Chop the High Cost of Outdoor Grilling

In that your humble blogger has recently become the proud owner of a respectable outdoor grill (it’s a honey), you can pretty much count on more columns devoted to this subject starting with today. 

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But first, I must admit to a momentary lapse of good judgment. Wanting to initiate this bad boy in a manner consistent with its awesome capabilities, I visited the website of Lobel’s of New York, “the best source for the finest and freshest USDA prime dry-aged steaks, roasts, specialty meats, and gourmet products that money can buy.” Unveiling the mother of all outdoor grills seemed like an event worthy of a few high-quality American Wagyu steaks delivered overnight on a bed of dry ice. I checked the price. Gulp! One 16-oz Porterhouse steak: $118.98—plus overnight shipping. 

How to Rescue Those Kitchen Disasters

Last night I suffered a kitchen disaster. I hate when that happens. I ruined an entire pot of pasta because I got busy and was not paying attention. By the time I realized, the pasta had cooked way beyond al dente, all the way to total mush. It killed me to dump the whole thing down the disposal, but there was no way to undue that damage. Thankfully, that’s not true for every kitchen faux pas. This is a list you’re going to want to keep handy just in case. 

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TOO MUCH SALT. If you’ve added far too much salt to a sauce or soup, peal and cut a raw potato into two or three pieces and add it to the pot. By the time the pieces of potato become translucent they will have absorbed a lot of the excess salt. Be sure to throw them away before serving. Another trick is to add a bit more unsalted water to the mix, provided this will not also dilute the flavor.

OVERCOOKED VEGETABLES. If you’ve overcooked the broccoli, asparagus or similar vegetables don’t despair. Just tweak your menu a bit to include a lovely creamed vegetable soup. Place the mushy vegetables in the food processor, add hot chicken broth or stock, spices and fresh cream. Process until smooth. Chopped vegetables could also be combined with chicken, butter and cornstarch and placed in a prepared pie shell for a pot pie. If it’s carrots or sweet potatoes you need to rescue, whip them together with raw eggs and pumpkin pie spices to create a soufflé. 

Time to Grill Some Grub!

Of all the joys of summer, nothing beats a great cookout. While meat, poultry and fish are the expected grilled fare, you can really stretch your dollars when you cut down on the meat and fill out the menu with fabulous grilled bread (yep, put it right on the barbecue grill), grilled vegetables–even homemade ice cream (but not on the grill, please, because it would fall through the cracks!).

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Grilled Italian Foccacia

  • 1 pkg. (16 oz.) Pillsbury Hot roll mix
  • 1 envelope dry Italian dressing mix
  • 1-1/4 cups hot water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1-1/2 cups Parmesan cheese (shredded or grated)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  1. Mix roll mix, yeast packet and salad dressing mix. Add hot water and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Stir until soft dough forms and dough pulls away from side of bowl.
  2. Place dough on lightly floured surface; knead 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Shape dough into 2 10-inch rounds. Cover with plastic wrap or towel. Let rise in warm place 15 minutes.
  3. Place dough rounds on greased grill over medium-low coals. Grill four minutes; turn. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Top with cheese, tomatoes and basil. Grill an additional 4 minutes or until bottom crust is golden brown.

To-Die-For Gluten-Free Muffins

I thought this matter of gluten-free was pretty solid–that some people are truly allergic to gluten, others have celiac disease for whom gluten is a serious health issue, while others are simply gluten sensitive. Now I learn there is a growing school of thought that unless a person is diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s all a big hoax. 

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Here’s what I know for certain: My husband had an annoying cough for at least 20 years. He visited every kind of doctor and to no avail. His symptom was unexplainable and about drove me nuts. About six months ago we decided to remove gluten from his diet, and I agreed to go along as well. Within days, his cough began to wain. It’s completely gone, and my sanity has returned. 

A hoax? I say no and here’s my proving ground: Now and then Harold will fall off the wagon, either knowingly but often times not (gluten is in a lot of things these days). Sure enough, I start to hear that low-grade cough. He can’t help it, he can’t hide it. 

