Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ahhh, there's the spice rub . . .

When grilling meats and vegetables, enormous amounts of flavor can be added through marinades and rubs. Conventional thinking says that marinades containing some acidic ingredients, like lemon juice, wine, or vinegar, can tenderize the meat. I'm not so sure. Most of the time I find strong versions of such marinades turning the outside mushy and leaving the inside as tough as ever. Rubs, on the other hand, are just dried herbs and spices rubbed into the meat before cooking.

With marinades, you usually leave the meat in the fridge for a some specified period of time to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat. Recently, I learned that you can do the same thing for rubs. Letting it sit for 30 minutes or so in the fridge after rubbing can allow the oils in the spices to better flavor the meat.

There are several commercial rubs and seasoning salts on the market. I'm not normally a big fan of most of them but, recently J&D's Down Home Enterprises sent me samples of their “Bacon Salt” to try. Their claim is that “everything should taste like bacon.” When it comes to grilling, it's hard to disagree. I like the flavor of the meat or veggies to take center stage, most of the time. A smokey bacon flavor can really enhance most grilled meats and veggies, though. I'll tell you more about my experiences cooking with Bacon Salt, next time.

Usually I'll make my own rubs and marinades. With hamburgers I mix the spices into the meat, rather than trying to coat the outside, of course. Here are a few of my favorite blends. All of them use dried herbs, which I tend to favor over fresh when it comes to grilling and convenience. I'll generally be more generous with the herbs when grilling meat, than I do with vegetables. Either way, I don't use so much that it starts to resemble "blackened" whatever.

Italian Herb Rub

Believe it or not, I find this blend works better without the oregano. Some people can't divorce Italian food from oregano, though, so I've included it as an option. This rub is great with just about anything. If you're feeling adventurous, Try lightly grilling thick slices of beefsteak or halved Roma tomatoes with this seasoning.

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed basil leaves
1 teaspoon ground marjoram
1 teaspoon ground thyme.
1 teaspoon crushed oregano leaves (optional)

Cajun Style Rub

Okay. I admit it. I mostly use the store bought variety for this. When you're in the mood to kick it up yourself, though, you might give this combination a try. I really like this with fish or chicken. I also like it over grilled corn on the cob, although my wife and kids aren't thrilled with it that way.

2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hotter)

Rosemary – Garlic Rub

This is a classic. I love rosemary, but I don't like the texture of the hard slivers of dried rosemary. My solution was to buy a spice grinder to grind it into powder. This works well with just about any meat or fish. My favorite use for this rub is to brush some olive oil on 1 /2 inch slices of potatoes or zucchini, then add a bit of the rub and grill until crisp tender. Very yummy.

2 teaspoons ground rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Scandinavian Rub

This is wonderful on fish and just about any grilled vegetable, especially zucchini. It seems like it would be great on pork, too, but I've not tried it that way yet.

2 teaspoons crushed dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon ground caraway
1/4 teaspoon mushroom powder (I dry and grind my own)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed

And now, with apologies to William Shakespeare,

To cook — to grill.
To grill — perchance to eat: ahhh, there’s the rub!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gentlemen, start your grills!

Outdoor grilling is an American institution. Utah's no exception. It's a rare summer weekend that you don't find grill smoke wafting up from half the backyards in the neighborhood.

Ahhhh, the smell of charcoal and grilled meat. The true sign that summer has arrived.

It's interesting to me that the outdoor grilling is associated with men, more than women. It's almost like our wives and mothers have said, “The kitchen is mine so, if you want to cook, you'll have to go outside.” It reminds me of when I was a kid. “John, stop watching TV and go outside.” It seems like the women in our lives can't stand to have us in the house. Maybe they think we'll set the kitchen on fire.

The irony is that professional cooking is dominated by men. I take that to mean that as long as we're make money, it's okay for us to be in the kitchen.

I'm not going any farther with that. My wife has a wicked backhand.

Grilling may appeal to men because of the association with the primitive. There's just something about playing with fire and eating meat that makes us happy.

Grilling let's us be competitive, too. Don't kid yourself. The title of “Best Grill Master on the Block” may not come with an awards ceremony but, we all compete for it. The reason we don't talk about it openly is because we're all afraid we aren't the grill masters we pretend we are.

Ladies? If you want to emotionally devastate your man, just tell him the neighbor grills better steaks than he does. Please don't do it. Just smile and nod while you're trying to choke down that latest burnt offering. He may not thank you openly but, it's better than the alternative.

