outdoor cooking tips, plus at the market and this week's menu

By Wednesday, June 16, 2010 , , , , ,

The market was really showing off this Saturday – the baby beets were becoming adolescents; the broccoli was burgeoning; strawberries adorned almost every table and the varieties of lettuce available knew no bounds. Besides tomato season (and maybe corn), this is my favorite time at the market. Everything is so fresh and crisp. Pickle was really digging the raw sugar snap peas and he munched on these until we bought our strawberries … then it was no-holds-bar with those sugary sweet treats. His mouth and chin were stained pink from the juice, but he was in bliss, asking for more every few feet.

Our dinner group is heading outdoors this month for a little evening picnic under the stars. My friend Katie has been brainstorming what to cook on her camping grill – besides her famous blue-cheese burgers (which are divine) and asked me if I had any ideas. It got me thinking about party friendly grilled foods – ones that are full-flavored, prep-ahead dishes that don’t require the cook to be manning the grill all night (which is never fun).

Here’s my top-five list of quick-grilling entrees.
p.s. successful grilling really comes down to two things: a clean grill (grate oiled if you’re doing fish) and a really hot fire. Don’t attempt these without those two.

Fish kabobs and cherry-tomato kabobs — kabobs are great for fish, since you don’t have to worry about the fish falling apart on the grill when you try to lift it.

Use this “marinade” for both the fish and the tomatoes — honestly, this is my go-to marinade for almost everything; I just modify it as needed with different herbs or spices:
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, grated on a microplane grater or minced by hand
2 teaspoons of minced fresh marjoram or oregano (if you have to use dried herbs, use marjoram) ½ a lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
½-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound firm-fleshed fish, cut into 1-inch cubes – Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website for a list of sustainable fish for your geographic region: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes wash and de-stemmed

Mix marinade ingredients together in a bowl and then divide it between two bowls — one for the fish and one for the tomatoes. Toss to coat and then place on metal skewers (don't mix the two). Grill over a hot fire, for roughly 5-7 minutes total, turning once. Serve with grilled bread and wedges of lemon.

Skirt steak with chimichurri – just a sprinkle of kosher salt and black pepper on the steak, grilled for 2-3 minutes per side depending of the thickness, a good rest on the cutting board and a side of chimichurri are all you need for this ultra-flavorful meat. I’ve linked to a very traditional recipe, but I have made chimichurri with mint, cilantro, and basil. Use what you have and what’s in season.

Shrimp — Well, very sadly gulf shrimp is pretty much out of the question, but shrimp can take a good lashing of heat and spice and are super-fast cooking. Use the fish “marinade” above, replacing the marjoram with 1 teaspoon red chile flakes and 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika. Skewer them, allowing space in between each shrimp; they should take 3-4 minutes total to cook over hot coals. You don’t want to overcook them or they turn to rubber. Lemon wedges are a must.

Grilled halloumi and zucchini — this vegetarian dish is also a great starter. Halloumi is a firm cheese, usually made from sheep or goat’s milk that can withstand the heat of a grill. Again, use the marinade above for the zucchini. Just halve the zucchini, coat with the marinade and place on the grill — 2-3 minutes per side. Figure ½ a halloumi per person and one whole zucchini. Serve with grilled flatbread and grilled lemons and a little sambal chile sauce for adventurous eaters. I grill the halloumi whole (for about 5 minutes one side and 1-2 on the other) and then slice into ½-inch slices.

Burgers — I know, so obvious, but so gosh-darn good that it had to be include. Burgers really are the essence of summer on a plate. I use grass-fed ground chuck — that’s it. You can shape the burgers well in advance and keep them cold in the fridge, salt and pepper them just before grilling and serve with your favorite garnishes and condiments. I love mayo and ketchup mixed together, some lettuce, a slice of white onion and a slice of tomato (when in season), place it on a toasted brioche bun with sesame seeds and I am a happy girl.

At the market:
Baby carrots
Butter Pecan Ice cream from Sassy Cow Creamery
Dried Horto beans
Eggs from dreamfarm
Russian kale
Sassy Cow Organic Whole Milk
Sugar snap peas

Menu: week of 13 June 2010
homemade rosemary foccacia with local blue cheese and honey, served with cured meats, strawberries and sugar snap peas
Sunday: Birthday BBQ; snack of escabeche-style pickled baby carrots and tortilla chips and a cold IPA
Monday: chilaquiles with sautéed beet greens and dreamfarm eggs
Tuesday: Sautéed Russian kale on fresh ricotta bruschetta
Wednesday: potato and locally made Mexican chorizo tacos served with white onion, cilantro, avocado and limes
Thursday: beef and broccoli stir-fry with jasmine rice
Friday: roasted beet and goat cheese pizza

Happy eating, -s.

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