Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day Barbecue

If you are lighting the grill this weekend try some natural lump charcoal. It burns much cleaner than charcoal briquettes. Once you start using it I guarantee that you'll never switch back to briquettes.
Briquettes impart a strong flavor from the chemical compounds used in their manufacture. Natural lump charcoal is just what it's name implies, a natural wood product that is 100% carbon. It burns hot and clean and is almost odorless.
I'll be cooking some Griggstown Farm chickens using a rotisserie on my Weber kettle. I like to build a small fire and keep the chickens on the grill for about an hour and a half. I stuff a few sprigs of thyme inside the chickens and season them with just salt and pepper. After taking them off the grill, they rest for about twenty minutes so they will be tender and juicy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A No-Brainer

Here's a great idea for repurposing used wine barrels. Hat tip to Phil Ward of Opici Wine Importers for sending me the link.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My take on Steak

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion when it comes to steak etymology. What is Sirloin? What is a New York Strip Steak? What is a Club Steak? I hear these questions all the time. Sometimes from people who have been cooking professionally for years. Part of the problem comes from regional variations, but mostly it seems to be several persistent misconceptions get repeated so often that they take on a life of their own.
A New York strip steak is NOT sirloin. This steak is cut from the short loin which is next to the sirloin, but not sirloin. The short loin is the lower rib section of the back. It includes the tenderloin which lies inside the ribs and the strip loin which is on top of the ribs. Porterhouse steaks, T-Bones and Delmonico steaks are cut from the short loin. If you remove the tenderloin then you call it a shell steak, and if you remove the bones it is called a strip steak. The short loin offers the best compromise between flavor and tenderness. Muscles that work a lot are generally flavorful but tougher. The muscles that make up the short loin do some work but not too much. Muscles that really work generally require long slow cooking.
To further add to the confusion, rib-eye steaks are also called Delmonico steaks, or club steaks. There is some discrepancy about what a real Delmonico steak is. The name comes from a 19th century dining club called the Delmonico Club. I believe that a real Delmonico steak is a steak cut from the rib end of the short loin, basically a porterhouse steak without the attached piece of filet mignon.
Going from head to tail on the animal, the next section of meat is the sirloin. While not as tender as the short loin, the sirloin is probably the tastiest steak. Bone-in sirloin steaks are cut from the top sirloin and are considered superior to boneless sirloin steaks. They are named after the shape of the bone that is attached to the adjacent muscle. The pin bone sirloin is right next to the short loin. It is the king of sirloin steaks. Sirloin tip steak or steaks labeled "boneless sirloin" come from the bottom sirloin. The bottom sirloin does a bit more work than the top sirloin, so they are a bit tougher, though very tasty.
Next, at the rear of the animal is the round. This is where top round and inside round come from, the steaks most commonly labeled "London Broil". If you plan to marinate your London broil this is the steak to use. It is quite lean and will be tender enough as long as you slice it thin and against the grain. Flank steak and skirt steak though more expensive are both much more flavorful. They still benefit from a marinade to flavor and tenderize the meat.
This chart should help with understanding the different cuts that I have mentioned.
The next time you want to grill steak for a crowd, try a bone-in sirloin, grilled rare to medium-rare on a hot charcoal fire. Let it rest for 5 minutes and slice it against the grain. Spoon some of the juices that have collected on the cutting board over the steak and really enjoy the beef flavor with nothing more than salt and pepper.

Monday, May 5, 2008


A great way to make burritos is to cook them on the grill. Flour tortillas stuffed with the filling of your choice taste great when they get a little charred on the grill. Roll up the tortilla and brush a little oil on it and grill seam-side down first. Turn it a few times to get some nice black parts with an overall golden brown color.
I like to use cous cous instead of rice to make a lighter filling. Combined with refried black beans, goat cheese and some roasted vegetables a delicious meatless meal is fairly easy to put together. Some chicken, shrimp or crabmeat can be added as well.
Serve your burritos with guacamole and pico de gallo or salsa and drink a Corona to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Yesterday was the midpoint of Spring known as the cross quarter. This time of year everyone seems to be gardening. If you have decent soil and plenty of sun you can grow basil.
Here in Lambertville there is quite a bit of alluvial soil that has been deposited by the Delaware river over the millennia. It is light and full of minerals and makes growing many things a snap. I wish my yard got more sun because I really miss growing tomatoes and basil.
If you grow basil or have a friend who grows basil, you'll probably want to make pesto. Nothing maintains the fresh taste and aroma of basil better than pesto. It's really easy to make and will keep in the refrigerator for weeks with a slick of olive oil over the top.
You can make pesto in a blender, food processor or with a mortar and pestle. One thing to be careful about is not to over-process extra virgin olive oil as it can become bitter. Start with clean basil leaves, garlic and toasted pine nuts. Crush it all together into a paste, then add a little extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese and black pepper. Mix to combine and that's it. The quantities are really up to you. It is easy to add a little more cheese, a little more garlic or a little more oil, so just experiment.
Variations include toasted walnuts instead of pine nuts, a mixture of parsley and basil, or vegan pesto without the cheese. Substitute roasted garlic or sun dried tomatoes for some richness if omitting the cheese. Avoid adding acidic things like lemon juice or corrosives like salt. They will cook the pesto and really shorten its life span. You can add salt or lemon to the finished dish as you use the pesto, but never to the pesto itself if you intend to store it.