Peach Season! How to Pick the Perfect Peach

Peach Season! How to Pick the Perfect Peach

 Peaches are now in season and we couldn’t be happier! Do you know how to pick the perfect peach? Chef J has some great tips to help you out.

Do you know the teaches of peaches? Peaches are second only to apples in the U.S. We love ‘em and we grow a lot of ‘em. This rockin’ rock fruit grows all over the country, and the world, but they do best in warm climates. The sweltering summer months (which I have complained about extensively) are the perfect time for peach picking. So far, my tree has produced three. It’s still young, but I’m impatient, so I must go forth into the world to purchase my perfect peaches. Lucky for me, Arizona grows some of the most delicious golden globes! This means I can get my goodies closer to where they came from — so they can stay on the tree longer and travel less distance.

Peaches will continue to ripen after they have been picked, but the sugar only develops while they are attached — so the longer they can hang around in the sunshine, the sweeter they will be.

When you are searching for that perfect peach to take home, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Look
Keep an eye out for dark bruises, blemishes, or holes. You want lots of yellow, red, orange, and pink when perusing peach pigments — stay away from shades of green! Try to pick fruits with a well-defined cleft; you know, the peach “butt” — this indicates the fruit had a good life on the branch.

Touch
Ideally, you want a peach that is firm but yielding. Like many things in life, a good peach will be supple but grow soft and mushy over time. It will continue to ripen and get softer, so a peach that is a little on the hard side might be good if you are not going to use it for a couple of days, while a softer one will probably be a bit sweeter and would work well in a cobbler.  A firmer peach is great for grilling — burning the peach just a bit gives it a nice smoky, caramelized flavor that goes well with vanilla ice cream, pork chops, and bourbon!

Smell
The smell of a ripe peach is intoxicating. It may be harder to find that sensual summer scent in the supermarket, but you should follow your nose to the most fragrant fruit available. A peach with no aroma is a peach with no flavor, and that’s really no peach at all!

Listen
Just kidding, peaches don’t talk. I don’t care what the banana says. Once you have your peaches you can do whatever you want; it doesn’t matter to me. They’re your peaches. But I like to keep them out on the counter where they can get some air. Keeping them locked up in a bag will cause them to soften rather quickly — so do that if they are too hard. If you find that you have more peaches than you can deal with, cut them up and freeze them. You can add some citrus juice to keep them from browning, but they will be fine for a couple months as long as they are in an airtight container. I load up at the end of the season, chop them up, and pack them into 2 cup portions in zipper bags. Then it’s quick and easy to thaw them out into the fall and winter when I’m feeling peachy.

 

Meatless Monday, Leftovers Tuesday: Pasta w/ Grilled Veggies

Meatless Monday, Leftovers Tuesday: Pasta w/ Grilled Veggies

Meatless Monday is a popular movement that my family has participated in for quite some time. We don’t eat a ton of meat to begin with, but carving out Mondays as being specifically meatless is a good reminder to examine the impact we have on our environment and the farming industry. When we first started being intentional with our Monday meals, we went gung-ho experimenting with new vegetarian recipes. With each passing week, we built up our repertoire of meatless recipes, which carried over into the rest of the week as we found more vegetarian dishes we liked. After a while, though, I got lazy and we ate a lot of spaghetti. Sometimes I mixed it up and used penne, but it got pretty sad in my kitchen.

A few months ago I decided to stop being such a loser in the kitchen and actually cook something. With vegetables. And effort. And, yeah, pasta. I was going for baby steps, okay! Because I am terrible at meal-planning and grocery shopping, I stared into my fridge and pantry for a while before settling on a small pile of ingredients that seemed like they’d like each other. Not only did they like each other, I liked them, too! A lot. I liked them even better cold the next day.

Allow me to introduce you to my new go-to Meatless Monday meal, which conveniently doubles as Tuesday’s lunch.

This easy pasta dish tastes great at all temperatures and can be customized to your liking. Try adding eggplant and roasted tomatoes or using feta instead of mozzarella. One of my favorite lunches, in fact, is to throw a handful of feta in with the cold dish and sprinkle with olive oil and lemon juice (or red wine vinegar); it makes a bright and refreshing summer lunch!

