Kick Off Your Summer Grill

I've been cooking for almost 30 years and have learned a lot from mom, grandma, chefs, television, books and internet.  I've tried many new things in the past number of years and I have to say, I get the most enjoyment out of grilling outdoors.  You can cook almost any meal outdoors and more than you can cook in, and the enjoyment you get on your deck or in your backyard is priceless.  

I still love a juicy steak or pork chops on the grill, but after 40 you learn to add more fish and seafood to the menu.  And recently we've instituted "Taco Tuesdays" in our house and I've been having loads of fun with it.  Cornmeal crusted tofu, chili lime rum shrimp, tequila cilantro fish, etc has been the most delicious creations of the week.

If you'd like a great way to enjoy the weather, open a bottle of white (I normally use Riesling because of its limey, mineral properties) and get to work:

  • Marinate.  Today I bought Wild Caught Walleye (if you live in Minnesota, you'll come to LOVE this fish) and prepped it with garlic, oregano, cilantro, lime, olive oil, salt & pepper and tequila.  Let it sit covered in the fridge for at least an hour before bringing it back up to temperature.
  • Drink.  Pop open a refreshing bottle to enjoy (today was Charles Smith "Kung Fu Girl" Riesling) and cool off.  Enjoy the day while the kids play in the yard.
  • Grill.  Doesn't matter whether you're using a gas or charcoal grill: cover the grates with foil.  All flaky fish will disintegrate if you don't.  And use an extra large spatula to get under that filet.
  • Additions.  You may be drinking a bit, but try to multitask.  Make sure to chop your toppings like tomato, avocado, peppers, greens, etc.  
  • Tortillas.  Always use corn- it's the original, less calories and tastes better.  And make it easy on yourself and grill them up!  Brush both sides with olive oil, place them on the grill and have your tongs ready because they cook quickly.  Have a towel or covered plate ready to keep them warm.

Now you're ready.  If you're going spicy (which I always do), you may want to stick with something that is refreshing and has a tiny bit of sweetness like a Washington State Riesling, a homemade margarita or mojito.  After your bev is ready, it's time to construct some tacos with the family and buon appetito!

Cooking with Wine


Everyone knows what the main function of wine is- to drink!  But it can also be used in the kitchen to help create many of your favorite dishes.  It will enhance meals with a bold flavor, and allow you to create even more interesting beverage pairings.  Here are a few quick rules to remember when cooking with wine:

Rule #1 is to never use a wine you would


drink!  A wine's flavor will be present in any dish it is used for, so if you think you can help out your recipe with inferior wine, think again.  I typically drink while I cook, so the wine is there when I need it.  I would not suggest using

Chateau Mouton Rothschild

for cooking, but rather wines that you enjoy in a modest price range.  Never use anything labelled "cooking wine".  This is a cheap wine with additional sodium, being sold for more than it could fetch as a normal wine.  If you don't drink it, don't use it.

There are three main purposes for wine in cooking.  The first is for marinating.  Many meats, especially tougher ones, taste and chew better when they are marinated.  A wine can help break down muscle tissue and tendons, making a tender, soft, and tasty cut of meat.  During the breakdown, blood and other flavor will seep out of the meat into the marinade, making for a tasty braising liquid. 

The second purpose of wine is that same braising or cooking liquid.  A wine will jump up the flavor to any sauce, stew, or braising liquid when added.  Alcohol, sulfites, and water evaporate from the wine, leaving behind the concentrated flavor of the grape juice.  These complex flavors, along with the natural sugars will enhance your meal. 

 The third purpose, and perhaps the most fun, is finishing.  This is when you close the deal and give your meal the finishing touch of flavor, and sometimes flame, that it needs.  A fortified wine, such as Port, Marsala, or Sherry, will enflame a dish, and give it a carmelized crust.  You will also be giving it a desired flavor  profile such as caramel and sweet cherry from Port, nuts from Sherry, or maple and licorice from Marsala.  Finishing a dish can also mean deglazing a pan to create a sauce.  You will pour wine into the just used pan on low temperature, hoping to get all the flavor crusties to mix and meld with the liquid.  The liquid will reduce, leaving behind an extremely concentrated and tasty sauce to accompany your meal.

