use “vegetable” oil because that is soy based and I’m sensitive to soy. For traditional oven-baked fish, I will also use the grill (keeps the smell outside and adds a little extra flavor.) Just cook it on a sheet of heavy-foil with the edges folded or crimped up to keep the juices from running out.
  5. Use a timer. Yes. I use a timer and I’ve been doing this for nearly 4 decades. Cooking times depend on thickness and the protein. In general, I flip after 5 minutes. I then cook another 3 to 5 more minutes. A thermometer will be your best bet for telling the doneness of chicken (technically 165 degrees), but if you take a knife point to the middle of a chicken breast and insert about 1/4 inch – see if the juices run clear. That’s a good sign.

I’m a huge fan of an espresso rubbed grilled steak – sliced – and then served on top of a salad. It’s a sure taste of spring. You can buy the rub – or make this one from Ina Garten.

You can find as many different recipes for grilled steak as there are for grilling it. I’m a big fan of direct heat, high, on both sides. You do need to be mindful because if you are cooking a ribeye or New York strip with a nice fat ratio, you might get grill flare ups. Best to stand by so your steak isn’t cooked beyond repair.

3 tips for steaks

  1. Don’t poke when grilling. Or squish. Or squash.
  2. Flip once.
  3. Don’t cut until the steak has rested for 5 minutes. This allows the meat to settle, relax, and retain those lovely juices.
Print Recipe
Grilled Steak Salad with Espresso Rub
Follow this recipe to grill steak. Then slice thin over your favorite greens, along with some cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, cucumber. Blue cheese crumbles are also an option. A drizzle with balsamic vinegar and some olive oil completes the salad. A loaf of fresh bread rounds out your meal.
  1. Sprinkle kosher salt on both sides of each steak. Not so much that is is encrusted. Think at least 1 teaspoon - remember kosher or sea salt, not table salt. Grind fresh pepper on both sides. Place on a rack over a plate or pan lined with foil. Put in refrigerator 24 to 72 hours before cooking. Do not cover.
  2. Remove steaks from refrigerator about an hour before cooking. Brush steaks with canola oil (or any neutral oil) on both sides. Rub each steak with about 1 tablespoon of the espresso rub. All to sit at room temperature while you prepare your grill.
  3. Over high heat, grill steaks on one side for about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare (an internal temperature of 135 degrees F), 5 to 7 minutes for medium (140 degrees F) or 8 to 10 minutes for medium-well (150 degrees F).
  4. Remove from grill. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing thin.
  5. In the meantime. Place a mound of greens in the middle of each plate. Arrange cucumber, tomato, onion slices around the outer edge of the greens. Top with sliced steak, pouring any additional juices on top.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles if desired.
  7. Enjoy!
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Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

Meadballs is in full-blown under-construction mode. I’m testing recipes and the all things online are testing my patience.

Fortunately, the contractor are busily working away in the basement doing their thing. The lights are in. The plumbing is, well, plumbed. The painter will be here this weekend. The floors will be done next week.

Curtze Foods has me set up as an account. And the equipment ordered by A. Caplan should be on the truck tomorrow.

Food and construction I can deal with. All things related to the Internet, web sites, e-mail lists, marketing, etc., are making me crazy.

Yes, I am already crazy to be starting a business, especially one in food. But anyone who knows me knows that is my kind of crazy. It’s creative. It’s uncertain at times. But I make making something.

With most things technology oriented, I know enough to make a mess. I broke my own rule and didn’t check whether the subscribe button actually worked. I put all the links it. Looked at it on the page, but never checked.

As a result, I cannot subscribe to an e-mail update to my blog. And neither could my mother. Or other people who politely asked me if I had stopped blogging.

Six hours online with various help desks yielded what I hope to be a fix. At one point, a helpful chat assistant asked me if I was the web developer. I just about spit out my Diet Coke. Of course, at that point I kind of looked like one. I hadn’t showered. I had been mainlining coffee and Diet Coke nonstop for hours. My eyes were bloodshot. And the pinched nerve in my neck was throbbing again.

