Lazy Summer 2010

Sunset over Lake Erie

A programming note:
I will be out of town a lot in July, so DadCooksDinner will be published on a summer schedule until August. New posts will go up on Tuesday and Thursday, with no Monday post unless something really grabs me. Comment approval will be sporadic as well; my internet access will be limited to coffee shop visits.
*I have a bunch of posts "in the can", ready to go for the month...but I was stressing out trying to get more done. My usual three posts a week, done a month in advance adds up to a lot of writing. It dawned on me that this was silly. I write this blog because I enjoy it, not to raise my stress levels. I decided to cut back a bit and enjoy my time off.

What's happening? I'm going on vacation! (Whoo hoo!) I'm spending one week in Chicago, taking the kids to all the museums and hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants I can find. Then I'm packing up my Weber kettle and heading for my family's cottage on Lake Erie. The upside? A relaxing month, visiting the big city, then relaxing on the beach. The downside? Neither location has internet access. This is probably a good thing; it will force me to relax, and spend time away from my computer.
*Who am I kidding? I'm getting the shakes already. And I don't leave until Saturday. How much is a 3G iPad? What do you mean we can't get a 3G signal in Madison-On-The-Lake? I guess I really will have to relax on my vacation.

Enjoy your summer, everyone; I'll see you in August!

What do you think? Where are you going on vacation? Have any restaurant suggestions for Chicago? (I want to go to the Weber Grill Restaurant, Frontera Grill, and Brasserie Jo; any other suggestions, particularly for small, neighborhood places on the north side of town?) Talk about it in the comments section below.

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Things I love: Weber Charcoal Chimney Starter

Things I love: Weber Charcoal Chimney Starter

A chimney starter is the best way to start a charcoal fire. Stuff some newspaper in the bottom, fill the top with charcoal, and light it up; thirty minutes later, the charcoal is ready to use. It's quicker, easier and cleaner than lighter fluid, and the food you cook doesn't wind up tasting like, well, lighter fluid.

The chimney concentrates the heat of the burning paper, and forces it to rise up into the coals.  Once the coals start to light, they add to the heat, until all the coals are lit and ready to go. I've used it in almost all weather conditions, from sunny to windy to snowing heavily. The only problems were caused by very high winds, where the fire was blown out before it got the coals started.
*Oh, and I don't use it in heavy rain...but that's more because I don't like grilling in a downpour.

Why the Weber chimney starter? Two reasons. First, most chimneys are too small. They only hold about three quarts of charcoal. The Weber chimney, filled to the top, holds 5 quarts of charcoal. This is enough to make a single layer of coals across the grate of a Weber kettle, or to make a perfect indirect high heat fire by piling the coals in two piles on the sides of the grill. If you have a smaller chimney, you have to light the coals in two steps - first, use the chimney to get a batch of coals going. Then spread the coals out in the bottom of the grill, pour extra unlit coals coals on top of them and wait ten minutes for those coals to light. I prefer the chimney that holds enough coals that I can just dump and start grilling.

The Weber also comes with a helper handle. This handle is a simple, brilliant addition to the chimney. It helps control a chimney full of hot coals; it is amazing how much extra control comes from that second point of leverage. The coals just go where I want them to go.

So, how do you actually use a chimney? Here are my (foolproof) instructions:
*I'm getting really basic here. It will take you longer to read this section than it will to actually start a chimney of charcoal. If you've ever used a chimney before, skip to the "oil the paper" trick, then move on to another post.

1. Prep the grill: Remove the lid from the grill, remove the grate from the grill, and open the air vents. This lets the air flow to start the fire.
*Also, if I don't do this now, I forget, and smother the coals when I put the lid on later.

2. Put the paper in the bottom of the chimney: Use two sheets of newspaper, loosely wadded up into a ball. The paper should just fit inside the bottom of the chimney.
*I prefer the food section, or the comics, but that's because I'm weird.
**If there is a trick to using a chimney, this is it: Do not use more than two sheets of paper, or crumple the paper into a very tight ball! If the paper is packed too tight, it smothers the fire, and it never really gets going.