The other aspect of grill competition is the fight over “charcoal vs. gas.” Charcoal seems to offer more control over at least one thing. You can keep one side of the grill hotter than the other. It also seems to be easier with a charcoal fire to add hickory chips or some other wood to give the food great smoky flavor.

Then again, lighting the coals, waiting for them to get to the right temperature, and then cleaning up later, seems like a lot more time and work. Gas grills make all that easier. Just plug in the hose and fire it up. I suspect that it doesn't pollute the atmosphere as much, either. I'm not 100% sure about that one, though.

The charcoal side thinks the gas side is a bunch of pansies who haven't mastered fire. The gas guys don't do “real” grilling, they say. On the other hand, the gas side thinks the charcoal side is a bunch of filthy Neanderthals who can't seem to embrace new, cleaner, technology. I think they're both right.

Be that as it may, I currently favor gas. My wife threw out our old portable gas grill (why? WHY?) so I'm going to have to get a new one in the next day or two. I don't know. Maybe I'll try charcoal and learn to embrace my inner Neanderthal, instead.

I once made the mistake of talking to my wife about the whole Neanderthal charcoal vs. modern gas thing. She told me not to worry about it. I was a gassy Neanderthal. I don't think she's talking about the grill. Maybe that's the real reason women send us outside.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Teriyaki Salmon

Being landlocked in Utah, good seafood is hard to find. That gets compounded by the fact that I served some time in the US Marines on the Atlantic coast. I know what truly fresh seafood is supposed to taste like and ... well ... let's just say that good seafood is harder to find in Utah than it is in Virginia.

Halibut is my favorite but, I can rarely find it at my grocer not frozen as hard as a rock. I'm not a fan of frozen fish. Besides, it's kind of pricey on a family budget. Still, anytime I can find a reasonably priced fish at my local market, halibut or not, I'll probably buy some.

This week was a perfect example. They had fresh salmon on sale for $3.99 a pound. (Fresh is a relative term, by my way of thinking.) I guess they had overstocked it or something. My local grocery store butcher/fish monger said it was selling pretty well. At that price I can see why.

My wife and kids love salmon. It's their favorite fish. I like it too so, for the first time in my life I bought enough to have for dinner and to sock some away in the freezer for later. Like I said, I'm not a big fan of frozen fish. It's been years since I was on the coast, though, and I wasn't going to pass it up for that price.

So I made Teriyaki Salmon for dinner tonight. It's a really quick fix, which makes it perfect for a weeknight meal, or any other day you don't have much time. It turned out quite well and everyone liked it. Including my younger kids.

As with everything I make, this version isn't quite authentic. I prefer to add lime juice, instead of rice vinegar, to offset the sweetness of the teriyaki sauce. I think it gives the dish a lighter flavor.


3 pounds salmon fillets
1 /3 cup bottled teriyaki sauce (Kikkoman's is just fine)
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
dash of salt

Skin the salmon and cut into 6 fillets. If you like the skin, by all means leave it on. I suspect it makes for a more tender fillet. I take it off because my kids make “icky faces” and won't eat it, otherwise.

Put the fillets in a large bowl and pour the teriyaki sauce and lime juice over the fish. Spread the minced garlic evenly over the fillets. Do not add the salt. There's plenty of salt in the teriyaki sauce. If you add more, the fish will lose it's juices. Toss gently and let marinade for about 30 minutes on the counter. Go prepare the side dishes while you wait. (We had a tossed salad and buttered rolls.)

Heat a large skillet on medium-high. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Shake off the excess marinade and put the fillets in the hot pan. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook for about 4 minutes and turn the fillets over. Sprinkle with the merest dash salt. Cover and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and the pan. Let rest for about 2 minutes (this completes the cooking process without overcooking the fish).

Serves 6.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Zipperer's Zucchini Bread

Today's offering is a guest blog, coming by way of Sheena Simpson, of Atlanta Dish. Her roommate, Sarah Zipperer, makes a mean zucchini bread. If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you already know the special place that zucchini has in the heart of Utah Mormons. When they sent me this recipe, I was blown away. Sweetening it with pineapple gives this dish a wonderfully sweet, and slightly fruity, kick. Special thanks to Sarah for the wonderful recipe, and to Sheena for convincing her to share it with us.

Zipperer’s Zucchini Bread by Sara Zipperer

Here is a recipe for zucchini bread that is good morning, noon or night. I love having this for breakfast or as a snack at any time. This is my go-to recipe when I need an easy gift to give that I know won’t disappoint. Every Christmas I bake a few small loaves and give them to friends in a basket along with other baked goods.

It has a subtle cinnamon taste and can be prepared as a loaf of bread or muffins. My favorite way to eat it is warm with butter. Here you go!