If websites weren’t so useful I would have shot mine. And chucked the computer out the window.

But this is a new week. And I have close to 16 hours into trying to fix this thing. Yes, I am the web developer. And chief cook and bottle washer. And marketing director – which involved another 4 hours uploading logos for merchandise to see how it would look. And half the time the resizing tool wouldn’t work, so my bags were all going to read Meadballs, without the website or phone number.


Eventually, I got it. The merch should arrive next week. Patience. Try a new browser. Refresh. Walk away and water the tomatoes. Go to yoga. Lots of yoga.

As a result, this website won’t be an e-commerce site until I can be sure it will work. You will have to either talk or text me and I will have to talk or text back. I will be able to take payments via PayPal or using the Square (weekend project) so debit or credit will be available. But I’m not going to leave you hanging on trying to load a credit card on this website.

Because I tried that last week with both LECOM and the New York Times, when my automatic payments failed due to a new debit card. But after 90 minutes trying to load my CC # into the LECOM site, and another 30 with the NYT – I gave up. Two days later the NYT site took my card. I had to go to LECOM and hand it to a person to finally get my membership paid up.

My parents did not raise a fool. If two respected businesses have hitches in their online card services, I can only imagine mine.

And as web developer, chief cook, driver, and I have no desire to be the online accounting manager too.

So we will start small.

In the meantime, I tested a new salad with friends Rebecca Styn and Kate McCune-Nash (who runs a gorgeous CSA for flowers in Erie out of her lovely home, 402 Nectar).

It makes use of a bounty of bok choy from Post Apples CSA in North East.


Stay cool. Enjoy your veggies. And think about heading out to the Cherry Festival in North East this weekend for some of the best pie you’ll taste this summer (unless it’s one of mine).



Print Recipe
Bok Choy Ramen Salad
Course lunch, Salad, side dish
Cuisine American, Asian
Course lunch, Salad, side dish
Cuisine American, Asian
  1. Dressing: In a small bowl whisk together combine brown sugar, olive oil, vinegar, tahini, and soy sauce. Allow flavors to blend at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  2. Salad: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat until shimmering. Reduce heat to low. Add ramen noodles and sunflower seeds. Toast, stirring so they don't burn, for about 5 to 10 minutes,
  3. In a large bowl, combine baby bok choy, scallions, and ramen mix. Drizzle salad dressing over the top and toss until uniformly combined. Serve at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from CulinaryHill.com

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CSA Challenge for Meadballs, Week 1

Starting a business – or any project, really – is a lot like gardening. You plant a seed, tend to it – water, fertilizer, good light – and it grows. Ignore it, even for a couple of days, and it could die, or weaken to the point where it will never be as fruitful.

Same with a project or business. You can have the greatest idea, but it needs tending or it will never sprout. Meadballs is my little seed. My hope is that it grows so I can use local products to make you dinner, delivered. You get three at a time – which you can eat right away, put in the fridge for another day, or possibly freeze.

For quite a few months, Meadballs was just a little seed in a packet. Every time I thought I could plant it somewhere, it just didn’t work out. If you’ve ever been an over-anxious gardener and plopped a plant in the ground – only to watch it struggle to survive, then you will understand. Before you plant something, you need to understand if it gets enough light, if the ground needs amending, or even if the hose reaches. I have a rhododendron facing that fate. I bought the condo in February and planted that poor bush in May. Neither the soil nor the light is right. I’m working to amend the soil, but it takes more work than if I had done it correctly the first time.

But now I have done the work to get the right location for Meadballs. The Erie County Department of Health has signed off on the beginning of construction of the new kitchen. I met with Keegan Leehan of South One on Monday and went over the details – gasp – of the plumbing, electrical, etc., work to be done. Plus the appliance costs. I think my parents first home in Erie cost less.