3. Oil the paper (optional): If the weather conditions are bad (that is, windy), I pour 1 tbsp of vegetable oil on the paper. This is a trick I learned from Alton Brown (my hero!). The oil catches fire easily, and burns longer than the paper, and it gives the starting of the chimney a little extra oomph. I usually drizzle a little oil on the paper before I wad it up. Or, if I forget, I pour the oil into the chimney before I add the charcoal.
*Note that this will result in a smoky, greasy fire for the first ten minutes the chimney is burning, so don't do it if you're afraid of smoking out your neighbors.

4. Add the charcoal: Put the chimney, paper side down, on the charcoal grate of your grill. Fill the chimney with charcoal (or fill it to the level you want. Most of my recipes use a full chimney for indirect high heat, or a 3/4 full chimney for direct medium-high heat.)

5. Fire it up! Light the paper in the bottom of the chimney in a couple of places. The charcoal will be ready in 20 to 30 minutes. The charcoal is ready when the coals on the top have a coating of white ash on them. They don't need to be completely covered, but the white ash should be visible on most of the top of the charcoal. Spread the coals out in the grill, add the grate, and it is time to grill.
*Oh, and check the chimney after five to ten minutes. If you look through the little holes on the side, you should see a core of coals that are glowing a fiery orange. If you don't see that, you many need to add more paper and try again. Chimney failure has only happened a handful of times during my years of using a chimney, on very windy days. So you can probably skip it. But... checking the chimney is a habit that has saved dinner for me a couple of times.

While the Weber chimney is the best choice, any chimney is better than using lighter fluid. If you're desperate, you can use any metal cylinder as a chimney. I've seen chimneys improvised out of coffee cans; cut the top and bottom off the can, use the pointed end of a bottle opener to punch a ring of holes in the bottom of the can, stuff the newspaper in the bottom, and fill the rest of the can with charcoal.

Next week, I'll show how to set up different types of fires in a charcoal grill. Stay tuned!

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Things I Love: Why Weber Grills?
Basic Technique: Direct Heat Grilling (coming soon)
Basic Technique: Indirect Heat Grilling (coming soon)

Weber Charcoal Chimney Starter

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Kale Chips

I've mentioned The real omnivore's dilemma before - what do you do with all the kale in your CSA? The last time I asked that question, I got a response from reader Maria in an email, saying: You make kale chips, of course!

Kale chips are a food blogosphere sensation - everyone has done them.
*I mean everyone: Other versions are here, here, here, and here.
...and here, here and here.  I'll stop now, you get the point.

Normally, I don't know what to do with all the kale in my CSA; now I was impatient, waiting to get some.  It arrived, and finally I could try the recipe.
*It just didn't seem right, after calling it the CSA box dilemma, to go buy some kale from the grocery store.

I found out why they are such a sensation - they're fiendishly addictive. They come out crispy and salty; the roasting gives them a sweet taste at first, and a little bitter bite at the end. They're so crisp that my first thought was "how am I going to store the extras? They're all going to crumble!" Then I tasted one. And another. And another. Then Diane joined in the tasting. Soon I realized I hadn't taken the "beauty shot" I needed for this blog post, and all the kale was gone. Oh, well, nothing to do but make another batch.*
*Yes, I know, I'm really suffering for my art over here. 
**Yes, I did eat an entire bunch of kale in one sitting. And then I wanted to lick the bowl clean. I don't normally have that strong an attraction to greens.

Recipe: Kale Chips

Napa Cabbage Slaw with Honey Lime Dressing

I got a huge Napa cabbage in my first CSA box last week. I combined it with some of the other vegetables in the box - some radishes and spring onions - to make an early summer version of the slaw that is served with fish tacos.
*I share my Crown Point CSA with my friend Pam; we alternate weeks. Her first answer to "what do I make with this random vegetable?" is always "make a slaw". Turnips? Beets? Kohlrabi? Pam says: slice it thin.
**My first thought is usually: steam-saute it.

This slaw made a great side dish for a Tex-Mex dinner. It has green, crunchy cabbage, a little heat from the radishes and onions, and the tart, sweet honey-lime dressing. It was a great counterpoint to the spicier dishes in the rest of the meal.

