Mixed Grill. Mixed Grill.

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Mixed grill. Mixed grill.  The phrase hummed in the air all afternoon at the trailer.


Marc and I invited ourselves out to Carl & Julianne’s Airstream in wine country for Labour Day Weekend with the plea to use the BBQ.   This BBQ- it was previously enjoyed and left for dead next to the giant “To Burn” pile in the trailer lot next door- Carl had rescued it, dragged it over to the Airstream.  It enjoys a second life now, one in which Marc and I have played a part every time we enjoy a weekend with C, J & M out of the city.


For several weeks before the long weekend, we perused the food mags and sites for barbecue ideas.  Burgers were featured everywhere, of course, all with some sort of label of “ultimate” or “perfect” or “gourmet”, but that didn’t seem special enough for one of these cherished occasions where we get to use actual flames to cook food.  Flames that burn from artisanal charcoal.  After narrowing down the list and debating about what would go best with cold beer and hot weather, we decided on the menu.

Homemade babaganoush with grilled pita bread

Mixed grill with cherry cola barbecue sauce

Grilled vegetables with goat cheese

Grilled nectarines with honeyed crème fraîche

And so, early on Saturday afternoon, the preparation and cooking began.  The coals were lit, the mesquite pellets sealed in tinfoil, the grill scrubbed clean.  There were to be hours of slow cooking ahead for the ribs and the eggplant, and hours spent lounging and beering in the shade as the smoky, meaty smells would waft towards the picnic table.



Then we started to get hungry.   The eggplant was the first to be lifted from the flames, only to be judged insufficiently cooked and thrown into the trailer’s oven for softening.  At best, the resulting babaganoush tasted intriguingly smoky.  At worst, it tasted a little… burnt.  But at 5:30, after having already sat still listening to and smelling the ribs sizzling for almost 2 hours, we weren’t going to waste any more effort on the stupid appetizer.


Then came the sausages (the homemade Antonelli’s sausages which never let us down), and the spice-rubbed, skin-on chicken thighs that blistered and crisped to perfection under the supervision of three adults who could not leave the meat alone, who could not go five minutes together without one of us “peeking”, even though we promised each other we’d leave it alone.  The barbecue sauce was applied, and reapplied; the veg hit the grill as the meat neared its end, the ribs rested before they got hit with more sticky, sweet, cherry-cola sauce.   Mixed grill.  Mixed grill.  Finally, we ate.  Even the pickiest eater among us could not help gnawing at the bones.


All of it was divine.  The ribs fell apart in our hands, every surface, every utensil on the table became sticky with sauce.  The sausages, coarse enough to be toothsome, were spicy little nuggets next to the juicy chicken, done just right.  The vegetables were tasty but hardly seem worth mentioning next to the all-consuming chewy, meaty, saucy, smoky, drippy, messy mixed grill.

Squished Flat and Crispy on the Outside

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Recently, whenever we have decided to roast a chicken, we have butterflied it.   I don’t know how this started exactly, but at some point, I used some lethal kitchen shears to de-spine a chicken in order to roast it faster, and now it has become habit.   Less time in the oven means less gas usage, the meat cooks more evenly, food is on the table faster;  the only drawback is the aesthetic value of presenting a flattened chicken.

Last week we added a new dimension to  the butterfly cooking method:  squash it even flatter with a brick.  Ostensibly, this brick-method makes it Moroccan, if one is to believe Tyler Florence on the TV, but I’m not sure I do.  Regardless, it did present some twists:

  • the skin was crispier than usual owing to the extra fat being squished out and rendered, coating and crisping the skin,
  • the chicken was, naturalement, way flatter than usual,
  • the cooking time was slightly faster.



In addition to adding the brick to our collection of kitchen tools (stolen from the front garden), we finally lashed out and bought the $15 grinder to be dedicated only to grinding spices.  What took us so long?  It was so much easier to use this then trying to mortar-and-pestle them as we used to.   As it turns out, it would’ve been rough going trying to grind up the sumac berries for the za’atar by hand.    The recipe for the chicken suggested serving it with za’atar grilled bread, which was pizza dough we did on the Foreman.  Za’atar, we could’ve bought it ready-made, but since we had the spice grinder it was going to be more fun to build it on our own.


Add a little couscous spiked with toasted almonds and dried apricots, top with some cool minted yogurt, and we could be in Morocco.


When Life Hands You a Lemon

Monday, February 9th, 2009

“When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”   What about when life hands you rotten meat?   Or rather, what happens when you buy meat and then leave it in the fridge so long that when you take it out to use it, the juices in the sealed plastic package appear rather more green than red?     What’s the adage for rotted meat?

There was nothing we could add to those sad-looking, expensive beef short-ribs that would have made them palatable.    Angrily, Marc threw them away and thus the whining began.   Both of us whining about what to make for dinner on Saturday night when we had planned all week to enjoy beef rendang, when we had made a special trip via bus and walked 10 blocks to the Asian grocery to find the pandan leaves for the accompanying nasi lemak and the kaffir lime leaves to flavour the beef.    A breath away from suggesting we order pizza, Marc found a recipe online that saved us from ourselves, a recipe that called for kumquats, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric and shallots, all of were laying about unfulfilled without the star of their show.   We had randomly purchased chicken thighs that afternoon because we were at the butcher’s, and Marc ran down the street for one chili pepper while I prepped the rest for Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Kumquat-Lemongrass Dressing.   Really, what are the odds that we would have purchased a 1 lb. bag of kumquats because they were on sale?   How often do we have lemongrass poking their scratchy ends out of the vegetable crisper?