I’m following the advice of fellow small business owners and I’m not borrowing to do this. When I plant a garden, I only plant what I can manage. If my bounty is in excess of what I can eat, then I consider the hard work and the believe I was blessed by weather. But I don’t count on that happening every year.

Just a variation of you reap what you sow. And I don’t want to be sowing with someone else’s money right now.

So the construction will begin. And I will have firm dates within a week. And I want to thank everyone who is patiently waiting for my garden to grow.

In the meantime, the farm where most of my produce will come from has started delivering. The first weeks are always slow – and now we are experiencing a lot of rain and cool temperatures, which will slow things down a bit. Even my own tomato plants, which were growing overnight, have stalled with the lack of warmth and sunshine.

The CSA basket from Post Farms contained mostly green items: Lettuce, garlic scapes, collard greens, kale, and some purple potatoes left from last season. (The potatoes were perfectly fine and cooked up deliciously.)

Each week is a challenge. These are the practice weeks before I start cooking for you. I will get a basket of seasonal foods from the farm, and then be challenged to create three meals for you.

It’s terribly exciting.

I get the baskets on Thursdays. So deliveries will begin on Mondays (nobody likes cooking on Mondays, right?).

This week I took the ingredients and created: Enchiladas wrapped in collard greens and filled with sausage and onions; garlic scape (that curly guy in the lower right corner of the photo) and kale pesto, which I tossed with some homemade pasta and topped with seared scallops; chicken gyros salad wrapped in red lettuce leaves; and purple potatoes with greens and garlic (and served with grilled chicken breast).

The most challenging dish was what to do with collard greens – other than the traditional long cooking with ham or bacon. It became my favorite dish because it was creative and really tasty. The filling included sausage from Urbaniaks, a sweet onion, black beans, and salsa. The red enchilada sauce is from CookieandKate.com.

My parents served as testers this week. And the greens come Didi approved, which is saying a lot because my mother isn’t a fan of greens. Others will get a chance to serve as test kitchen subjects, including Jennifer Smith, Pam Parker, Rebecca Styn, Kate McCune Nash, and others.

The seed is being planted. I can’t wait for you to taste the fruits of this labor.




Print Recipe
Red Enchilada Sauce
Mise en place - meaning get your ingredients together and ready to use - is an important part of this recipe.
  1. Put dry ingredients - the flour, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and cinnamon - into a small bowl. Stir with a fork. Set bowl near the stove. Have tomato paste and broth ready.
  2. In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, warm the oil until it’s it’s hot enough - you will see the oil slightly ripple and give off heat. Check with a sprinkle of the flour/spice mixture - it should sizzle.
  3. Add the remaining mixture. Whisk constantly until toasted, about 1 minute. Whisk in tomato paste. Slowly pour in the broth - whisking constantly to remove any lumps.
  4. Raise heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, whisking, for about 5 to 7 minutes, until it has thickened. Reduce heat if the mixture begins to boil instead of gently simmering.
  5. Remove from heat; whisk in the vinegar. Allow to cool and taste, adjusting with more salt and pepper if needed.
Recipe Notes
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When a Life is Like a Honeydew

OK – this blog is going to sound a little self-helpy. But everyone can use a dash of it now and again – and I promise it pertains to food, too. So bear with me.

The basic premise is this – sometimes we let perceptions dictate our lives. And as a result we can lose out on things.

I’ve ended more than one relationship when I realize – often a little later than would be good for me – that I was allowing myself to be molded by significant others into an idealized perception. Typically, this shows up when I mention something that crosses my partner’s comfort threshold. It could be musing about a day hike of the Appalachian Trail, whitewater rafting, or trying a new restaurant that’s a 45 minute drive.

Friends who get me will answer, “What makes you want to do that?”

It’s over when I hear: “You wouldn’t like/do that.”

What’s the difference? One is curious response about what makes me tick. The other has put me in a box with a label.

And I do not like labels, unless they include words like kind, adventurous …

As a woman who has been on a self-reflective journey for the past dozen years – more than half of them sober – I know to pause and wonder why someone is starting a statement that starts with “You.”  For one, it puts people on the defensive, immediately.