This recipe is another example of how to use basic techniques and flavor profiles in cooking.  I knew I wanted the slaw to taste Tex-Mex, so I used lime and honey as the base flavors with my vinaigrette basic technique.  Then I thin-sliced the vegetables, added some cilantro, tossed it all together, and I was done.  Voila!  I went from a box of random CSA vegetables to a side dish in ten minutes, and if I can do it, you can too.

Recipe: Napa Cabbage Slaw with Honey Lime Dressing

Cooking Demo: Meet me at the Market, June 24th 2010

Cooking Demo at the Market: June 5 2010

I'm doing a grilling demonstration at the Stan Hywett farmers market next Thursday, June 24th, from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM. If you're in the area, please stop by and say hello!

I am a huge fan of the Countryside Conservancy farmers markets, and I had a great time doing the demo a few weeks ago at the Saturday morning market in the Cuyahoga Valley, and I am looking forward to checking out the market at Stan Hywett - I've never been to it before.

My theme is "Grilling the Farmers Market".  I have to check out the vendors at the market, to see what I'll be able to cook, but I know I'll be doing grilled garlic toast, and a few other vegetables.  Part of the fun of cooking from a farmers market is finding out what's available that week.

Information about the Stan Hywett farmers market:

View Larger Map

I hope to see you there!

Pressure Cooker Pork Chili with Beans

When Kuhn Rikon sent me their Family Style cooker to test, the first recipe that I thought of was chili. I've been eyeing that cooker for a while because of how wide it was, thinking that extra surface area would be great for browning the cubes of meat that make up chili (or a stew.)
*It doesn't take much for me to think of making chili. New pot to try out? I should make chili! Pot-luck party at a friend's house? I should make chili! Bad day at work? I should make chili! High sunspot activity? I should...well, OK, that last one is a stretch...but I should make chili!

And so, without further ado, here is my pressure cooker adaptation of pork chili.
*Don't have a pressure cooker? Check out my Ranch Hand Chili recipe.

Recipe: Pressure Cooker Pork Chili with Beans

Pressure Cooker French Lentils

Here is another recipe from my tests of the Kuhn Rikon Family Style 12 quart pressure cooker.

Lentil stew with rice has been in heavy rotation in my house for the last year or so. It is one of the key recipes in my dinner plan for Meatless Mondays; we have it every two or three weeks.

Beans and rice are one of the few vegetarian combinations that fill me up. Most vegetarian meals leave me thinking "that tasted great - where's the rest of dinner?" I don't have that reaction when the meal has beans; they're hearty enough to fill me up.  But, eating lentils every two or three weeks gets a little repetitive.  I'm always looking for variations on beans and rice.
*If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you're probably amazed that someone who posts as many meat recipes as I do eats vegetarian once a week. I'm trying to do what I can to help our planet by eating lower on the food chain. Will I ever become a full time vegetarian? But I wouldn't mind working up to two vegetarian meals a week.

I wanted to try my lentil stew using French lentils du Puy and a leek mirepoix for flavor. I wanted to test the pressure cooker from Kuhn Rikon.  I combined them into a test of lentils in the pressure cooker.
*I love it when a plan comes together.

The pressure cooker gives me a noticeably faster cooking time, even with the natural pressure release that I like to use with beans. The lentils are done pressure cooking in about 20 minutes, instead of the 35 to 45 minutes of simmering that they usually take. That extra fifteen minutes can be the difference between my getting dinner on the table on a busy weeknight, and succumbing to the temptation of fast food.
*Darn you, Swensons! Why do your french fries have to taste so good?

And the results? Creamy lentils in a savory broth, done in 30 minutes end to end; the pressure cooker worked its magic once again.
*Don't have a pressure cooker? Check out my Lentil stew recipe.

