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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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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Simple Skillet Supper: Pork Chop with Cranberry, Onion Compote

My brother’s favorite meal – when he had a choice – was pork chops. He especially liked the Shake’N Bake barbecue kind. In the decades since then, he’s become a much more masterful chef. One of his specialties these days is a leg of lamb.

A leg of lamb, of course, takes a fair amount of time to prepare. It is best for a Sunday dinner with company, not a weeknight with your spouse and/or children.

Ah, but pork chops are perfect for a winter night’s dinner in a hurry.

Because I love food, and would travel to many parts of the world to taste it, some people think dinner is something easy for me. I wish I had a magic wand to wave and there would be an inspired dinner before me. In my life before parenthood, I would spend evenings and weekends gleaning magazines and cookbooks for menu ideas. I’d put together a menu for a week. I’d shop the menu. Cook the menu. And praise be the menu.

But then I had a baby. That was more than 14 years ago. I’ve had the occasional menu since then. Usually when traveling with family, friends, or at the beginning of the year as a New Year promise.

Post-parenthood, knowing what I will do tomorrow night is a challenge. Indeed, knowing about tonight is a challenge. Tonight I need to pick the dog up from the vet at 6:30 p.m. He’s had surgery and the animal hospital is on the other side of the county – so the drive, pickup (with care directions), and return home will be 90 minutes. My daughter came home from school and wants to go to a basketball game at 7 p.m. – smack dab in the middle of dog duty. Because the dog was having a tumor removed, I couldn’t plan. Or wouldn’t plan. It was a paralysis. If I focused all my energy on wishing Bobo to successfully come through surgery, then I didn’t have any brain power left for dinner.

And so it goes.

So tonight, like many nights, comes from the cupboard. I do keep pork chops and chicken breasts in the freezer. You can defrost them under cold running water relatively quickly (pork chop more easily than chicken breasts because they often are thinner).

I don’t care for processed foods, like Shake’N Bake. But I do get the convenience and some of the taste qualities – in this case a sort of sweet and sour in the barbecue flavoring. Saute some onions and add some mustard, vinegar, honey, and dried fruit (or a jam such as apricot or plum and skip the honey). Top the pork chops with this and suddenly your ordinary becomes extraordinary in less than half an hour.

I will explore other options for easy weeknight dinners in columns ahead. In the meantime …

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmeadia.com

 

Print Recipe
Skillet-Roasted Pork Chops with Onion and Cranberry Compote
This is a fast and easy weekday dinner.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Pat pork chops dry. Rub with 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil (for both). Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium- to medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and saute until soft and slightly caramelized - this can take 8 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with salt.
  3. Stir in mustard, vinegar, cranberries, honey, and thyme. Remove from heat. Taste. Add more salt and pepper, if needed.
  4. Return pan to heat and add a drizzle of olive oil and 1 pork chop. Cook for about 2 minutes, and flip. Cook for another 2 minutes. If these are thin, they should be done. Repeat with second pork chop, adding any additional oil if needed.
  5. Plate pork chop and top with the onion compote.
  6. Suggested serving side: Roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Recipe Notes

To keep the pork chops from curling, take a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife and clip the fatty edges of the chop in about 3 places (evenly spaced).

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Bake Ahead for the Holidays

Trimming the tree. Holiday parties. Crazy schedules. All of these combine to make the month of December a blur and a challenge to get anything on the table for dinner.

I’ve always been a fan of having lasagna on hand. This is a trick I learned when babysitting for Ted and Denise Padden and their four children. She would have me come over and bake a big lasagna while watching the kids, and that would be dinner for at least two nights.

I don’t tend to make the big heavy meat lasagna anymore. Most of the time there aren’t enough people in my home to consume it. I could make and freeze half, but something about lasagna calls for lots of people around a table, a big salad, and some warm bread.

A few years ago I discovered how the Italians pair squash with pasta, including in lasagna. I enjoy the slightly sweet flavor of the roasted squash against the richness of the ricotta, especially when infused with sage or rosemary. Adding spinach to the basic bechamel sauce, adds color and another vegetable.

I made this recipe first for an early Thanksgiving feast and have made it again to try it with zucchini noodles instead of pasta. While I think the pasta version was better, the zucchini one has the benefit of being gluten free. To make the zucchini noodles, slice a zucchini length-wise in about 1/8-inch strips. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 350-degree oven for about 5-7 minutes to remove the extra moisture and increase the sweetness of the zuke. If it is still a bit slippery (like a wet noodle), roast for another couple of minutes until it is slightly brown in areas. Then use just like the pasta. The number of noodles with depend on the size of your zucchini. If they are small, you might need one zucchini per layer, or six (6) in total.

Feel free to play with the squash. Butternut is slightly dry when roasted and sweet. Acorn squash has less flavor and is a bit damper. Hubbard or any of the slightly sweet and very orange varieties will do well. I tried it with acorn squash, because I have heaps of them in the garage, and can’t say it’s a favorite. It will do in a pinch.  But even better is just a 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, which eliminates the whole roasting step. Plus it is just the right flavor. Just don’t use the pie filling!

You can freeze this dish and bring it out later in the holidays, either for a planned event or a family emergency.

Enjoy

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna
There are a lot of steps here, but if done ahead, the whole project comes together quickly. Like any lasagna, once you master the recipe, it will be much easier in the future. You are essentially roasting butternut squash and pureeing it for one layer. Making a standard bechamel, but adding spinach, for another. And finally having a ricotta filling. So it's not terribly different than the standard lasagna process. I would make some extra bechamel sauce, or a tomato sauce, to serve alongside. Mine got a little dry.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To prepare the butternut squash, heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Rub inside with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for about 1 hour, or until soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Scoop out insides into a food processor and puree until smooth. Taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Can be refrigerated for two days.
  2. Caramelize the onions by placing in a hot saute pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the two sprigs of thyme. Stir to coat in oil and cook until onions are soft and slightly brown, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. This can be made two days ahead of time and refrigerated. Remove thyme before adding to the lasagna.
  3. To make the ricotta filling, mix cheese, chopped rosemary, eggs, half the grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste. This can be done 1 day ahead of time.
  4. To prepare the spinach, melt butter in a saucepan, add flour and stir. Cook until flour is no longer raw and the two have come together into a thick paste, about 2 minutes. Add milk or half-and-half and stir until it comes to a boil. Add the rest of the grated Parmesan, nutmeg, and defrosted and drained spinach. Season with salt and pepper. This can be made one day ahead.
  5. To assemble, coat a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Lay down about 1 cup of the spinach cream sauce on the bottom of the pan and spread to coat. Top with noodles.
  6. Spread half of the roasted butternut squash on top of the pasta. Top with another layer of pasta.
  7. Spread ricotta cheese mixture on top of pasta, and top with caramelized onion. Cover with layer of pasta.
  8. Top with remaining butternut squash, and another layer of pasta.
  9. Finish with remaining spinach cream sauce. Cover with foil.
  10. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour (60 minutes). Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
  12. Can be frozen.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from the New York Times

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