There’s a whole psychology behind You Statements vs I Statements. The crux is don’t push your own feelings off on someone else. Own them. It’s one thing to say, “I” wouldn’t like to spend a day hiking – OK, I can empathize with that. But please don’t tell me I don’t want to. Because I do. And I spent 20 years in a relationship where someone kept telling me what I did and didn’t like – to the point where I believed it. And that didn’t work out so well for me.

My parents, who have witnessed me hauling my sorry butt up from the depths of various misadventures, might have the authority to invoke a You Statement now and again. But they’ve also witnessed me hauling that same sorry tail through recovery and up a few mountains, across a few oceans, and wading through single parenting (one of the biggest adventures in life). So they like to start with, “I would like it if you would consider …” before I go ziplining off the Eiffel Tower (which I did not do because this would not be a good example for my 14-year-old).

My parents have also been along for quite a few of my culinary calamities, including the all-garlic dinner that left us reeking for days. Literally, we were emitting garlic from our every pore for three days.

They’ve also watched my journey into to my 50s, and how it has been about managing perceptions and taking control of what I can. My parents want happy, healthy children (4) and grandchildren (8).  All of us have different criteria for happy and healthy. Mine comes with a big dog, long walks, travel, gardening, and experimenting in the kitchen. It may not come with a husband, a job with benefits and regular hours, or a size 4 wardrobe.

So what does this have to do with food? Letting perceptions limit your experiences has a lot to do with just about everything in life, including melons.

The honeydew has been among my least favorite melons. It’s green. It’s often just a filler in fruit salad – frequently the least flavorful of the ingredients.  When I was growing up, it was diet food, filled with cottage cheese. In short, it was not on my Wegmans list.

Then I discovered a recipe for a cucumber and honeydew salad on Pinterest. Cubed honeydew is tossed with peeled, seeded, cubed cucumber and sliced red onion, mint, basil, and dill. It is dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and (optional) honey and/or mustard. Suddenly this melon has moved from breakfast filler to salad star. It’s great with just about any summer dish, but pairs well with any grilled meat. It holds up well in the fridge, making it super for a refreshing summer snack or quick lunch.

I’m in love with honeydew now. All because my perception changed.

The honeydew went from second-rate breakfast dish to a summer staple for salads. All because I could look at it differently – and be flexible. Sometimes it is super sweet – in that case I just squeeze some lemon juice on top and mix in some mint and basil. Sometimes I put in a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. If it is more on the bland side, then it gets the onion and dill. Then dressing goes into a bowl – lemon, mustard, honey, salt, pepper – and whisked. Then it is tossed with the melon and cucumber, and finally finished with some extra-virgin olive oil.

The secret to picking the right melon?  That’s a tough one. It’s not unlike dating – you can’t always tell from the outside. Labels don’t help either. I’ve had organic duds too. Thumping is useless. You just have to hold one, look for any soft spots, and take a whiff at the end where the stem was attached. If it smells sweet, then you have a winner.

If this worked for dating, I’d be giving seminars by now. Although an occasional thunk to see if a head is soft might not be a bad idea …

Melons are good for any just about any diet out there – paleo, Whole 30, WW, etc. Can’t say the same about boyfriends.





Print Recipe
Herbed Honeydew Cucumber Salad
Course lunch, Salad, side dish
Cuisine American
Course lunch, Salad, side dish
Cuisine American
  1. Whisk together dressing ingredients until blended. If honeydew is sweet, don't use mustard.
  2. Set aside.
  3. Cut melon in half; remove seeds. Then cut into quarters. Slide a knife between the sweet fruit and the rind. Remove rind. Cut fruit into chunks, Add to bowl. Cut peeled and seeded cucumber into chunks and add to bowl. If you are preparing this ahead of time, add mint and cover and chill.
  4. Before serving, add onion, remaining herbs, and dressing. Toss to mix and serve.
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