Favorite Summer Salads

For months I’ve been harboring some amazing salad recipes, anxious to share them with you but waiting for the snow to melt. To me, summer and salad just go together. I’m not talking about side salads here, but fabulous, cool, crisp hearty salads that are worthy of being the entree at the end of a long, hot summer day.

photo credit: Joselu Blanco

photo credit: Joselu Blanco

Salad is often a side dish. However, by adding protein, you can turn just about any salad into the main event. Then, you have a nutritionally-balanced meal that will keep you from feeling hungry an hour after dinner. A salad is the perfect way to use up chicken or steak left from last night’s barbecue, or even that piece of grilled salmon orseafood. Step away from the hot stove to enjoy these salads any night of the week!

Never Trust a Dark Restaurant

I should have known better. Of all people, I should not have trusted a menu that had no prices on it. But for some reason it just didn’t cross my mind that I needed to.

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Friends called asking us to go out to dinner. It was spontaneous so they looked to me, their fearless cheapskate, to come up with just the right choice. We were all game to try something different, so armed with my trusty two-for-one entertainment book, I led the way through the first 60 or so pages of this exhaustive resource. We eliminated the outrageously expensive and finally agreed on a Moroccan restaurant.

The menu was printed right in the book and indicated, “Dinners: $15 per person.” Assuming that we’d get four dinners for the price of two (that’s the point of this two-for-one book, right?), we figured this was a pretty good deal and a good way to try something new, just in case it was well, gross.

The “Valet Parking Only” sign should have been the first clue. Instead it ticked me off, but I figured an extra buck or two to park wouldn’t kill us. 

Novel Ideas to Make Cooking Fun and Rewarding

There’s just something satisfying about knowing how to make perfectly uniform meatballs, chocolate mousse, or baked potatoes in half the time. Today I have a plethora of fun and easy kitchen tips that are sure to raise your Kitchen IQ, and make you smile at the same time.

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PERFECT MEATBALLS. When making a large batch of meatballs, the fast and simple way is to shape the meat mixture into a log and cut off slices. The slices roll easily into balls. Another option is to pat the meat into a large square and cut it into cubes which again easily roll into meatballs of uniform size.

YOGURT SUBSTITUTE. Have a craving for yogurt? Cottage cheese blended until smooth makes an excellent cup-for-cup substitute for plain yogurt. 

WINE COOK-ALIKES. To substitute for white cooking wine use 1/3 cup white grape juice plus 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar. For red cooking wine: 1 cup grape juice, 1 tablespoon strong tea and 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar.

GRATE THE BUTTER. When a recipe says to “dot with butter,” instead of cutting a stick of butter into small pieces, grab the cheese grater and “grate” the cold butter over the large holes right into the casserole, fruit pie or other baked dessert. This will make your butter last longer. 

Chicken Labeling: Prepare to be Surprised

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If you’ve ever stood in the supermarket wondering if paying more for chicken that is free-range, antibiotic-free, no hormones added, farm-raised, natural, and organic, makes you a better person, you are not alone. 

Recently, as I was doubting myself on my chicken choices I decided to get to the bottom of what all of this really means. It’s not at all what I thought.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a cabinet-level agency that oversees the regulation of food-grade chicken and is responsible for the claims on packaging and labels. And despite all of the hype and fluff, there is only one label (“organic”) that guarantees specific standards and for which you might consider paying more. 

Briefly here is what all of it means–or doesn’t mean–according to the USDA.

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Free-Range. There is no specific definition for free-range. For sure it does not mean  “running free to forage for grubs and grain on acres of rolling green pastureland.”  The USDA generally allows this term if chickens have access to the outdoors for “at least part of the day,” which could mean a matter of a few minutes, whether that chicken chooses to go outdoors or not. A single open door at one end of a huge chicken warehouse meets this definition of free-range. Even so, fewer than 1 percent of chickens nationwide are raised as “free range.”