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.
Instructions
  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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Salad Days with the Meadballs

More than half of the Meadballs gathered this weekend in Erie for the annual Camp Cousins. My daughter was born during one of these gatherings 15 years ago.

But as the kids get older, their schedules become more complicated. The eldest is 18 and the youngest is 13. They live in New York, Virginia, and St. Louis, Mo. You can’t just haul them around wherever and whenever you want to go anymore.

I’m thankful for any opportunity to see the Meadballs, v2 (we are the originals) have a blast in Lake Erie and catch up. Although with SnapChat, etc., they stay in touch with one another pretty regularly.

As a result, I was also thankful for a slow start to Meadballs Meals. But now I’m ready to serve.

A couple of people have commented that this seems like work.

Indeed, it is work. But it is work I enjoy. It is work to go on vacation – you need to plan, pack, and do. Then you come home and pay the bills and do laundry. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to go on vacation. Sometimes doing what you love requires a little hard work.

Are there parts I do not like? You bet. I do not like the dishes. I do not like that I do not have a mechanical dishwasher. The dishwasher is me. Why? Because commercial dishwashers are expensive and complicated. And I am neither (some ex-boyfriends may disagree, but that’s another issue).

Are there parts I adore? Absolutely. I love the challenge of going to the farms and seeing what is seasonal – and then having to come up with a plan. This engages both the math side of my brain (portions, measurements, multiplying, etc) and the creative side (will it taste good, be pretty). And then there are the logistics. Some recipes I know from experience must be made and served immediately. There’s nothing like a poached egg served on a bed of roasted vegetables and topped with hot peppers and cheese – now that’s comfort food. But it won’t make it out of the kitchen, into the cooler, and to your doorstep.

That’s the experience I have from cooking for the past 45 years.

That’s a lot of cooking. But I”m always intrigued by new possibilities and combinations. Twenty years ago I never would have made an Asian chicken salad with tahini and toasted ramen. Yet that was on the menu last week. This week I will feature a flank steak with nectarines; and a flatbread with figs.

Some of these inspirations come from traveling to Italy, Greece, France, and Spain. Some are courtesy of the millions of experimental cooks sharing recipes on the Web.

The possibilities are endless. And that’s what I’m loving right now.

That – and all those little Meadballs growing up.

Didi and Pater surrounded by (clockwise from top) Jack Mead, William Hickey, Nicole Mead Oberle, Emily Mead, and David Mead. Missing are James Hickey, Michael Mead, and Alexandra Mead.

XOXOXO

Order soon!

Marnie

Marnie@Meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Thai Chicken Salad
The original recipe calls for almonds and peanut butter, but because of nut allergies in my family, I substituted toasted ramen noodles or sunflower seeds for the almond topping and tahini paste for the peanut butter.
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Add oil to a small skillet over medium heat. Add the broken up (really break these up) ramen noodles. Cook, stirring, until toasted. Remove from heat. If you are going to make this dish ahead, store cooked ramen in an airtight container, and add them just before serving.
  2. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, tahini, soy suace, honey, fish sauce or Braggs, rice vinegar, and chili garlic sauce. If you are just using hot sauce, I suggest you mince a clove or 2 of garlic and add that. Mix well. If it is too thick, add a little water. Taste and adjust seasonings (like more soy or lime).
  3. Toss chicken with about 1/3 of the dressing.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the cabbages, carrot, onion, and cilantro. Pour the remaining dressing over this and toss to combine. Serve on plates. Top with chicken, and then ramen noodles. If you have any leftover cilantro, use it to garnish.
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Fridge Monster Spits out Cherries from Freezer

My excuse is I have a very small kitchen. That’s my excuse for just about everything. Like why when you open the fridge door does it look like a wall of food. The same with the pantry door.

My excuse is I can stand in the middle of my kitchen and touch the sink, stove, counter island, and fridge (but not the pantry).

