Lighten Up with Grilled Salad

Lighten Up with Grilled Salad

This grilled salad is killing me. I want to eat it right now, exactly as Claire has made it. I can’t even come up with words for how perfect this looks, so I’m just going to pass the tongs to Claire now so that you all can join me in drooling. Fire it up, Claire!

Like most people, I love cooking out on the grill. I don’t have a great grill, but I do have a little fire table with a grilling surface, and it does the job just fine for my postage-stamp of a back yard. Right now, my town is experiencing prime grilling weather. It’s summery enough that I’ve been thinking a lot about hamburgers lately, but it’s not so hot yet that I’m sweating through my shirt as soon as I step outside. I’ve been smelling BBQ smells in the neighborhood, and it’s got me primed. I’m pretty excited for this summer’s inaugural meal off the grill, but I think I’d like to keep it on the lighter side. My husband has been a little sick, so I’ve been ladling chicken soup down his throat for the last five days, and it seems a little extreme to go right from broth to burgers. Besides, I really need some roughage in my diet after soup week, if you know what I mean. Anyhoo…

A couple of years ago, my best friend took me out to dinner at this super swanky restaurant for my birthday. There were so many things on the menu we wanted to try, we decided to just order them all and split them, tapas style. We must have tried a dozen different things, but try as I might, I can’t recall a single one of them except the grilled salad. It was a full romaine heart, halved lengthwise and grilled. They topped it with some kind of balsamic and little crunchy things. We were so surprised by the grilled lettuce; it seemed so novel to us! In retrospect, it seems so obvious. I mean, grilled veggies are sort of notorious for being awesome. So are grilled fruits, and grilled everything else, for that matter, which brings me to this week’s recipe.

A grilled salad is the perfect transition into summer fare.

Grilled Salad

The best thing about grilling out is that the food gets so much flavor from the grill, there is barely any prep involved. The flip side of that is, because you’re not doing much to dress it up, the quality of the food you start with will be reflected in the meal you end with, so start with the good stuff. When I got to the store, I already knew I wanted to do a grilled salad, but I believe in letting the groceries direct the meal, so I also got some shrimp and apricots. It’s still a little early for stone fruit, but I caught a whiff of these as I was walking past the display, and they just really called to me.

Grilled Salad

For the salad’s base, simply slice the lettuce lengthwise, drizzle or brush a little olive oil on the sliced side, and place them on the grill. Repeat with the apricots, slicing from top to bottom and removing the pits. With the produce, you’re not trying to cook the food through. You just want to get a light char and imbue it with that good smoky flavor.

Grilled Salad For the shrimp, skewer them, drizzle them with olive oil, and then give them a good hit of salt and pepper. Don’t put too many shrimp on a single skewer, and don’t crowd them, or they won’t cook evenly. With a high heat cooking source like an open grill, they will cook quickly, so probably no more than 30 seconds per side. You want them just barely opaque.

Grilled Salad

To dress your grilled salad, you can go premade, but I like to pull out my food processor and whip something up. In this case, I’m going with basically an eggless Caesar dressing. A spoonful of Dijon mustard, a generous pour of sherry, a couple glugs of extra virgin olive oil, two or three cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a good heap of Parmesan, a few grinds of pepper, and five anchovy fillets. Whir it all together until it’s smooth, lightly dress the lettuce, and top with your favorite salad fixings. Serve it with a good bottle of chilled white wine, and dig in. This grilled salad is a joyful herald of a season of good eating and I can’t wait to get down to it!

Grilled Salad

Labor Day BBQ Recipes and Tips

Labor Day BBQ Recipes and Tips

Labor Day is just around the corner, bringing with it backyard barbecues and time with friends and family. Are you preparing to host this year’s BBQ? If you want your Labor Day BBQ to be a smashing success, check out this round-up of some of our best BBQ posts!

Before you get your grill going, read up on our tips for making delicious BBQ plus the coolest new grill tool, the Scrapesation.

Labor Day BBQ

While watermelon is still in season, try these unique Watermelon Ricotta Starters as an appetizer.

Let your guests create their own masterpieces by setting up a Build-Your-Own Kabob station. It’s a great way to keep your Labor Day guests entertained and satisfied while they’re waiting for your perfectly smoked ribs to finish up!

Don’t forget to pick up a good selection of local brews to go with all your BBQ delights. You’ll need something frosty if you’re going to be standing over a hot grill all day, after all!