Make sure that you always pair the proper wine with your dish.  If you're goal is to prepare a pepper crusted skirt steak, marinate it in Syrah/Shiraz.  If you are making a lemon caper sauce for chicken, use Pinot Grigio.  A butter sauce will be optimal with an oaked Chardonnay.  The list goes on and on.  If you have questions about these, leave your comment or ask





(image courtesy of flickr)

Perfect Summer: Grill and Wine

2497722293_9daed51524[1]This is my favorite time of year.  The weather is warming up, the sun isn't hiding behind the clouds, the bright green of leaves and grass along with the multi-colored flowers, pools opening, and grills firing up.  All this helps me enjoy one of my favorite activities- sharing some grilled food and cool beverages, outside with friends and family.  Now it's time to share some grilling tips and beverage pairings to help you enjoy the weather!

Let's start with the grill.  There are a few different kinds you can try (propane, charcoal, woodburning), but I like propane.  It's cleaner energy, starts up and reaches a high temperature quickly, and has less cleanup. 

Now for the food.  It's important to remember the versatility of a grill.  You can put more than just meat on it- vegetables, fish, bread, cheese, and fruit.  You can plan your entire meal on a grill, from appetizers to dessert.  Start off with grilled bacon wrapped scallops or grilled baguette topped with seared tomatoes and goat cheese.  When grilling meat, fish, or poultry, remember to use marinades and rubs.  These should be applied at least 24 hours prior to cooking, so you give them time to mix with the meat and juices.  I like to use some sort of sweetness (honey, cocoa, sugar) mixed with a kick (peppers, garlic, peppercorns), along with spice (cinnamon, clove, coriander, etc.), herbs (thyme, rosemary, etc.), and a bit of alcohol (cognac, rum, bourbon, etc.).  These can combine to make excellent flavored marinades or rubs.  The addition of citrus (lemon, lime, orange, etc.) can help, but remember the acids can "cook", so you may want to add them later.  The addition of butter during grilling, or a butter rub down of vegetables and fruits adds excellent richness as well.  Try to experiment with all of these, along with making your own sauces.  It enhances your creativity and experience!

Now for some beverages.  There is not much that I love more on a hot day than an ice cold beer.  Make sure you grab your favorites.  They can start you off, or carry you through your meal.  I love a wheat ale for the heat.  They are crisp, refreshing, and have a touch of sweet and spice which can be perfect.  Try the Sam Adams Summer Ale, Anchor Summer Beer, or Goose Island Summertime. 

For wine refreshment, starting with a rosé may seem "girlie" to you, but they have a fruity dryness that makes them the perfect bev when the sun is beating down.  I like the 2007 Meinklang Prosa ($13.99), a semi-sparking Pinot Noir rosé from Austria, and 2007 Miguel Torres Santa Digna ($11.99) Cabernet Sauvignon rosé for it's strength, fruit, and ripe color. 

Whites match up well with seafood, and oaked, fuller bodied whites can easily pair with meat.  For freshness, try 2008 Groth Sauvignon Blanc ($15.99), a full, crisp, and creamy version.  Also, 2006 Argiolas Vermentino ($15.99) will give you the perfect compliment to your seafood travels.  For your oaked white, go to Spain for the 2007 Bodegas Muga Blanco ($14.99).  It gives you something different than Chardonnay, with full tropical fruit, coconut, and smokiness.  If this wine doesn't match with the grill, I'll give you your money back!

On to the reds.  I love to pick reds with meaty body, live fruit, spice, and grill flavors like chocolate, leather, tobacco, and char.  A malbec always fits perfectly, and I really enjoy 2008 Doña Paula ($13.99).  It's black pepper and mocha fits well with any meat and most sauces.  I have been getting into Portuguese dry reds, and my favorite value is 2004 Azamor Tinto ($15.99), a blend of 6 varietals, over half being syrah, touriga nacional, and merlot.  This wine brings a gamut of flavor, fruit, body, and spice.  It is hard to beat syrah/shiraz on the grill, so 2007 Qupe Syrah ($15.99) and 2006 Final Cut Montage Shiraz ($15.99) are great spicy red buys for your grill.  Also look for the 2006 Hitching Post Generation Red ($17.99), a spicy red blend with full body, black cherry, and tobacco.

If you move onto some grilled fruits for dessert, like plums, peaches, or pears, pair them up with a tawny port.  The caramel, toffee, and dried fruits will help you savor the sweet charred fruitiness at the end of your meal. 

I will be posting some personal recipes and pairings while I enjoy my summer.  Feel free to share some of yours as well!

(Image courtesy of flickr)