Honey Pasta with Grilled Veggies

Serves 2-3 as a main course; 4-6 as a side. Double the recipe for lunchtime leftovers.

  • ½ lb. pasta, cooked (I prefer rotini, but anything similar will do)Meatless Monday
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow squash, thinly sliced
  • Any other grillable veggies you like, thinly sliced
  • ½ yellow or white onion, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp of your favorite dried herbs (I just use Herbes de Provence)
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 TBS honey
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese (get the good kind), roughly chopped or torn

Coat all your sliced veggies in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried herbs. Grill over medium-high heat for a couple minutes on each side until tender and sporting sexy grill marks (they’re like tan lines for vegetables). I usually use a grill pan rather than an outdoor grill, but you should go with whatever method you prefer. Set your grilled veggies aside and let them cool slightly while you get the onions going.

In a large, oiled sauté pan over medium-high heat, cook onions until they just start to brown. While the onions are cooking, give your grilled veggies a rough chop.

Meatless Monday

Can you smell this?!

Throw your basil in with the onions and sauté for a minute or two. Add the grilled veggies to the pan. Mix the lemon juice and honey together with a fork and pour into pan, followed by the cooked pasta.  Stir gently until everything is warmed through. Season to taste. I love this with a lot of salt, but go slowly — it is very easy to go from “just right” to “OH NO!”

Serve hot, room temperature, or cold. Sprinkle with mozzarella just before serving.

Store leftovers in single portion containers for a quick and easy lunch the next day.Meatless Monday

Printer friendly recipe: Meatless Monday Honey Pasta

No-Cook Meals – Chill Out With This Cool Summer Salad

No-Cook Meals – Chill Out With This Cool Summer Salad

 No-cook meals are the way to go when the temperature skyrockets and the humidity leaves you in a crying, sticky heap on the floor (that’s not just me, right?).  Chef J has you covered with this super summer salad. Customize it to your tastes and use as a side or the main course. Pick up a loaf of bread on your way home from work and call it a night. No-cook meals could very well save my sanity this summer, so thanks, Chef J!

This town is too hot! So instead of cooking, we’re just going to throw some stuff together, grab a beer (or glass of white wine with an ice cube…), and plop down on the couch. Turn down the AC and crank up the Netflix — we’re chilling out with a cold salad! The kids still say “chilling out,” right? Never mind; I don’t care what the kids are saying these days.

You can add some grilled chicken, salmon, or shrimp to the mix if you would like. You can also throw in some avocado if you can find some good ones at the market. Or toss everything together and wrap it up in a tortilla so you can eat it in the car. This salad is great with whatever fruit you have growing on your tree or a handful of fresh berries; just don’t over-think it. Be cool!

No-cook meals are all about being cool.

Summer Salad

Makes two large or four small portions.

  • 4 big handfuls of salad greensNo-Cook Meals Sumemr Salad
  • 1 cup of cubed watermelon, save the juice
  • ½ of a white nectarine, sliced
  • ½ of an English cucumber, sliced
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 2 TBS chopped parsley
  • 2 TBS chopped basil

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 oz. watermelon juice
  • 2 TBS pink lemonade
  • 2 TBS vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • a pinch of salt & white pepper

Whisk all ingredients together until emulsified.

Season to taste.

Arrange everything so that it looks pretty or just toss it together. Serve it with plenty of air conditioning and maybe a light, citrusy summer ale.

Printer friendly recipe: No-Cook Meals

Celebrating Sustainable Seafood – Shrimp & Chorizo on Grits

Celebrating Sustainable Seafood – Shrimp & Chorizo on Grits

There is nothing quite like seafood in the summer — it’s so light and fresh, it just makes the heat a little more bearable! Chef J has some wise words on using sustainable seafood, and is also willing to share a wonderful recipe with us. As always — thanks, Chef J!

If you would like to jump into a contentious issue, as I always do, investigate the ins and outs of sustainable seafood. The effects of fishing have far-reaching implications, and unfortunately, here in my neck of the woods they are often neglected or unknown. My neck of the woods happens to be in the middle of the desert — so the only bodies of water out here are over-chlorinated swimming pools and smelly canals… But that’s no excuse for not knowing where one’s food comes from!

