Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Category: Grilling

Midnight Feast

by lyzpfister

There are few things for which I will willingly stay up late.  Pork belly is one of them.  Of course, as I trekked through the slushy Brooklyn night I had no way of knowing that a thick and streaky slab of raw pork belly was waiting for me just past the Bedford stop.

I was on my way to a midnight cooking feast.  In two weeks of schedule scouring my friend Ben and I didn’t have one overlapping free hour to cook.  And all we really wanted to do was cook.  So lets cook at midnight, we said, and that’s how I found myself struggling to stay awake on an empty train, kicking myself for having agreed to something as ridiculous as not being in bed at midnight.

Our plan was to let ourselves be inspired.  To not plan a single recipe until we looked at what we had.  During his 11 pm grocery run, Ben bought whatever looked pretty and cost less than $2 a pound.  I felt like I was on Iron Chef, watching as he pulled each ingredient out of a Whole Foods shopping bag and laid it on the counter.  Lemons.  Eggplant.  Baby potatoes.  Red and yellow beets.  Pork belly.  Parsley and cilantro.  Jicama.  Tangerines and grapefruit.  Fennel.  And lastly, a small, brown paper-wrapped package.  “Guess,” he said.  “Chorizo,”  I guessed.  “Stranger than chorizo.”  “Tripe,” I guessed.  “Less strange than tripe,” he said and unwrapped a tangled mess of baby octopi.

We threw around ideas for our meal – should we do an Asian-inspired glazed belly or slice it up and cook it like bacon – should we roast vegetables or frittata them – could we do anything without vinegar?  (No, was the answer, and Ben made a quick run to the corner store for two bottles of vinegar.)  We settled on belly flash seared and then braised in a citrus glaze and a jicama and roasted beet slaw.  I woke from my sleepiness with the rising smell of onions, garlic, and fennel sautéing in olive oil.

We improvised, we guessed.  Never cooked pork belly?  Don’t know whether jicama and beets taste good together?  Didn’t matter!  We sliced and sautéed our way into the morning.  Ella and Louis crooning from the speakers as our knife blades smashed garlic and the red wine evaporated.  At around two, I remembered the octopus.  What should we do with it?  Grill it, of course, with smoked paprika and lemon.  I wanted mushrooms, so we sautéed them in olive oil with a little salt and pepper and garnished the dish with parsley.  We sat down on one side of the kitchen bar and sampled our appetizer.  It was good, briny and delicately chewy, smoky-sweet from the paprika, and interesting to eat as my tongue worked around tortuously curled tentacles.  But we looked at each other and we knew:  “It needs something” – “a bit of zing.”  And Ben was back at the stove, making a quick balsamic reduction.  He sprinkled the dark black, almost caramelized bits across the red-hued octopus and when we sat down to the second round, we sighed.  Perfect.

I love to cook for people, but sometimes, it’s fun to cook with people who cook.  If only for those moments when you look at each other and just know, that something is good, but it can be better.  And without despairing, a few moments later, with a splash of lemon juice or honey, or a balsamic reduction, you can create something beautiful.  Something truly perfect.

The pork belly, when it came out of the oven, was already perfect.  Tender from roasting in its own fat and acidic citrus fruits, each caramelized, fatty piece, topped with a forkful of vinegary fennel and onion, just melted.  And to balance the richness, there were quick bites of jicama and beet slaw, spiked with jalapeños, mustard, honey, and ginger.

We finished eating, and I slunk into a pork belly-induced food coma, sprawled on the couch still making happy-full food noises.  The dishes could wait and so could the snow.  For now, all that mattered was the good food and the good company and the sleep, so long delayed.  And a promise extracted, to cook at midnight again.

Big Man at the Grill (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Let’s play a game. It’s a warm evening. The pre-dusk glow is thick, and a soft breeze carries the smell of freshly cut grass. Children shout, dogs bark, the night’s first firefly sparks faintly against a blue sky. Smoke, scented with sweet barbeque sauce and pork fat or seared fish and bell pepper drifts under your nose. Someone stands at the grill, deftly grasping a pair of tongs in one hand and a cold beer in the other. Who do you see?

Chances are, if you’ve ever felt the stirrings of the American Dream, you see Dad, out of his suit and tie, tossing Fido a nugget of meat from the grill and watching his two and a half children tumbling through the yard. Or maybe you see a bunch of bros, throwing back Miller High Life and slinging burgers on buns loaded with ketchup and onions.

