Cooking and Gadgets

The Herb Brush: A Great Summer BBQ Tool

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by Adam Perry Lang

herb-brush.jpgAny night this summer, you’ll find me hanging with friends, raising a frosty one in the backyard, while the kiddies run around and the guys flip steaks, burgers and chops. Is there anything better?

I’ll be using one of my favorite grilling tools, a do-it-yourself “herb brush” which I use to baste the meat while it cooks. Besides looking cool, it lets you slowly, steadily and subtly layer on the aromatic oils in those herbs, while keeping the meat moist. Using kitchen twine just tie a bunch of fresh herbs (any of your favorites will work: thyme, rosemary, sage, …) to the end of a wooden kitchen spoon. I like a really long spoon and it will make it easier to baste with.

And when you are done basting, you can chop up the herbs and add them to baked beans or sprinkle over grilled vegetables—you can’t do that with a regular basting brush! Herb brushes are great on beef, and on Fourth of July there's nothing I like more than an over 1-inch Rib Eye. Here's how you do it:

How to Grill the Perfect Steak

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by Russ Parsons

From the LA Times

perfectsteak.jpgAh, the first warm days of summer, when some mysterious force compels even the most hapless cooks to start a fire and burn some meat. Walking around my neighborhood last weekend, the smell of flaming beef fat was everywhere.

It made me wonder: Really, how hard can it be to grill a good steak?

You shouldn't even need a recipe. Take a good piece of meat (bright red color, nice flecks of white fat inside the muscle, not just around it, at least an inch thick), season it simply (salt and pepper, that's it) and put it on the grill over a moderately hot fire (not too hot or it's "Towering Inferno" time — when you can hold your hand about 5 or 6 inches over the grill for four or five seconds, that's right).

Beyond that, it's all detail. But, as in anything, those details are exactly what make the difference between good and great. Fortunately with a steak dinner, they're really pretty simple, even if they can be a bit geeky.

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For the Grill, Burgers Beyond the Basic

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by Mark Bittman

From the N.Y. Times

bestburgers.jpgThere is undeniable pleasure in a plain beef burger — juicy, tender, and well browned over a backyard grill — but there’s even more in a jazzed-up one. If you begin with pork, lamb or beef that you buy yourself and grind at home, and continue by adding seasonings aggressively, you’re on your way to a summer full of great “burgers” which are, in essence, sausages in burger form.

In fact, I wondered while making (and eating) my first pork burger of the grilling season: Why would anyone make a plain burger? Why would you begin with supermarket ground beef — whose quality is highly questionable and whose flavor is usually disappointing, if not depressing — and then cook it without much seasoning beyond a few crystals of salt? Ketchup, after all, does not fix everything. Even adding mustard, pickles and so on, right down to mayonnaise, doesn’t give you good-tasting meat.

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Brine Divine

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by Matt Armendariz

divinebrine.jpgIf you look in the dictionary under the word "impatient" you’ll most likely see my picture a few rows down. My disdain for playing the waiting game is a big reason why I don’t pickle, bake, brew or preserve too well, although I have aced the sauté, grill, and fry like nobody’s business. So you can imagine my dilemma when I first learned about brining meat. There were numerous knuckle biting moments when I had to accept that soaking meat for what seemed like an eternity really did yield a more flavorful, juicy bite. I may not have learned to deal with sitting around doing nothing, but I have certainly surrendered to the divine brine.

Brining is soaking poultry or pork in salted, seasoned liquid prior to cooking. It’s similar to marinating, but this process actually changes the texture of the meat. And it’s very simple. Depending on the brine and the cut of meat, the process can occur overnight or in as little as a few hours in your fridge–and the results are spectacular. The meat is juicy and flavorful, seasoned from within. And the best part happens when you grill: you’ll get that desired smoky char on the outside with a tender, moist texture on the inside. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time achieving both when I grill if I don’t brine.

Making Chow Chow

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by Matt Armendariz

galvestonstrand.jpgGrowing up in Galveston, Texas with parents who love good food gave me a million food memories. Chief among them are shrimp po-boys, fried oysters, endless Tex Mex and one little particular sandwich I’d always insist on grabbing from the Old Strand Emporium. Without giving too much of a history lesson about this "interesting" island off the gulf coast, Galveston was home to a booming port and bustling city during the end of the 19th century. While many things have come and gone, the Emporium is still there. Think high ceilings, Victorian-style general store with tons of candy. You can see why it was one of my favorite places to visit as a kid, but it wasn’t for the sweets or soda. It was for one particular sandwich that has been stuck in my head for over 30 years.

This sandwich-that-I-pine-for is like no other. Wrapped in foil and meant as a grab-and-go selection, it was a savory, salty spread layered between a fresh baguette. It was sweet, a bit hot, with a salami-esque and relish-style flavor that begged to be enjoyed with a cold Dr. Pepper (or Mr. Pibb, even better!) My mouth waters just thinking of it. I’ve asked just about every Galvestonian I know, including family members, but the response is usually the same: "Oh, I remember those sandwiches! Sure were good. I have no idea what it was."

Orange Blossom Sugar

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by Matt Armendariz

orange_blossoms.jpgSometimes it’s the tiny little things in life that bring the most joy.