3 cups flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 8oz. can crushed pineapple

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine sifted flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder & cinnamon, set aside. Beat eggs, add sugar, oil, vanilla and beat until creamy. Stir in zucchini and pineapple. Add dry ingredients. Spoon into two medium loaf pans (or several small loaf pans, or muffin tins) and bake for one hour, or until browned on top and you can stick a toothpick in the center and have it come out clean.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Priesthood and Peanut Butter - Groundnut Stew

June 7th, 1978 was a monumental day for the LDS Church. It was announced that, for the first time, all worthy male members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints could hold the Priesthood. Prior to this time, black men were not allowed to hold it.

No one knows why, for sure, although I have some ideas. I think the biggest reason may have been that the Church was restored not many years prior to the Civil War. Slavery was the norm, as was disdain for blacks in general. Any church that would have allowed black leadership at the time would have faced even worse persecution than the early Saints already did. What could be worse that being chased from your home, and being brutally tortured and murdered by mobs? I don't want to know. I don't think the Church would have survived.

Whether I'm right, partially right, or completely wrong doesn't matter. Thirty years ago the problem was rectified. Last week, there was a celebration commemorating the event. Last night I watched part of a rebroadcast of the special fireside on BYU TV. It caught my attention as I was flipping channels. There was Alex Boye, an amazing singer and member of the LDS Church – who gave up a singing career to follow his faith – singing the hymn “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” As Alex sang from his heart, my eyes teared up and I openly wept at the power of this fellow member's glorious message, shared through music. I began to more fully understand the impact, and importance of this event, and the mercies of God to His children.

I was only 12 years old when the Priesthood was finally given to blacks. When I first heard, I was taken by surprise. Not because I thought it strange for a black man to hold the Priesthood. It had never occurred to me that they hadn't been able to, before. Now that I'm older, and have heard the stories of my black brethren in the church, I am filled with gratitude to our Lord that all worthy men may now hold the Holy Priesthood, and participate fully in the building of the Kingdom of God.

I know. “Black brother” sounds funny coming from a white guy in Utah.

Anyway, this commemoration reminds me that we are truly a worldwide Church. It comforts me to know that I have brothers and sisters, not just here in Utah but, across the world. Even on the African continent. We are all the children of God, after all.

I hadn't planned on doing anything on the blog about it. I mean, what does all this have to do with food? After hearing Alex sing, I can't help it. I have to give back. To honor this event and my black brethren (yeah, yeah, we've been over this already) I've decided to share this West African recipe with you – Groudnut stew.

In West Africa, peanuts are called “groundnuts.” They are commonly used in soups, stews, and side dishes. It's no wonder why. This common nut lends a wonderful richness, strength, and flavor to many of my favorite dishes. I can't help but think it's the same with African, and African-American, brothers in the Church. Their lives and talents add great richness, strength and flavor to Church, and to my experience as a Mormon. I am grateful to them, and to God, for making things so.


1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces.
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 /2 sweet potato, halved and sliced into “half moons”
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 /3 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Cooked rice
Chopped parsley and chopped peanuts for garnish

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the chicken pieces, chili powder, salt and pepper. Mix until the chicken is thoroughly coated and set aside

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion (and a bit more salt) until the onions start to soften. Add the garlic and cook until the onions start to get translucent. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken mixture. Cook until the chicken just starts to brown, stirring frequently.

Add the sweet potatoes and chicken stock and heat till just boiling. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cover the pot, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and peanut butter. Recover the pot and simmer for ten more minutes.

In a small cup, combine the cold water and cornstarch. Stir until smooth. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the pot. Continue cooking another 5 minutes or so, until the mixture thickens slightly. Serve over hot, cooked rice. Garnish with parsley and peanuts.

Makes 6 servings.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

New York Onion Sauce for Hot Dogs

You may remember me talking about making my first batch of home made hot dog buns, that turned out more like long ciabatta bread. Of course, all of this was really just an excuse to try the New York Onion Sauce for hot dogs that I got from Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. Here's my take on the recipe. It's mostly the same, I just adjusted the quantities a bit. I really like it, though. I think it's just as good on bruchetta, with a little grated cheese, as it is on hot dogs.


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1/4 cup marinara sauce (the commercial bottled stuff is just fine)
1 tablespoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil a large skillet. Add the onions, a bit of salt. Saute over medium heat until the onions start to get tender, then add the garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and start to brown. Add the marinara, and paprika. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to

Serve over really good hot dogs on steamed buns with horseradish mustard and sauerkraut. This, is hot dog heaven!