The results of over-fishing can be felt all over the world; with prices skyrocketing, supplies dwindling, and ecosystems crumbling,  there has never been a more urgent time to look into ways to sustainably provide food while taking into account the fragility of the resources we use.

In other words: look before you eat. Just like with any kind of food, you should be aware of where it comes from and what it took to produce it. If you like tuna, pay attention to how it gets to you — because realistically, you probably won’t be eating it in 10 to 15 years.

There is a loud debate over farm raised versus wild caught aquatic cuisine; it’s not black and white, there is no unifying theory, and people can’t or won’t agree on a lot of the details. Such is life. But, you can look a bit deeper into the food that you purchase and consume, and that’s always a good thing. Here in Arizona we have access to lots of seafood; some good, more bad — but the options for eating sustainable seafood are available. I won’t go into details that I can’t properly explain and that you probably don’t want to hear, but if you care about the earth and stuff, you should take a look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

For this simple recipe, we are using farmed, U.S. shrimps.

Shrimp & Chorizo on Grits

  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup coarsely ground grits (white or yellow- whatever floats your boat)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 2 cups shredded Oaxaca cheese

Bring the milk to a simmer.
Stir in the grits and spices.
Let it cook until it’s done. That sounds vague, but depending on how coarse the grits are it could take anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. Go with the instructions on the bag.
When the grits are soft, remove them from the heat and stir in the butter, then cheese.
Season to taste.

  • 1 TBS butter
  • 6 oz. raw chorizo sausage, loose
  • 1 lb. raw shrimp
  • 6 scallions, sliced- separate the greens and whites
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 TBS chopped cilantro

Melt the butter in a sauté pan and add the chorizo and white part of scallions.
Cook for 5-6 minutes until the chorizo is done.
Add the shrimp and spices, cook for 2 minutes.
Add the lime juice and remove from heat. Stir vigorously to emulsify.
Pour the shrimp and chorizo over the grits and top with green scallions and cilantro.

Printer friendly recipe: Celebrating Sustainable Seafood

You’ll Scream for this Easy Homemade Ice Cream

You’ll Scream for this Easy Homemade Ice Cream

We are celebrating Dessert Week, and I enlisted my friend Alicia to blog her favorite dessert this time of year, homemade ice cream.  You may recall, she is the one who made me my delish Amaretto Spice Cupcakes for my birthday.  Enjoy.

The summer heat always gets me in the mood for a cold, sweet dessert and I was inspired recently after watching a few cooking shows to try making homemade ice cream. This easy recipe is a perfect cure for an ice cream craving and will have you saying, “more please” in no time at all! The plus side is that you know each and every ingredient you are using and can create a flavor all your own.

Since there is no ice cream maker needed, anyone can enjoy the taste of homemade ice cream with just a mixer and a little imagination.

Base Ingredients:

  • 1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 – 16 oz. carton of whipping cream

Ready. Set. Whip!

Whip the condensed milk and whipping cream in a large bowl with a stand or hand mixer until it looks like whipped cream. That’s your homemade ice cream base.

Flavor Ingredients:

  • Mint Chocolate Chip - Add chopped chocolate and 3 to 4 capfuls of peppermint extract to taste.
  •  Java Chip – Add 2 tbsp of espresso powder & chocolate chips to the base.
  • Rocky Road – Mix in a packet or 2 of hot cocoa mix & marshmallows.

Try your favorite fruit, chocolate, or be courageous and add some French toast to your homemade ice cream. You never know where your imagination might take your taste buds.

Freeze. Eat. Enjoy!

The possibilities are endless and the best part is that you control exactly what you’re eating. I recently gifted some homemade ice cream to my son’s preschool teachers. You can purchase ice cream containers at a local cooking store and fill them with a custom flavor. Get creative with a custom name, and anyone who receives this sweet gift will be gleeful.Homemade Ice Cream Alicia

Alicia’s Homemade Ice Cream

-Alicia Thompson is a working mom who dabbles in the kitchen and has a serious sweet tooth. For more reads, follow her at @omg_imsoexcited and read her blog at www.ohmygoshimsoexcited.wordpress.com