To finish off your feast, surprise your Labor Day crowd with a tart dessert that will help cut through all that smoky, meaty goodness. Key Lime Pie is the perfect way to end your Labor Day party and say farewell to the summer.

Key Lime Pie

Fun Food: Build-Your-Own Kabobs!

Fun Food: Build-Your-Own Kabobs!

We love to have fun with our food, and letting your family or guests get creative with their own kabobs is the perfect way to bring fun to your summer cookout! We’ve shared lots of grilling tips already, but today Sarah W. is here to tell us about making the perfect kabobs. Whether you’re just grilling up a meal for yourself, or having a Build-Your-Own Kabob party, Sarah’s got you covered. Skewer us with wisdom, Sarah!

Growing up, my family loved to grill out on a nice summer night. Chicken breast, the occasional steak, maybe pork chops. There’s something totally transportive about the smell of barbeque and smoke on a hot summer evening. It’s a safe zone for me. We couldn’t always afford the best cuts of meat, but a tasty sauce and an element of fun easily made those childhood memories great ones. My dad is the family’s grillmaster – the man loves to cook, loves to experiment with new recipes, and he knows how to handle anything you can think of to throw on the grill. I didn’t inherit his knowledge of perfect grill temperatures and how to test meat’s doneness by feel over a fire, but my husband is also a great grill guy, and I slip into my mother’s role of preparing the food, as I can remember helping her slide meat and veggies onto skewers as a child.

First things first: kebab or kabob? Technically, kebab is a big hunk of meat, usually lamb or beef, slow-cooked on a long metal rod and shaved off in thin slices to pile onto amazing sandwiches like gyros. Shish kabobs are meat and veggies cooked on skewers – the Americanization of kebab.

Either way you slice and dice it, there’s something very primal about cooking meat on a stick. I was thinking of cavemen huddled around a fire roasting things while assembling and flipping these on the grill. They’re an easy dinner to throw together – anything grillable is game. Kids can help assemble their own masterpieces, and picky eaters or guests with allergies can have their own selection of stuff on a stick to be grilled on a separate part of the grill.

Kabobs are the perfect FUN FOOD!

So let’s get down to DOs and DON’Ts.

  • DO make your own kabobs. Grocery stores will sell you pretty prepackaged kabobs with meat, onion, and bright pepper slices on wooden skewers. DON’T buy them. It’s much more cost effective to make them yourself.
  • If your are just cooking up a few skewers for yourself or a small gathering, DON’T assemble skewers the way you see them in grocery stores. You can make pretty patterns, but some veggies have different cooking times, and it’s important to cook your meat thoroughly. Having a skewer of meat, a skewer of mushrooms, a skewer of peppers, etc, will ensure that things with short cook times can be taken off the grill before they burn or turn mushy.
  • If you are having a party and want your guest to build their own kabobs, DO par-cook your veggies ahead of time so everything cooks evenly on the skewer. You can either grill or oven roast your heartier vegetables until they are about halfway done, and then set them out for your guests to add to their skewers. When grilled along with the meat, these will have just enough time to get piping hot and acquire those beautiful grill lines (and flavor!).
  • DO season these suckers. I found an herb-seasoned vinegar that added a great splash of flavor, and helped my other spices stick. You don’t necessarily want to crust your ingredients, but seasoning is, as always, so important to make food taste good. And why expend energy on cooking something that turns out bland? I would, however, shy away from garlic or garlic powder, as it burns easily. If you’re working ahead, this is a great opportunity to marinate your meat.
  • DON’T leave your grill unattended. These don’t take super long to cook, so stand over that grill like the world’s best babysitter or guard dog. Also, unattended fire can lead to bad things.
  • DO pick vegetables that cook up firm and won’t get mushy. Eggplant, while delicious grilled, is most likely going to fall off your skewers. I would also skip potatoes. This is a meal for squash, mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, anything that holds up well.

Fun Food Kabobs

When we first moved into our house, my husband and I could never find wooden skewers anywhere. This resulted in my mother-in-law and mother each buying us giant packages when they saw them next, so I’ll probably never have to buy them again. You can also use nice metal skewers, but be careful! These usually have nice loops on the end for an easy handle, but they get VERY hot and stay VERY hot. Don’t grab the handles without a potholder until you’re sure they’re cool. I have both metal and wooden skewers, and find myself with a preference for the wooden ones. Part of this is that we have six metal skewers, and usually end up with seven or eight skewers worth of stuff to grill. Another factor is slippage. Wooden skewers tend to have a grain to them, which helps grip your food even as it cooks. Metal skewers, as they get hot, have a tendency to help cook your stuff from the inside, which is great for chicken, but keep an eye on your food, as it may be more done than you think.