But the truth is, if the kitchen was bigger, it would still be the same. I’d just have a bigger fridge with even more stuff in it. And a bigger pantry with more things in it.

My daughter opens the fridge door, stares at all the full shelves and declares there is nothing to eat.

Of course there’s nothing to eat because the fridge is full of fruits, vegetables, and condiments, like four kinds of mustard and a similar number of hot sauces. There are jars of green, and red curry pastes; red, and white miso; chili sauce, black bean sauce, hoisin sauce; ketchup, regular mustard, and pickle relish; red salsa, green salsa, guacamole; Worcestershire sauce, horseradish; and enough jams to host the queen’s birthday tea party.

There are multiple varieties of carrots, bok choy, Napa cabbage, lettuce, peppers, leeks, onions, cucumbers, a mango, oranges, lemons, limes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and pineapple in there.

And, of course, there is butter, creamers, coconut milk, anchovies, preserved lemons, various bouillon, waters, and lots of homemade salad dressings in various quantities.

There is no milk.

I need to get some.

The pantry has no fewer than four types of rice noodles; five kinds of rice; various pastas too numerous to list; most kinds of flour; vinegars of various countries; every kind of food coloring; golden syrup, molasses, Karo; nuts, lots of nuts; baking chips of many flavors; brownie mixes; and half a bag of chips. And a bunch of other stuff that I have to use a flashlight to find.

My daughter likes to stand in front of the cupboard and shake her head in disgust.

She does not bake.

I have all of these things because I grew up in a house with two brothers. Food barely made it into the refrigerator before it disappeared. I baked because cookies lasted a nanosecond in our house.  I baked when I went to college because it was cheaper than going to the bakery. The same with cooking. By my sophomore year, I lived in an apartment. In Boston. It is not cheap to eat out in Boston. But Boston had great markets. I would take the T (public transport) to the North End and come home with bags (also on the T) filled with fresh vegetables, bread, and meats. And shove them into an apartment-sized refrigerator. Sometimes I had more than fit into the refrigerator, which meant I would go on a cooking binge. Of course, the freezer wasn’t very large either. But it only usually had ice and ice cream.

So, clearly I have a problem. This summer, when I start Meadballs as a dinner service, I will have to use a rented commercial kitchen. The concept is fresh seasonal foods. My pantry will need to be minimal, since space will be at a premium. That won’t be too difficult since the fresh vegetables will be the star, condiments will be in supporting roles.

There are times when you can turn take fresh fruits and preserve their natural flavors to use at other times of the year. This week I made some room in my freezer by pulling out a bag of frozen local sour cherries. Instead of something sweet, I turned them into an accompaniment to a pork loin roast that I had grilled. In my case, I roasted the cherries to concentrate the natural sugars, then adapted a recipe from Laurel in Philadelphia to create a conserve by adding them to a mixture of brown sugar, vinegar, miso, mustard, garlic, and port to kick dinner’s butt. Combined with roasted broccoli, this dinner was a great.

You don’t have to have sour cherries in the freezer to make this – all you need is some sour cherry preserves, which is in most grocery stores either with the jams and jellies or in the specialty food aisle.

This will turn grilled pork chops or chicken into a special dinner on a weeknight.

It will certainly be on my menu when the cherry season arrives.

Tastefully yours,

Marnie

Marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Sour Cherry Sauce with Mustard and Miso
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add the shallot and garlic; cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the jam, vinegar, miso, mustard, water, and Port. Bring to a simmer,k stirring until all of the water and Pork have been reduced and all you have is a thick jam - 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool. Stir in 
a a tablepoon water if too thick.

  2. Can be stored in the fridge for about a week.
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Tacos are on the Money

There’s a certain weirdness to going on the air of a radio station and knowing that the listeners are going to hate you. And getting up really early to do it. And doing it – voluntarily – for 3 hours.

Yet, Pam Parker – editor of Lake Erie LifeStyle magazine and Her Times magazine – and I have been joining Tom New, president of WQLN Public Media, for the spring fundraising drive for nearly a decade.

