Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Weekend

Fooled you! We didn’t eat out at all this past weekend. Which is not to say we didn’t eat well. I fired up the grill. New to us last year the charcoal burner is a Kingsford Model CBC1030W, 395 square inch, 23 burger capacity, with an adjustable charcoal grid. It cost me about $70 and has proven quite reliable and durable.

The Place:

The bottom of a four hundred foot paved driveway, just outside the attached garage of our modest and comfortable home a few miles from Hillsboro. From this spot I can watch the dogs in the back yard while listening to all things being considered on the old garage/workshop radio.

Instructions:

Using a steel brush, scrape the crusty, carcinogenic muck off the grill mesh.

Using the wide paintbrush, sweep the ashes from the last session into the removable ash receptacle.

Slide out the ash container and toss the ashes into the woods (check wind direction first)

Replace the ash can. (important step!)

Drop the charcoal grid back on to the mechanism.

Cover the grid with a two-deep layer of Kingsford Charcoal. Do not use generic or store-brand charcoal.

Douse thoroughly with about a quart of lighter fluid.

Close the lid and step away for five to ten minutes. This will reduce evaporation and allow the fluid to soak in well, avoiding spectacular, fiery explosions.

Let it burn off completely, the charcoal should be mostly white, ash covered.

Put the grill mesh back on, let it heat thoroughly to cook off any other stuck-on grease and food bits.

Within a few minutes the grill is ready for the food. If you are cooking corn, baked beans, onions, etc. in foil pouches they go on first, on the upper shelf.

The Food:

Friday: Chicken thighs

Saturday: Burgers and Brat patties

Sunday: Hot dogs!

All of this takes a little preparation.

Chicken thighs:

For the chicken, several hours prior to cooking: Thaw the thighs. Meanwhile slowly sauté chopped onions, garlic, bell peppers, and a few bits of jalapeno in a very small amount of olive oil. Once the onions have softened, add a cup of margarine or butter into the pan, let It melt but not burn. As soon as it has all melted add a couple of drops of lime juice and a half cup of your favorite boxed chardonnay. Let it simmer, but not boil out.

Put the thighs into a one-gallon freezer bag, then pour the mixture over the thighs. Seal up the bag (remove air first) and knead the package until all the parts are well coated. Drop it into the refrigerator until ready to grill. Don’t worry about the amount of peppers/onions/butter, the flavor transfer is minimal, and most of the fattiness will cook off, this is a subtle taste method. Mostly what you get is moist chicken with a mild, yet sweet and smoky taste. This chicken is rarely dry, even when slightly over-cooked, I think it’s because of the butter/margarine coating.

On the side: Whole kernel corn, drained and folded up in foil with a Tbsp of butter/ margarine. Also good with grilled toast.

As I managed the grill, Angel whipped up some mashed potatoes, right out of the box, just like mom used to make.

The family loves this chicken, it’s even great cold, right out of the leftover plate.

Burgers/Brat patties:

I’d never cooked bratwurst patties, never even heard of them in fact, but what the heck. Angel found them at the store and picked some up along with some Angus patties.

Preparation:

Several hours before grilling, cut off the corner of the plastic covering the brat patties, and insert one bottle of beer. Twist-tie the plastic back up and squeeze the beer around to be sure that all the patties are drowning in the stuff. I picked up a sixer of Sam Adams specifically for this task. Bonus, We got to drink the other five bottles with our grilled meals.

Grilling time:

Just before the grilling, chop up some onions, bell peppers and whatever other toppings you like. Create a foil pouch and add a tsp. of olive oil, seal and put on the grill early. Also, lightly butter up your buns.

I also loaded up two more foil pouches with baked beans, one pouch with onions and peppers and one without, for Adam.

Angel started deep frying some frozen crinkle fries, I didn’t start the grilling process until she was ready to start that, thin meats don’t take long to cook, and our deep-frying pan is small.

The top shelf of the grill is ideal for the buns, but keep an eye on them anyhow. There’s only about a thirty second window between ‘browned’ and ‘cremated’.

The brat patties crusted and darkened nicely, the low-fat Angus patties cooked quickly. I gave the brats a bit more time as they were twice as thick. It only took ten or fifteen minutes for everything to be done, the only thing I added to the patties was a little salt and pepper.

Awesome good! I found the brats a bit fatty, but that’s just their nature. Angel and Adam really enjoyed them though.

Hot dogs!:

Okay this was weird. On Sunday night we were sitting in the living room watching TV. We had earlier been discussing whether or not to eat out for our last day of the 3-day weekend. For some reason I chimed in: “You know what I’d like?”

There was no response, so I added anyhow: “Hot dogs and potato salad.”

They looked at me as if I had grossly disappointed them yet again.