Ingredients:

  • Beef or chicken
  • Veggies (I used half a container of mushrooms, 2 small summer squash, and a green bell pepper)
  • Seasoning (I used an herb-infused white vinegar, chili powder, salt and pepper)
  • Skewers

Directions:

  • Cut your vegetables into square-ish pieces of a uniform size. You don’t want these to be too much bigger than your skewers- they should be easily separable. I went for pieces at least an inch wide and two or three inches long. Some things, like the mushrooms, I just cut in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Do your vegetables first so you can use the same cutting board for meat after without cross-contaminating anything.
  • Cut your meat into 1″ to 1.5″ -sized chunks.
  • Skewer it! Try to skewer in the very center of your bits and pieces. This will ensure that they stay balanced and don’t try to make an early bid for freedom as you’re flipping and transporting them. With vegetables, skewer through the skin if possible. Squashes and zucchinis have skin that will stay pretty firm as it’s cooking, and the extra grip on your skewers will help keep them from sliding off.
  • Season it. I splashed herb-infused vinegar over everything, then sprinkled chili powder, salt, and pepper. I only did one side, then seasoned the other side once everything was on the grill.
  • Once your grill is hot, throw these bad boys on, seasoned-side down. This gives you an opportunity to season the other side without making a huge mess. We used a grill mat, which can be helpful if you’re afraid things will slide off the skewers and between the grill grates.
  • Your vegetables will probably need 5-6 minutes before flipping. Our meat cooked quickly, and needed to be flipped after about 2 minutes. This is going to vary based on your grill, and any hotspots it has. A good reason to use seasoning is that it facilitates a sear, and can make it easier to tell when your food is ready to be flipped. I used long grill tongs to turn these once I saw a nice sear on the bottom.
  • Cook for the same amount of time on both sides to ensure even cooking and doneness. Use a fork to slide food from skewers.  This can lead to food flying everywhere, so be cautious and supervise any small children attempting this trick.

 

What’s your favorite fun food to assemble or cook?

Memorial Day BBQ – Watermelon Ricotta Starters

Memorial Day BBQ – Watermelon Ricotta Starters

 Since many of us have the day off and the kids are ending their school year, Memorial Day has become the unofficial kickoff to summer, with the scent of back yard BBQ wafting through the air. If BBQ is in the plans for you this Monday, try these refreshing appetizers from Sarah B. Sarah may have gotten a little confused with the west coast lingo, but she knows good BBQ, and she definitely knows good snacks! So, Sarah, give us a little lesson on BBQ and teach us how to make those awesome watermelon bites!

Since moving to California from North Carolina, I’ve come to realize there are tons of cultural differences that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to otherwise, generally when it comes to what things are called.

Here, the big road you drive on is called a freeway, not a highway. If you go to a Mexican restaurant and order a taco, the odds are good it won’t have a hard shell a la Taco Bell. Most importantly, though, is that people here use the word barbeque to refer to a gathering where you grill hot dogs and hamburgers, and not to refer to a meal that involves pulled pork.

In North Carolina, barbeque (or BBQ more often) is something of a religion, and the side of the state you originate from will determine the kind of barbeque you proclaim to be the best. If you’re from Western NC, you’ll likely go for the Lexington Style BBQ, made from pork shoulder and served with a sauce seasoned with ketchup, vinegar, and pepper.

If you’re from Eastern NC, you’ll be more likely to prefer Eastern Style (otherwise known as “the correct choice”). Eastern Style BBQ is vinegar and pepper based and includes no part of a tomato.

It should be noted that it’s next to impossible to find real BBQ around here, so imagine my surprise when I heard a couple of colleagues talking and one mentioned that her Memorial Day plans were to have some people over “for barbeque.”

I got really excited hearing this and jumped into the conversation, thinking at the very least I could procure some leftovers, and at best, I might score an invite.

“You’re having barbeque?” I asked, maybe a smidge too enthusiastically. “I haven’t been able to find barbeque anywhere since I moved here.”

