Memorial Day weekend traditionally kicks off grilling and picnic season.
Some of you already may have been grilling and picnicking in this wonderful weather, but this weekend more people will head outdoors to either cook, dine or both.
Hopefully by now you have already gotten your grill ready for the season. For those using charcoal (my preference) that means last season’s charcoal has been cleaned out and the grill rack has been cleaned.
For those with gas grills, it’s time to make sure you have a tank of propane and that you, too, have cleaned the grill top. If not, now’s the time to get-r-done – so make it happen now and you’ll be a happier cook this weekend.
An easy way to clean your grill rack is heat it up and let the charred remains burn off – think seasoning an iron skillet. Once the racks get hot, take a wire brush and scrub the rack, letting the heat kill any bacteria that may have accumulated, even if has been only sitting a short while.
Now with an old towel or rag you don’t mind tossing, wipe off the rack. Or you can wash it and then dry. Lastly, give it a good spray with a vegetable spray designed for a grill or Pam works just as well.
Once that grill is ready, just make sure you have the propane, charcoal, lighter fluid, whatever you need to operate. An hour devoted to cleaning and purchasing what you need early in the week keeps the chaos away when it is time for the fun to begin.
Also, don’t forget that picnic table that may have been sitting in the yard. Give it a good cleaning.
If you are going out to a park to enjoy your picnic, be sure to take a good soapy rag in a plastic bag. Wipe down that table and cover it with a plastic tablecloth. And let that grill get really hot before you cook on it. You may even want to take your wire brush to give it a scrub.
And don’t forget those coolers you are going to use. Wash them and give them a good cleaning inside. To disinfect, take a fourth cup of bleach and fill the cooler with water and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Dump the water, rinse and let the cooler air dry in the sun.
Lastly, be sure to purchase the aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic bags or containers you will need. Just a bit of time devoted to thinking ahead will make your life so much easier.
And when the master griller at your house says, “Honey, where’s the whatever?” you will be less frazzled; you know it’s going to happen.
Time to cook
Actually, there’s nothing you can’t do on the grill from salads and vegetables to, obviously, the meat.
Make a grilled salsa. Brush slices of pineapple or tomato, a couple ears of corn and get grill marks on them. Let them cool, then dice up adding some parsley or cilantro, a jalapeño pepper, two finely chopped cloves of garlic, maybe even an avocado, fresh lime or lemon juice and salt, pepper and drizzled with olive oil. Stir well. Let sit at room temperature until you are ready to serve or eat immediately.
Potatoes, white and sweet, can be cooked directly on the grill. Cut thick slices and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and even cinnamon and cayenne on the sweet potato slices. Turn often and once they feel fork tender, remove from grill. Place on a platter or in a bowl; add a bit more olive oil and cover with foil. The warm potatoes will continue to soften.
Yellow squash is delicious cooked on the grill. If the squash is small, leave it whole or cut in half. Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper and put directly on the grill. Squash will not take long, so keep your eye on it. Put it in a bowl and cover. Or you can slice squash and onions and put them in an aluminum foil packet, add butter, salt and pepper and let the mixture cook on a slow part of the grill.
A simple salad is to take thick slices of tomato and place directly on the grill. Cut thick slices of onion and put them on the grill.
Once they have a light char, but are still firm, remove. In a bowl make a vinaigrette with a half cup of olive oil, the juice of a half lemon or three tablespoons of your favorite wine vinegar (balsamic might be too heavy), a teaspoon of kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Chop a fourth to half cup of fresh basil. Mix all together.
Add chopped tomatoes and onion. You could actually be done here, but think of adding some chunks of fresh mozzarella or even feta cheese and toss again.
If you’re cooking dogs or brats take a small aluminum pan and make those peppers and onions right on the grill. Chop up the peppers and onions, add butter, salt and pepper, a little garlic powder and even a beer and let them simmer as you are cooking.
Over the summer for those you who are growing or buying herbs from the Farmers Market, let them flavor what’s on your grill, especially chicken and pork.
I cut big sturdy stems off my rosemary and sage and soak them in water. You can bundle them with a string or grocery tie and lay them directly on your grill top. They bring a nice fragrance to the meat without being overpowering.
My neighbor Corky Herbert stopped me recently as we were both walking in the neighborhood.
“Got a recipe for baked beans made from scratch?” Corky’s question translated to starting with dried beans and cooking them.
Not I, folks. I’ve tried them and have never had them turn out as well as I find going to shelves for already cooked beans. But if you do, would you please pass it on to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many folks go to the oven to bake beans. But how about trying the grill to add a smoky flavor? Make your favorite baked bean recipe, put it into a heavy aluminum foil pan and let it cook on the grill, stirring occasionally to keep the beans from sticking. These are especially good if you are closing your grill to create a smoke.
Oops, no bread
Often I realize the one thing I have forgotten to think about is bread when I am serving something that doesn’t require a bun.
Recently, I went to a recipe that became popular in the late 60s. It is a life saver and your guests will be impressed you made it. I promise this is quick and easy.
One 12-ounce beer (not lite)
One egg lightly beaten
4 cups biscuit mix
3 scant tablespoons sugar
In a medium bowl, mix biscuit mix and sugar together, add beer and stir well, then add egg and stir again. (I use a warm beer and I love the chemistry experiment that occurs with all the bubbling that occurs in the bowl when you pour it in.) And while you may want to omit the sugar, you might be able to reduce it, but it is required to activate the yeast within the beer.
Now here’s what can flavor up these muffins. Chop fresh herbs or use dried if you don’t have fresh. You will need at least two tablespoons of whichever you use. I like oregano, rosemary, chives and sage as additives. I stir them into the dry ingredients.
Spoon the batter into muffin cups that have been sprayed with a vegetable spray.
Put in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown on top. When you remove from the oven sprinkle salt over the tops – again to ramp up the flavor.
Don’t have a beer? How about these muffins as a quick bread.
2 cups self-rising flour
¼ cup real mayonnaise
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
Mix the flour and sugar. (Add herbs as in the beer muffins.)
Add mayonnaise and milk. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 15-18 minutes.