“Seriously, it’s been months, maybe years since I had a hot dog. And I love me some potato salad!”

This was true. Though we always have wieners in the chill box, they are usually fed mostly to the dogs. (they are a great and cheap training treat when chopped up and are ideal for delivering doggie medications. Bailey gets her heavy and large arthritis medication and the occasional anti-depressant in a ‘magic wienie’)

I usually skip over them as a lunch or snack, too fatty. (watching my numbers)

But this was a summer-ish holiday and I wanted potato salad, and hot dogs go good with that.

We were getting ready to watch Iron Chef just as I brought this up.

What? You’ve never heard of . . .

Iron Chef:

Several years ago when the Food Network was just starting up, they aired a Japanese import. ‘Iron Chef’ pitted one of five or six proclaimed master chefs against a challenger. With much color, pomp and drama the show’s host ‘The Chairman’ would introduce the challenger, have him select which Iron Chef he would like to compete against, then announce the nights ‘secret ingredient’ which would serve as the foundation of five dishes each. A panel of celebrity judges (MP’s, singers, fortune tellers) would watch from above ‘Kitchen Stadium’ and at the end sample and judge the food on the basis of originality, plating and taste. Sometimes the challenger would win, but most often not. The show was lots of fun to watch because it was crudely dubbed into English and the secret ingredients were often things completely foreign to the western palette. Fish guts, fish heads, eels, insects, parts of chickens, cattle and pigs that in the U.S. be tossed away or ground into pet food were prepared, in one hour in absolutely beautiful presentations. The judges would fawn (dubbed) over the intricacies of each dish

After the show was cancelled in Japan, and Food Network had shown all the episodes, the show’s cult-like following (which was largely responsible for the early success of the network) wanted more. They got “Iron Chef America”. Same concept, same layout, only with American Iron Chefs including Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and the almost-certain-loser ‘Cat’ Cora’ among others.

The ‘Chairman’ was by storyline the nephew of the original Japanese overlord, in this new venue played by a guy mostly known for his work in Kung Fu movies.

The ‘secret ingredient’ was more familiar fare but often included high end proteins and rather exotic produce. Not as funny as the original show, but still fun to watch.

At our house we often try to guess or suggest a good secret ingredient, in the past we’ve decided that a real challenge would be something familiar and single note in depth, like lime Jello, Corn Flakes, Spam, crickets, beef jerky, Tootsie Rolls, etc.

It was just before we started watching this night’s episode that Adam tied the two things together. “Hot dogs would be a great secret ingredient.” He flatly stated just as the chairman was hovering over the covered table.

The Chairman: “Today’s Secret ingredient is. . . !” pause, dramatic music, laser lights flickering and sweeping. The steel cover is winched up in a cloud of evaporating dry ice. “Hot Dogs!”

We froze in time and place. In ten years of watching this show we’d never even come close to naming/guessing an actual secret ingredient. It was cosmic, metaphysical. Our jaws as one, dropped to the floor. (as did the jaws of the chefs on TV). Of course the TV dogs were the old fashioned hand-twisted kind. Ours are usually the eighty nine cent per package variety.

Anyway, it was unavoidable, Monday would be hot dogs and potato salad. You just don’t ignore an omen like that.

Preparation:

Potato salad is pretty simple, especially with Adam in the house since he doesn’t care for most reasonable ingredients.

Peel a pile of potatoes, lots of them. Potato salad is fantastic leftover food. Chop up into half-inch or bigger cubes. Boil them until they are just starting to get tender. Not too long or you’ll end up with mush.

Drain, let cool, but not completely. Add mayonnaise (Miracle Whip) and a little mustard and fold/toss, be gentle. Add in some relish and a few tsp’s of pickle juice. This is Adam-friendly as it is. Normal households would add chopped onions, chopped boiled eggs, or other stuff at this point.

Make this far enough ahead that it will be nearly ice-cold by serving time.

Grilling:

Hot dogs don’t need a lot of time/heat on a grill. I only used a single layer of charcoal.

Open, but do not separate the buns. Butter lightly, then when ready to start the hot dogs, butterfly the buns on the upper tier of the grill.

Watch the dogs carefully. Too much heat will scorch the skin before the insides are cooked. Roll them around a bit, it’ll only take a few minutes. Everything else should be set out by the time the dogs go down on the fire.

Toppings: Cheese, mustard, relish, ketchup, bean-less chili, chopped onions, etc.

Great with cold beer (Sam Adams) or Luzianne Ice tea.

This all made for a fantastic gastronomic weekend, better food than we expect mere restaurants to serve up. Fresh, hot off the grill, sides we pick ourselves, all made to order.

I don’t claim to be a master at the grill, but these meals are so simple that even a knuckle dragging non-cook could make this stuff. Just pay attention, take your time, and don’t play with the flames.

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