Recipe: Pressure Cooker French Lentils

Review: Kuhn Rikon 12 Quart Family Stockpot Pressure Cooker

Review: Kuhn Rikon 12 Quart Family Stockpot Pressure Cooker

When I wrote about my love of pressure cookers, I said Size Matters. I mentioned that I'd love to try the largest pressure cooker out there - the Kuhn Rikon 12 Quart Family Style Stockpot pressure cooker. Someone at Kuhn Rikon read that article, and they offered to send me one for a review. I couldn't say "YES!" fast enough.

I have been a pressure cooker fan for close to a decade now, and I have heard about the quality of Kuhn Rikon pressure cookers. They are true second generation cookers, made in Switzerland, and are built really, really well. The Family Stockpot 12 quart cooker they sent me is no exception. It is huge, solid, and fits together like (excuse the allegory) a Swiss watch.
*Also, the 1/2 and 2/3rds fill lines are marked inside the pot, which is a "why doesn't everyone do this?" feature. Pressure cookers need head space to come up to pressure. They shouldn't be filled beyond 2/3rds full. Why doesn't everyone make that level obvious?

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb, Dry Brined with Garlic, Lemon and Herbs

I am a fan of the taste of lamb, especially grilled lamb. The "labminess" that seems to worry people is an extra depth of flavor that I love.
*Is lambiness a word?  Not according to my spell check.  I'm going with it anyhow.

I don't understand the concern about the flavor. When I cook lamb for people, they seem surprised at how much they like it. I had this exact reaction at the farmers market cooking demo I did last weekend. The one quote I remember was:
Taster: The pork is delicious!
Me: Um...that's butterflied leg of lamb.
Taster: Oh, really? Wow, I never would have guessed. It's good!
Another was..."That was lamb?  It tasted interesting." I'm guessing that most of the tasters liked it - they ate every last scrap of lamb I served.

There were a number of lamb fans in the audience, who got excited when they heard I was serving lamb. When I told Jane Snow that we would be tasting the lamb in twenty minutes, she got a gleam in her eye and said "I'll be back."
*Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator level "I'll be back". I could see that gleam in her eye through her sunglasses.

If you haven't had lamb in a while, and think you don't like it, give it a try. You'll be pleasantly surprised. Particularly if you get a good, locally grown lamb, like the leg I was cooking, donated at cost by Great American Lamb.  My only regret about the lamb was they couldn't make it to the market last Saturday, and people kept asking where they could buy it.  They will be at the market this weekend, so stop by and pick something up from them.  (And tell them I sent you.)

Recipe: Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb, Dry Brined with Garlic, Lemon and Herbs

Planet Barbecue Giveaway Winners

I picked the winners to our Planet Barbecue giveaway on Sunday...
We have our winners! picked comments #10 (Alex), #6 (Pat) and #8 (Chris).  Please email me with your contact information, so I can send you the cookbooks!  Use the "Email DadCooksDinner" link in my profile on the top right of the page
I've heard from Alex and Pat; their books are in the mail.

Chris, you need to contact me by Sunday, June 13th, or I'll have to pick a different winner for the book.
[Update 6/10: Chris contacted me, and the book is on the way.  Thank you, Chris!]

Rotisserie Chicken, Dry Brined

At my farmers market grilling demo, I heard:
This chicken is great! What kind of barbecue sauce did you use on it?
The answer: no barbecue sauce. The chicken was salted a day ahead of time, I put a sprig of thyme under the skin of the breast, and I cooked it on my rotisserie with a chunk of smoking wood. That's it!
*This recipe was my hook at the market; it reeled people in. When a group of people walked by, I'd lift the grill lid and show the browned chicken rotating over the coals. Every time I did that, I had the attention of the crowd - they'd stop what they were doing and listen to me. Behold: the power of rotisserie chicken!

This recipe is all about the art of simple grilling. The salt and smoke enhance the flavor of the chicken, and the rotisserie crisps up the skin. There's nothing between you and the taste of the bird, so make sure to get a bird with a lot of flavor. I had the advantage of a pasture raised chicken from Brunty Farms, so I had a great chicken to show off my cooking.
*Difeo's Poultry is another place in Akron for quality poultry. If you don't have access to a local farmer selling fresh chicken, get the best bird you can. My local grocery carries Gerber poultry, which is a good option. I've had good results with Bell and Evans chickens as well.