Whatever you see, chances are good that it’s not me, a petite, fresh-out-of-college woman (gasp – no) pushing hair out of her face with olive-oil greasy fingers and flinging steaks on the grill with panache, all the while swigging from a bottle of Newcastle. If that’s not what you see now, I hope it is soon. Men have steered the grill for far too long, and I’m taking back the tongs.

My goal for this summer is to become a grill master. Lamb chops, eggplant, pizza crust, whole fish, you name it, I’m going to grill it. In facing the grill, a beast I just learned how to turn on a few days ago, I will also come up against one of my other culinary fears – meat. I’m not sure why cooking meat scares me. Vegetables and grains can be taste tested as they cook, so I know exactly when they’re done or whether they need just a little bit more pepper. Meat requires both nuance and blind faith. If you try that cooking chicken breast, and it’s not quite done, let’s leave it at this: salmonella is real.

Either way, I think it’s good life practice to face your fears and learn new skills. So here I am, grilling away. I began with a birthday meal of barbequed ribs, eggplant, sweet corn, and squash, and definitely the best birthday present of the day was learning that you can make your own barbeque sauce. That should show you how much I know about grilling. As I’ve gotten more serious about my pursuit, I’ve done pork chops marinated in yogurt and garam masala and served it with a mango-serrano chile chutney. Yesterday, I tried my hand at fish, which, at two minutes per side, doesn’t leave much room for error. The trout has so far been my greatest success – clean tasting, flaky flesh, flash marinated in a vinaigrette of butter, balsamic, capers, shallots, and rosemary.

What I love about grilling, besides the challenge, is the way it combines every sense of the kitchen with every sense of the outdoors. It’s the smell of smoke and green leaves, the sizzle of dripping fat and ruffling grass, the heat of fire and sunshine. Grilling is perfectly suited for the outdoors. Without the shelter of the kitchen, nature, fire and meat speaks to some Cro-Magnon ancestor, hungry from hunting dinner. Maybe that’s why men gravitate toward it.

Which brings me to the other reason I’m learning how to grill.

A while ago, a friend of mine made this comment: “Don’t let a woman at the grill – or the remote.” It was a joke, I think, but it got me into thinking about why grilling is gendered. Maybe there is something to that primal man and fire bit, but I’m inclined to think it’s the symptom of a much later era, when every fire built was a testimony to the suburban gentleman that no matter how soft his hands were, he was still a man.

I have progressive friends, who I’m sure don’t think it’s their job as men to grill the kebabs I put together, just as I’m sure I don’t let them grill because I think they should. However, I’ve been at more parties than I can count where the men cluster around the grill, and the women make potato salad in the kitchen.

So in preparation for that next party, I’m making better burgers, jucier strip steaks, and more tender ribs.

For myself, I’m cooking anything that tastes good.

Krista’s Barbeque Sauce

I got this recipe from my good friend Krista, who showed me how to make this on my birthday. Krista and I grew up together, and I seem to remember her being the pickiest eater I’d ever met. After trying this sauce, I decided that maybe a picky eater is a good indicator of deliciousness. Because I’m never buying barbeque sauce again.

1 cup ketchup
¼ cup yellow mustard
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Ancho chili powder
½ tablespoon salt

Blend all ingredients together, then adjust amounts accordingly. Krista likes her sauce with a lot of mustard, I prefer a sweeter version and add more brown sugar. When I called her to make sure I had the proportions right, she said, “I go by squirts. So, like, four lines of mustard is probably what I’d start with.” Judging by this comment and also my last experience doing this, you could probably make the sauce totally to taste. This recipe is also a great base for other ingredients, including, but not limited to, Berebere spice, Worcestershire sauce, bourbon, Dijon mustard, and hot sauce.

Tis the Season…to Go Outside (a post by Josh)

by lyzpfister

The sun is finally shining through the April showers, and shorts are more than appropriate. Now a few weekends ago (oh how the time has flown on my adventure through the South), my house christened our new grill. Our house came with a few downers – the electricity, water and gas all getting cut off within the first week of us living there – but a few uppers too. We have a porch, some rocking chairs, a spacious kitchen and a grill. We had all taken advantage of one of those perks except for the grill until that weekend. It was only fitting though, for us to have a bunch of people over to enjoy the luxuries of our massive grill. We wanted to fill up the grill with as much as possible.

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