Yep. Nearly 10 years of begging for money on the air.

It’s a privilege and a pain.

Privilege because even though I spent most of my adult life in the for-profit end of the media business, I have been a supporter of public media since shortly after I had enough left from my paycheck to support something other than myself. I know that bringing news and entertainment to the public is not free – even thought listeners and watchers don’t pay for it like they do for the newspaper (my prior employers).

So if you listen or watch this bright, smart, sometimes funny, often interesting, programming – then I think you should pay for it. The government does not fund your local public radio station or TV station – more than 85 percent of that money comes directly from you. So, if you don’t listen or watch, then don’t give.

I get it.

But if you do, then go to WQLN.org.

Enough preaching.

While you are listening to Pam, Tom, and I ask you for money on Monday morning, we know you don’t like us to interrupt your programming. So we know we have to be chirpy and bright despite knowing you really don’t like us.

And we like to be liked.

So we get really enthusiastic when the phone rings. Or donations come in through the web site. Some years, the phones ring – especially after 7 a.m. (we start at 6 a.m.). Other years, it’s so quiet we can hear the spring peepers outside.

This year was a little on the peeper side. But we also came into the campaign with about $47,000 already in the bank courtesy of people in the sustainer category – they commit to annual giving via a credit or debit card in monthly installments. It’s easy for both the giver and WQLN. I think of it like my Netflix subscription. I pay for that each month on my bank card – why not public media. Plus it gives me access to past programming.

Needless to say, I’m a big fan. Plus I serve on the WQLN board of directors.

But it’s pretty exhausting on the air begging for money from 6 to 9 a.m. Even if you love the people you are on the air with.

By 5 p.m., all I wanted to do was take a nap. But, that’s the dinner hour. And I have a 14-year-old to feed healthy food.

Tacos are friend to moms everywhere. They can be a nutritional nightmare of grease, cheese, and sour cream. Or you can replace the ground beef with chicken thighs, and add more fruits and veggies.

This recipe takes advantage of things i keep in the house. I always have some chicken thighs in the freezer because they cook quickly when chopped, are protein heavy, and are very versatile. Taco seasoning is in my cupboard always, as are pineapple fruit cups, because they are easy to pack for lunch, add to a salad, or mix with yogurt or cottage cheese. In this recipe, you’ll use the pineapple liquid to cook the chicken.

Salsa verde is in the fridge, as are some form of tortilla or flatbread wrap. Peppers and onions are usually hanging out in the crisper.

I also keep avocados around because they add a vegetable to a sandwich or snack — making them just a little healthier.

In less than 25 minutes, you’ll wind up with this beauty – which is a whole lot tastier than takeout tacos.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

After dinner, I took the dog for a stroll and then hit the sack.

Dreaming, all the night, about selling tacos to raise money for public broadcasting.

Please give. I need to sleep.

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Chicken Thigh Tacos with Pineapple Avocado Salsa
Course dinner
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dinner
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Drain and reserve pineapple juice. In a small bowl, mash avocado. Add pineapple bits, salsa verde, cilantro and 1 tablespoon of minced red onion. Set aside.
  2. In a medium to large saute pan, add 1 tablespoon of the canola oil. Add sliced onion and red peppers. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Saute until onion is soft and slightly caramelized. This will take about 10 minutes or longer. Add more oil if needed. Remove from heat and place into a bowl.
  3. Toss chicken thighs with taco seasoning.
  4. Add remaining oil to pan and, over medium heat, add chicken thighs. Cook until done, about 3 minutes. Stir in reserved pineapple juice. Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until juice is mostly evaporated. Remove from heat.
  5. To prepare: Arrange tortillas on plates (1 or 2 per plate, depending on size). Top with each with equal amounts of radish slices, chicken, onion and pepper mixture, then pineapple salsa. Serve. divide equally among the tortilla shells.
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