And so, an evening that started out by throwing away twelve dollars-worth of meat ended with spicy, citrusy, crispy-skinned chicken on a bed of coconut rice. So far, the Year of the Ox brings us luck!


Smells Like Hungry

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

cimg7067.jpgYears ago I read somewhere that of the smells that humans find most pleasing, roast chicken is number one. It beat the smell of bread baking, lavender, vanilla, freshly cut grass, strawberries, everything. I can’t deny that the smell of roasting chicken is divine, but I don’t know if I would necessarily agree that it is The Best; it has to do with context. When hungry, sure, the best smell in the world is probably roasting chicken, but when sleepy, the best smell might be the smell of lavender or of freshly washed sheets. On the same token, I don’t want to be smellin’ chicken when I’m in bed and I don’t want to smell laundry soap in the kitchen, but in the right context, each is equally as pleasurable. Vanilla, in its iced and creamy form, is lovely but doesn’t precisely evoke the pleasure of a summer day, where freshly cut grass would gain more points. Grass + ice cream = repulsive. But if you talk to someone who is allergic to grass, vanilla will rate higher in their book every time. Or what about someone from a non-western culture: cardamom might beat out vanilla; garlic might beat out bread. Smell, it must be acknowledged, is perhaps the most subjective sense of all and as such, how can anyone hope to rate one scent higher than another? Maybe instead of rating smells, it would be better to apply a verb or adjective. What does hungry smell like? What is the scent of learning? How does luxurious smell? (BTW, if you want to know what “cute” smells like, smell a puppy.)

So we roasted a chicken. We have yet to find a butcher here so were obliged to obtain our subject from the Andronico’s market down the street. They actually have pretty good meat- good selection, good quality, less than good price… But the best organically raised, free-range chickens cost good money because they gave up their sweet existence so that we may swoon with content at the smell of their roasting flesh. And swoon we did, especially one of us (the one with four legs) who guarded the oven closely while the bird was in the oven. I was inspired to make this because of Nigella’s description of her roast chicken in How To Eat. The way she writes makes my mouth water; I can practically see her licking the butter off her fingers as she adds it to the gravy. And then she describes the variations on leftovers than can be created from the remains of a roasted bird with words like “unctuous” and “melting” and “relish” that it’s hard to resist racing into the kitchen to cook whatever’s on the page. This was the case with the chicken and it did roast its way to brilliance, with, thanks to her advice, extra crispy skin and extra gravy.

For the first time ever, in the history of my existence, I did not make mashed potatoes to go with roasted meat. Travesty. If there’s any possibility of gravy, mashed potatoes must be on hand to pick up the slack, to sop up the jus as it runs off the meat and threatens to flood the vegetables. However, this time, not only did we not do potatoes, we did not do a traditional veg. Imagine! Instead, we had roasted garlic and shallots and Marc made some bright, chickpea salad. I’m almost convinced that a legume is the perfect halfway point between green and starchy; it went very well with the roasted meat but didn’t encourage gluttony, as a legume cannot hold onto gravy nearly as well as a mass of potato mixed with butter. I am almost convinced. I could never abandon starch.

And so, à propos of nothing, here is my Impromtu Top 10 Subjective List of Best Smells, When Smelled in Context:

10. puppy
9. fresh laundry
8. lilacs
7. peaches
6. sun-warmed forest
5. frying bacon, with coffee in the background
4. frying onions, with garlic in the background
3. roasting meat
2. rain
1. fresh baked bread


Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

I’m not entirely sure why we stopped in Chuncheon. The guide book author made a passing remark about eating there and it was on the way to our next destination. We found a nice motel room with a balcony, run by a friendly young couple. Note: a motel does not mean a room with an exterior entrance, as it often does in North America. Motel is an inexpensive hotel catering to young couples, and married men with their mistresses. They are generally not sketchy, but don’t ask for a twin.

One of the ‘must do’ activities in Chuncheon is to eat dakgalbi, spicy chicken. An entire street is devoted to dakgalbi restaurants. As soon as we stepped onto the street, a woman came and pulled at Janet’s arm and started talking quickly in Korean to lead us to her restaurant, thus thwarting my plan to look around before selecting a restaurant. We followed her in and our usual menu challenges were absent as the woman simple asked, “Two?” When eating on this street you are eating dakgalbi.

The stove was lit below our enormous personal cast iron skillet and hurriedly filled with a mountain of half-frozen chicken, gnocchi-like pasta, spicy sauce, cabbage and a few other vegetables. It all cooked down to a small mound, but we were still unable to finish it or the compulsory set of kim chi that accompanies every meal. We were also provided with aprons to keep our clothes clean. My apron was spotless, my shirt was not. Somehow, four spots of hot sauce avoided the plaid barrier to hit their target, my white shirt. The meal was tasty and filling, especially with a bottle of soju to wash it down with.


Fueled with dakgalbi from the previous night, we rented bicycles to casually bike around the lake. Not content with the scenery near the city, we headed south toward the countryside. Two wrong turns, a poor map and some not-so-helpful directions lead us up a series of hills. At one point we cycled over a hill to a dead end in a rice paddy. We never made it to our rural destination, but we did manage to find a pleasant and flat path on our return.