Father’s Day Celebration – Sliders and Appreciation

Father’s Day Celebration – Sliders and Appreciation

Father’s Day is this weekend and we’ll all be taking time to celebrate the great dads in our lives. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Chef J is my brother, so I am the lucky lady who gets to sample all of the delicious recipes he shares with us here. Regardless of the great food, though, J is an awesome guy to have around. He was the father figure in my life from a very young age and shared that role when our amazing step-dad came into the picture (J will expand on this awesome dude in a moment). Older brothers don’t often get recognized on Father’s Day, so I’d like to take a moment to give J a little shout out. Thanks for always being there and taking care of me. You have a huge heart and have helped me in more ways than I can count. Double thanks for being such a fantastic uncle. You’re always up for babysitting and cooking lessons, comic books and video games — you’re just pretty super all around!

Before I start crying (ha! you know I’m already crying…), let’s have Chef J share some Father’s Day goodness! The floor is yours, Chef J!

This Sunday is Father’s Day, as the third Sunday of June always is. The origin and history of this holiday is a story with murky details, contentious claims, and the occasional absurd political rant — like any good patriarchal tale. Though there have been numerous claims made about who originally thought of the idea of setting aside a special day to give dads ugly ties, the holiday that we celebrate today is the result of the work of a plucky young lady by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd. She was the daughter of William Smart, a Civil War veteran, widower, and father of six. Dodd rallied support for a celebration of dads, much like the established Mother’s Day. The idea took root in her town of Spokane, Washington, and in 1910 on June 19th, the first Father’s Day as we (kind of) know it was celebrated. Though there was some initial opposition for the first, oh, fifty or sixty years, it was eventually signed into national law in 1972. Many who did not support the holiday spoke out in fear of the impending commercialization they assumed would surely follow. But those naysayers were quieted by the focused promotion of gift-giving by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers in the ’30s. So…

So, this Father’s Day, make sure to get dad that terrible tie he’s been wanting. Or a new grill utensil set! How about some slippers? What do you do for the guy that devoted his life to raising you? I posit appreciation is the greatest gift you could give the old man. My biological father took off after realizing that a wife and four kids cramped his style. So it goes. But my step-dad is the best. Not only is he the wise, strong, supportive guy you would imagine the classic super-dad to be, he stepped into a role that he had no obligation to fill. He took on four kids that, frankly, were kind of terrible at times. He chose to be the father that we needed; he stuck around because he wanted to, not because he had to. So this Father’s Day I will be celebrating the hard work, love, and patience that my old man has given over the years. What’s more, my brother-in-law has recently become a father! Candi has already mentioned the sweet little Piper in her Mother’s Day article; she is a precious little goober, and her parents couldn’t be happier.

So how do I show the fathers in my life how much they mean to me on Father’s Day? With tiny hamburgers, of course!

SlidersFather's Day Sliders

  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • ½ white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 12 small buns or soft dinner rolls, sliced
  • 3 slices of American cheese, cut into quarters
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Dill pickles, sliced
  • Salt & Pepper

Roll the beef flat until it is about 1/4” thick. Cut into 12 squares and season with salt & pepper.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan.
Add the onions and cook until they begin to turn translucent.
Place the beef patties on top of the onions, place a slice of cheese on each one and cover.
Cook for 4-5 minutes. Don’t crowd the pan; if you need to cook the burgers in batches you can reuse the onions a couple times.
Sprinkle the onions over the buns. Place a patty on the onions, top with condiments and pickles, put the other half of the bun on last. You know, build a burger!
You can get away with a pound and a half of beef for really thin burgers.
You can double them up, add jalapeno, bacon, etc. Whatever Dad likes!
These also go really well with fries and milkshakes!

Printer friendly recipe: Fathers Day Sliders

Summer Produce – Ratatouille & Braised Peaches

Summer Produce – Ratatouille & Braised Peaches

It is definitely summer here in Phoenix — the sun is shining and our faces are melting! Somehow, Chef J has found a bright spot (pun intended) amid the suffering, and is willing to share it with us. Slather on the sunscreen and hit the farmer’s market this weekend so you can play along at home. Ok, Chef J, bring on the summer produce!