Recipe: Rotisserie Chicken, Dry Brined

Grilling the Farmers Market

Recipes I demonstrated at the market:
Rotisserie Chicken (Other versions of roti chicken are here and here)
Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb (Coming Thursday)
Grilled Asparagus
Grated Carrot Salad
Grilled Garlic Bread

Last Saturday was my grilling demonstration at the Countryside Conservancy's farmers market in the Cuyahoga Valley. I was so excited to have the chance to do a demo at the market; I've been going there since Ben was small enough to fit in a Baby Bjorn.*  I loved the chance to help out the market, instead of just shopping.
*Ben is nine now, and rolls his eyes when he hears this story.

Earlier in the week I picked up my donated meats: chicken from Brunty Farms, and lamb from Great American Lamb. The night before, I seasoned the meat, and packed my grills in the car. I started the morning at 7:45 AM, when I backed my minivan up to my tent in Howe meadow. I had a leisurely hour while I set my grills up and got my charcoal burning. I walked around, bought some asparagus and carrots, and picked up some donated bread and goat cheese for my garlic toast. I met Rochelle, my assistant for the day. And then...Beth Knorr rang the bell, the market opened, and the first wave of people arrived.

At first, I had a hard time getting people to stop by and see what I was up to. I'm a little shy in public, and it took me a few minutes to warm up. Everyone was using the "I'm staying ten feet away, just walking by, just looking, I don't want to get involved" approach to checking out the market. I'd say hello, they would nod back, and keep walking. Then I figured out how to use my secret weapon - rotisserie chicken. I'd lift the lid on the kettle, show them the chicken spinning in it, and say "Hi! We're doing a grilling demo today!" The sight of the chicken would stop people in their tracks - it looked so good, they had to come closer and see what I was up to. Then I'd move to the other kettle: "and here's the butterflied leg of lamb I'm cooking. We'll be grilling some asparagus later. Come back in thirty...twenty...ten minutes for a free sample!"

That started a regular flow of visitors, but it really took off when we were ready to give out samples of the food. As the lamb and chicken approached the finish line, a crowd started to form and watch me grill the asparagus. We started passing out the samples, and...the next two hours were a blur of slicing, serving, answering questions, and saying "the recipes are on my website - take a card!". The stream of people didn't stop until about 11:15, when we were out of food to give away. Luckily, that was also when the customers at the market were starting to thin out.

What did I learn for next time? Get a second round of food on the grill as soon as possible. I was having a great time: cutting up food, chatting with people, and answering questions. But I didn't start the second batch of charcoal in time. By the time I realized this, it was too late. The second round of lamb and chicken I had planned were too late. That said, I cooked and served: A whole chicken, 3.5lbs of lamb, a pound of asparagus, a french baguette sliced into garlic bread, and two bunches of carrots. Nothing was left by the time I was done! And, really, that's how I judge success - did they like the food?

I wanted to thank a few people who made it such a fun morning:

Rochelle, doing the dirty work
of julienning carrots

The first person I want to thank is Rochelle, my sous chef for the morning. I met Rochelle for the first time at 9AM, right when the market was opening. She volunteered to help out at the market, and they asked her to be my assistant. My first thought was "Assistant? Oh, that's OK, I won't need one. I do this all by myself all the time. I won't need the help." I thought it would be nice to have someone to talk to during the slow times, and that was all. Boy, was I wrong about that! A half an hour later, I was spending all my time talking to the people in front of the tent, showing them my rotisserie chicken and leg of lamb on the grill...and Rochelle was hard at work in the back, shredding carrots and whisking vinaigrettes. I would have been deep in the weeds without her. Thank you, Rochelle!

No picture of Tamara - she was behind the camera
so I'll show you her great shot of my grilled asparagus instead!

Tamara Mitchell, of, stopped by to say hello and cheer me on. She regaled me with stories of her haul from the All-Clad factory sale, and kept me chatting while I prepped the food samples.
*She also saw that I was busy, and took all the pictures you see. Thank you, Tami!