I always get so excited when my trees start waking up from months of dormancy. Even though our orange tree (known forever as "Granny’s
 orange tree") never really loses its deep green leaves, it has its own way of letting you know that it’s kicking into high gear.  Every year
 around this time buds begin to appear, and within a day or two these creamy, supple pods begin to open up into beautiful little flowers. And
 even if you were inclined to bury your head in the sand and ignore the
 seasonal shift, orange trees let you know their intentions by perfuming 
the entire yard with a heady, intoxicating fragrance of orange 
blossoms.

It’s literally the most soothing and luxurious smell I can
 think of and far from the tart, acidy flavor of the fruit (if I’m 
comparing smells and tastes, mind you). It’s much closer to honeysuckle 
than orange. And if the scent drives me crazy in the best of ways, I
 can only wonder what it does to bees!

Clay Pot: Not

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by Katherine Reback

clay-pot.jpgLet me be unequivocal here:  I hate my clay pot. 

I bring this up because of the front page article in the LA Times Food section on October 28, 2009 entitled “Clay Pot Alchemy” in which Paula Wolfert, the cookbook author, seen smiling broadly in front of her multitudinous collection, announces she’s ‘never met a clay pot she didn’t like.’

Allow me to introduce her to mine.  Such is my disdain for this thing that it lives in the very back of the very top shelf of our utility closet, reachable only by standing on the top rung of the step ladder, moving 8 bags of Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta, a dozen 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes, 4 giant bottles of Dijon and several extra large boxes of Q Tips which we bought at Costco more than 3 years ago and I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say we could have Q Tips for life.  Only then will you find my clay pot, wedged in the corner like some dunce who was sent there for getting the answer entirely wrong.

Because entirely wrong is what Clay Pot cooking is to me.  The roast chicken from the little recipe booklet included with purchase was not “moist and browned” as promised but wet and wan.  And the red peppers?  The Zucchini?  Those tomatoes?  Limp. Limper. Limpest. I would have donated my clay pot to the National Jewish Women’s Council Thrift Shop where once a year I haul outsized, green lawn and leaf bags full of unworn clothes, or left it out in our alley where, no matter what you leave on top of those garbage bins magically disappears by the next morning, were it not for that one time.

The Pie Crust Conspiracy

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by Laraine Newman

perfectly-flaky-pie-crust.jpg There are those who are intuitive cooks. They can just rustle up some ingredients from their pantry and freezer and blithely come up with a smashing meal with the effortless grace that leaves someone like me scratching their head feeling like a pair of brown shoes in a world of Tuxedos.

Sure, I can follow a recipe and that can fool some people into thinking I’m a good cook, but the thing that separates the gifted from the wannabes is baking.  One time I endeavored to create a fat-free, whole grain bar that my friend Marcia Strassman christened ‘tree bark’ after taking one bite.

My cupcakes have come out of the oven with all the promise of a Sprinkles alternative only to cool to the dry sludgy consistency of play dough mixed with sawdust.  I don’t get it. I did everything right. What’s the secret?

I could live with these set backs, if it weren’t for the fact that what I’d really like to master is a stinkin’ Piecrust and I can’t even get that right!  My Aunt Lovey, whose stuffing recipe is in the archives, also made a sensational Piecrust.  Often I considered Piecrust a necessary evil to get to the reward of the sugared fruit interior, but not her crusts. They had a crisp, savory texture of, well, I can’t think of anything to compare them to really. I just know that I loved nothing more than to break off the edges of them and crunch on them and combine their savory flavors in my mouth along with the sweet fruit of the pie.

Wednesday Night at Chez Toi

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by Paul Mones

interiors_fridge.jpgWednesday was a hellish day. Because you left your Blackberry in a restaurant the night before, you failed to remember about the four people coming over for dinner that evening but were conveniently reminded of it when you listened to your messages after coming in the door just after 6 pm. “Really excited to see you guys tonight – what wine can we bring?” At that moment, just when you were looking forward to watching the Dexter episodes you missed over a leisurely dinner of re-heated pizza and beer did reality bite you in the ass.

You realize there is no time for shopping and you will have to go with what is in the refrigerator. You also know that the only help you will get from your partner is washing up after dinner is over. You open the fridge and that cold eerie incandescent light hits you as you search each shelf – no meat but some good looking kale, scallions and an array of great condiments. And then you thank god for giving man the insight to invent freezers.

Girls and Grills

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by Melanie Chartoff

grilling.jpgYup, it’s time to drag out the ol’ grill and have the gang on over for an end of summer, big bash barbecue.  Labor Day’s the perfect name for that holiday, because we’ll be laboring off what’s left of our arses to prepare for it.

Time for us to tidy the yard of all dying blossom debris, clean the lounges of bird generosities, and hose off the cobwebs on the hammock, evidence of us forgetting to relax and just swing this summer.

Then, gotta get at that gook, the residue of barbecue that didn’t burn off from the Memorial Day or Barack’s-near-our-Block party, remove those flakes of festivities that have clogged neath the jets.  Read Real Simple for cleaning secrets. Have to ask hubby to get on all this, plus disconnect the old propane tank and lug it out to the car then get a new propane tank just in case we run out in the thick of the festivities. ….Wait!  I don’t have a husband.  I am the husband.

 

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