Summer is terrible here. Phoenix in the summer is a proving ground for the resilience and stubbornness of humanity. You know that feeling when you watch yourself lock your keys in the car? That paralyzed, defeated, “Why did I do that?” feeling? That’s how everyone feels here in the summer. We all knew it was coming. It happened last year and we all swore we wouldn’t put up with it again. But here we are. Here we are, basting in our miserable sweat, cursing our inability or refusal to escape. A couple of weeks ago I espoused some of the positive side effects of the sweltering torridity; I still love BBQ, pool parties, and flip flops — but there is more to it than that. There are some wonderful things about this place that keep me around throughout the season! Since a blog about pretty girls in sun dresses probably wouldn’t work for this venue, I will stick to something we can all enjoy: Summer Produce!

Phoenix is fertile ground for the growing trend of farm-fresh produce. We live in a great region for summer produce such as tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, herbs, and many other delicious plants; but when the weather starts to get unbearably hot, I know peaches are on the way. Luckily, we don’t have the humidity of Savannah, but we can grow a mean peach in these parts! I have a three year old peach tree in my back yard that I know will one day produce some succulent fruit — it has kept me from moving on more than one occasion…

So in honor of summer, and to make up for all of the barbequed meat I have been eating lately, I will be enjoying two of my favorite summer vegetarian dishes this weekend.

If you are not fortunate enough to be in Phoenix for the summer, I’m sure there are some fantastic ingredients available at your local market. Talk to the farmers, pick some summer produce that looks good, try something you haven’t had before, and enjoy the delicious treats growing all around you!

Ratatouille

  • 1 yellow onion, slicedSummer ratatouille
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut lengthwise and sliced*
  • 2-3 small tomatoes
  • 3-4 summer squashes, cut lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and sliced*
  • Fresh herbs, chopped
  • red wine
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Heat oven to 350.
*Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and set aside for 20-30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant thoroughly.
*Roast the peppers over an open flame until they are completely charred. Place them in a bowl and cover so they can steam. When they have cooled you can easily wipe off they skin with a paper towel- do not rinse them, though.
Sauté the onion until brown, deglaze with red wine and remove from heat.
Combine all of the vegetables and toss with olive oil, herbs, salt & pepper.
Put them in a large baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for about 1 hour.
You can also do this recipe on the grill — no need to heat up the kitchen if you’re cooking out back.

Braised Peaches with Goat Cheese and Granola

  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 oz. honey

Combine all ingredients and bake at 225 for about 2 hours.

  • 1 bottle of Chardonnay (give or take a glass…)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 oz. honey or maple syrup
  • 6 peaches, halved (save the pits!)

Combine wine, vanilla, honey and pits. Bring to a simmer and reduce until syrupy.
In a sauté pan, pour hot liquid over the peaches and braise until just tender.Summer Peaches

  • 6 oz. goat cheese
  • 6 oz. plain yogurt
  • 2-3 TBS honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Whisk all ingredients together.
Top each peach half with a dollop of cheese mixture and sprinkle with granola.

 

Printer friendly recipes: Using Summer Produce

How Butcher Block Is Made

How Butcher Block Is Made

A few years ago, when I started working for ButcherBlockCo., I had the privilege of touring the John Boos & Co. butcher block manufacturing facility in Effingham, Illinois. Seeing the process of how butcher block is made from start to finish was enlightening.  It felt a lot like making furniture by hand in a workshop, but on a much larger scale.

The process seems to be a wonderful balance of technology and science with craftsmanship and artistry, all working together to make these beautiful pieces of butcher block furniture come to life.

Here is my summary of How Butcher Block Is Made:

Harvesting Wood
Before the wood ever arrives at the manufacturing plant, individual trees are selected for harvest, encouraging forests to renew and regenerate themselves naturally. At the lumber mill, trees are cut into lumber for purchase and distribution. John Boos only buys wood from suppliers who are members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, guaranteeing they practice responsible reforestation.
Drying Wood
When lumber arrives at the John Boos facility it is staged in their lumber yard.  Lumber is sorted, piece by piece, to gauge its grade using a “grader’s stick” to approve each board for processing. After lumber is inspected and graded it “rests” in an outdoor staging area for a few weeks as part of the first steps in the drying process.  Step two of the drying process is to transfer the lumber to gigantic, wood-fired kilns where it is dried for 18 to 28 days. The enormous kilns used to dry the lumber are heated by a boiler, which is fueled by sawdust and wood scraps generated during the process of making butcher block. After nearly a month of drying in the kiln, the cured lumber enters the start of the production process.
Production Process
All the lumber coming into the manufacturing plant is first planed and sanded to get a very flat and smooth work surface. Then it is immediately run through a glue line rip saw cutting the wood into 1.75 inch rails. Each wood rail is inspected and marked for defects using fluorescent markers, which are read by a computer to eliminate defective sections. Final rails are then sorted by grade, separating the premium rails to be used for kitchen countertops and high quality butcher block surfaces from the lower grade rails to be used for industrial countertops.
To make blended-grain butcher blocks, rails of varying length are finger jointed together, then laminated and glued side by side, hiding all finger joints. To make edge-grain butcher blocks, rails of the same length are laminated and glued together side by side, forming what then looks like a solid piece of butcher block wood. End-grain butcher block is characterized by its checkerboard appearance. This block starts with laminated edge-grain boards, that are glued and stacked on top of each other, then placed in a gigantic vice called a screw press, squeezing the wood and glue together. After drying, the block is set on end and the “ends” of the rails become the butcher block cutting surface, hence the term “end-grain.”
Finishing
All butcher block, be it blended, edge or end-grain, is then sanded down with 200 grit to provide a silky smooth cutting surface. It is then made into Boos Blocks, cutting boards, butcher block table tops, standard and custom countertops, etc.  Finally, all butcher block is finished with a treatment of food-safe mineral oil or board cream before it is allowed to leave the plant. It is packaged with care and shipped to consumers, restaurants and retailers all across the US.
Having seen how butcher block is made makes me appreciate all of the effort that has gone into what appears to be a relatively simple piece of wood.  I know I take great pride in displaying and using my John Boos butcher block every day!
BBQ Tips for Memorial Day

BBQ Tips for Memorial Day

BBQ season is officially here! Kick off summer this Memorial Day weekend with some awesome BBQ to share with family and friends. Master griller Chef J is back to share some important BBQ tips to make sure your weekend is as delicious as possible! Take it away, Chef J.

In my town, summer can fill people with dread. Temperatures will soon be in the mid-200s, leading to cranky, sweaty, dehydrated Phoenicians. On the other hand — there is a pool party every weekend, you can wear flip-flops anywhere, and BBQ. Sweet, smoky BBQ! This time of year is great for both those who have been eating salad all spring in anticipation of wearing a bathing suit, and those who just want an excuse to drink beer and eat meat.

We have already covered ribs and brisket in previous blogs. There are plenty of recipes floating around the internet and many more that have yet to be created, but let’s start with the basics.

Here are a few tips that can help novices confidently host their own backyard BBQ, and maybe even give the most hickory-seasoned pro an idea or two.

Meat

The best advice for any cook, especially a budding backyard gourmand, is “don’t mess it up!” That might sound a little too simplistic, but the truth is that most ingredients are pretty good on their own. The best thing you can do to a quality piece of meat is sprinkle a little salt and pepper on it and not burn it. Fancy spice rubs and secret family recipes are fantastic, but the star is the meat. If you have a good butcher shop in your town (and you probably do) talk to the experts about what they have. Fortunately there is a growing trend toward local, natural ingredients — this is good if you like to tell your friends about how socially-conscious you are, but it’s even better if you enjoy eating really delicious food. You might be surprised by what you find in a real butcher shop. At my local shop I can get locally raised, all natural meat for the same price or less than the junk available at the supermarket.

Fire

There is really no debate BBQbetween gas or charcoal. Gas is efficient, cleaner burning, and faster. But charcoal is at least a million times better. If you want a clean, efficient, fast hamburger then you probably should eat a turkey sandwich. Smoke tastes good! Take the time to start a real fire. Hopefully you have access to a BBQ supply store that can help you pick out a charcoal or wood that add some authentic flavor to your food, otherwise there’s always the internet. Again, just like with all other ingredients, go for a more natural option. It’s not that hard to start a fire; you don’t have to buy briquets that are pre-soaked with lighter fluid. Take an old #10 can (like a giant coffee can), cut the top and bottom off with a can opener, place it on your grill, wad up an old grocery bag or some paper, put it in and light it on fire. Pile your charcoal or wood on top of that and in about 10-15 minutes you’ll have white-hot coals. There are a number of gadgets and products available to help you start your fire but try to avoid lighter fluid — it leaves behind a bad taste. If you are going to be BBQing something for a long time, like ribs or brisket, go with a milder wood like apple or pecan. If you want to add some smokey flavor to something that will only be cooking for a little while, like steak or burgers, try something bolder like mesquite or hickory.