Mike and Jane Snow, sampling the lamb

Jane Snow also stopped by. I'm still a little bit in awe of her, after years of reading her food column in the Akron Beacon Journal. She gave me some good advice for working the crowd ("Tell them who you are!") and, when she saw the hint of pink in my medium-cooked lamb, said "That's the piece I want!"
*She also mentioned that I should get a custom apron with on it. I told my wife I was going to have one made, and she said "Oh, no you don't! Now I have something I can get you for Father's day!"

Unknown Blog Reader #1 was a really nice guy who stopped by to say hi, and tell me how much he liked DadCooksDinner. He kept checking in until I had some food cooked, told me how good it was, then headed home. And I never thought to ask his name (or if he told me, I never caught it.) Whoever you are - thank you for coming to the market to say hello!
*And leave a comment to let me know your name. It's killing me.

Beth Knorr. Beth runs the market, gave me the opportunity to do the grilling demonstration, and kept checking in on me to see if everything was going OK. Thank you, Beth!

Thanks to all the farmers who gave or sold me the food I cooked:
Brunty Farms (chicken)
Great American Lamb (lamb)
Lake Erie Creamery (goat cheese)
Great Lakes Baking Company (french bread)
Klimos Farms (asparagus)
Breezy Hill Farm (carrots)

Special thanks to Jeff at Brunty Farms for the chicken, and Brad at Great American Lamb for the leg of lamb. Their food was the center of my presentation, and they jumped through hoops to get it to me early.

If you didn't get to visit on Saturday, I'll be doing my demo again at the Cuyahgoa Conservancy's Stan Hywett market on Thursday, June 24th from 4PM to 7PM. I can't wait. Stop by to say hi!

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Basic Technique: Grilled Sausages

Grilling sausage is an essential skill for every grill master.
*Especially me. My Dad is from Wisconsin, and I was born there. Knowing how to cook bratwurst is a family requirement.

Grilling sausage is not easy. Cooking a sausage all the way through before it burns on the outside is tricky, and flare ups from dripping fat make it even harder...if you cook them over direct heat. Sausages are a prime candidate for sear-roasting on the grill. Start them over indirect heat, and leave them there until they are cooked through. Then, brown the sausage quickly over direct heat to finish.
*If the grill is hot enough, you can skip the browning step - on my charcoal grill, 20 minutes of indirect heat is enough time to brown the sausage AND cook it through.

This is a weeknight grilling recipe, but just barely. It takes 30 to 45 minutes, end to end, counting preheating the grill. Half of that time is hands off - the indirect cooking part - and you can get other parts of your dinner done while the sausages are grilling. Also, because sausage is already stuffed with flavor, there is no other prep work. I take the sausage out of its packaging and put it directly on the grill.

Basic Technique: Grilled Sausages

Grilled Peppers and Onions

Grilled peppers and onions are my answer to: "I'm grilling. What do I serve as a side dish?" I always have the ingredients in my pantry; when I'm at a loss, I turn to this recipe.
They are also a great way to learn how to grill vegetables. I learned the best way to grill most vegetables (medium to medium-low heat, cook until soft) by practicing this recipe.

Grilled peppers and onions are very versatile. I'm making them Italian style here, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They become Asian with peanut oil and soy sauce; Mexican with vegetable oil and lime juice; Spanish with olive oil and sherry vinegar. In other words, this recipe crosses almost all cultures. It is a classic "what grows together, goes together" pairing. Peppers and onions come out of the garden at the same time; at some point in history, every cook has thought "hey, what if I combine those two…"

After grilling the onions and peppers, I serve them a few different ways:
  • As a relish: I dice them, toss them with their sauce, and use them as a topping for sausages or burgers.
  • As a vegetable side dish: I slice them crosswise into strips, and serve them on the side, or pile them on tortillas.
  • As a sandwich: I leave them whole, put them in a bun, and top with some cheese and grainy mustard.

Finally, if you don't eat them all, the leftovers will last for a few days. Leftover peppers and onions make a smoky topping for sandwiches and salads.
*As I said, this is a very versatile recipe. Try it out!

Recipe: Grilled Peppers and Onions