She looked at me oddly for a second, then said, “They don’t have hamburgers near your house?”

After another round or two, we determined that when she said she was having people over “for barbeque,” that meant they were grilling out, having what I would call a barbeque. For me, having people over for barbeque means you’re probably having what they refer to in NC as a “pig pickin’” and would be rewarded with delicious pulled pork.

Needless to say, I’m still on my eternal quest to find some good BBQ west of the Smokies.

So I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend, whether you’re having BBQ sandwiches (yay!) or plain old grilled hamburgers (boo!). If you get invited to a cookout, take along these fun appetizers, made with the quintessential summer fruit: watermelon! They’re super easy and super delicious.

Watermelon Ricotta Starters Memorial Day BBQ

Ingredients

  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 container ricotta cheese
  • Several mint sprigs
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste

Dice your watermelon into large enough chunks that they won’t fall apart if you take the middle out. Remove the center with a melon baller (or even a small spoon).

Fill the holes with ricotta cheese.

Drizzle olive oil over the cubes and add a dash of salt and pepper (to taste) over the platter.

Garnish each ricotta-filled cube with a mint sprig.

 

Grilling Tips + The Best BBQ Grate Scraper!

Grilling Tips + The Best BBQ Grate Scraper!

Memorial Day is early this year, on Monday May 25th.  That means you have a little more than one week to get ready for your outdoor BBQ.  So now seems the perfect time to share our best BBQ tips with you to make certain that grilling extravaganza is a total success.  One of our best tips this year is this exciting product we discovered at a local art fair, called the Scrapesation BBQ Grate Scraper.  We love it so much, we now sell it on our website, just in time for grilling season!  We think you will love it, too.

ButcherBlockCo BBQ Tips:

  • Season your grill by slowly cooking sausage on it, rendering the fat and letting it coat the grill.
  • Preheat your grill 15 minutes prior to cooking to help sear food, keep it moist, and prevent sticking.
  • Brush off the grill racks with the new Scrapesation BBQ Grate Scraper prior to BBQing.

Preheat your grill, then scrape debris off with the all wood BBQ Grate Scraper.  The heat will burn grooves into the scraper making it conform perfectly to your grates.

Memorial Day Scraper

The Scrapesation BBQ Grate Scraper is Safer than Steel Grill Brushes. Avoid metal pieces on your grates and in your food by using this wood grate scraper. (at www.ButcherBlockCo.com)

 

  •  Don’t cook cold meat.  Bring meat to room temperature before you grill, as this will help it cook evenly, without burning.
  • Oil your food to prevent juices from evaporating. Add extra flavor to grilled food with either a glaze, a rub, or a marinade.
    • A GLAZE is a sugary coating brushed on to grilled food just after it is removed from the grill. Great for fish.
    • A RUB is a blend of herbs, spices and/or oil, gently rubbed into meats a few hours before grilling. Yum.
  • Marinating your meat with acidic liquids, like vinegar or lemon juice, will help tenderize and infuse it with even more flavor.
  • Season food gently. Avoid damaging the meat fibers and overseasoning by rubbing spices in gently.
  • Don’t flip your steaks or burgers more than 2 times. It takes time to develop the caramelized BBQ crust.
  • Don’t squash your hamburgers down on the grill. It forces the juices out and makes for a dry burger.
  • Use a grill basket for small, delicate foods that might otherwise fall through the grill rack,like fish and chopped veggies.
  • Sauce your BBQ ribs during the last 30 minutes to prevent the sugars from burning.
  • Let your cooked meats “rest” on a clean cutting board for at least 10 minutes before carving. It allows the meat to absorb the juices and stay moist.
  • Food Safety Tips:
    • Avoid cross contamination by using separate cutting boards,utensils, and platters for raw (meat,poultry,fish) versus cooked foods.
    • Refrigerate foods while marinating and never baste with a marinating liquid.
    • Use a grilling thermometer to determine if your grilled protein is fully cooked. Measure the internal temperature to confirm.
scraper 900

The Scrapesation BBQ Grill Wood Scraper Makes for a Wonderful Father’s Day Gift! Only $30 plus shipping. (at www.ButcherBlockCo.com)

 

Looking for more grilling tips?  Check out these other great blogs from Butcher Block Co.

BBQ Tips for Memorial Day and  Memorial Day BBQ.