Tools

Other than meat, fire, and something to contain it all, you will need a few other gadgets. Two good thermometers are important, especially if you are cooking things that require a slower and lower method — you want one to test the temp of the grill and one to test the meat. You will also want a pair of long-handled tongs; that giant fork that comes with all BBQ sets is not recommended since it will puncture the meat and cause it to lose juices. Get a heavy duty grill brush to keep things clean. Oh, and that coffee can method I told you about; there are fire starter cans that come with handles that are pretty handy to have around.

Patience

Grilling can be done relatively quickly, but real BBQ takes time. Beer and company help pass the time. If you are making ribs then be prepared for your day being spent at or around the pit. But patience is also required for even the smallest cut of meat. Letting your steak or burger rest for a few minutes after cooking and before eating or cutting will allow the meat to reabsorb the juices that are flowing around inside of it. If you cut a steak open right off of the grill it will lose all of it’s moisture — leaving you with a tough, dry dinner. Let your steaks rest for at least 5 minutes and let your brisket hang out for 20-30 before carving; keep them in a warm place, but not so hot that they over-cook.

The best part of any BBQ is the whole gang getting together, so don’t stress too much. Wanting to get everything right is one thing, but remember that a backyard cookout is about having fun with the people you care about! Ask mom to make her famous potato salad, put the beer on ice, skim the pool, and have a wonderful Memorial Day!

The Perfect Asparagus – Blanched and Sautéed!

The Perfect Asparagus – Blanched and Sautéed!

May is National Asparagus Month.  I am psyched!  Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables, and this is the time of year to enjoy it!  Along with tasting great, it does have some super health benefits too:
  • Low in calories
  • Contains no fat or cholesterol
  • Low in sodium
  • Source of fiber
  • Rich in Vitamins A, B, C and folic acid
  • Good source of potassium, iron and antioxidants
  • Provides more nutrients than most other vegetables

The perfect way to prepare asparagus is blanched and sautéed!

Not only is it super fast, it is almost fool-proof, which is great for me given I am not patient in the kitchen! Here is the quick and easy way to make perfect asparagus! 

Selecting
  • Look for firm, straight, and THIN stems with good green color. 
  • Tips should be green or purplish in color with CLOSED tips.
  • Try and prepare asparagus the same day you purchase it, to help retain the best flavor and tenderness. 
Prepping
  • Wash stalks in cold water. 
  • Snap off the woody ends or trim about 1 1/2 inches from the bottom of the stalks.
Blanching
  • Blanching is a cooking method in which food is cooked for a short time in boiling water then immediately cooled in an ice water bath. It works great for asparagus because it helps preserve the flavor, crisp texture, and bright green color. Blanching is used to slightly cook the asparagus and sautéing is used to finish the cooking.
  • In a large pot, add water, a little salt and bring to a boil.
  • Prepare ice bath in a bowl filling half way with water and ice.
  • Place asparagus into boiling water and cook for 2 minutes!  Do not over cook.  You will be tempted, but don’t. (Small thin stalks take 2 minutes, large thick stalks take up to 4 minutes). The stalks will turn BRIGHT GREEN  and be crispy.  
  • With tongs, remove asparagus and immerse in the ice water bath for 1 minute to stop the cooking.
  • Remove asparagus from ice bath and place onto a paper towel.
Sauteing
  • In large fry pan melt 2T butter.  Add seasonings of garlic, pepper and some lemon juice.
  • Gently add the blanched asparagus to the pan.
  • Sautee for 2 minutes.
  • Serve and enjoy.
blanching and sauteing asparagus
Please share with us your perfect asparagus recipe!
Looking for more love of asparagus, read how Asparagus has been treasured throughout history