I have a list of things I want to write about, but right now they’re all taking a back seat to my backyard grill.
Gas grills. When my parents gave it to us, I was thrilled, of course, but a little uncertain – I really only knew about charcoal grills, but what I knew, I loved. I love building a charcoal pyramid, soaking it with lighter fluid, watching it gloriously blaze like a ceremonial pyre, but most of all, I love the taste. There’s a smoky taste with charcoal-grilled food that makes me want to slather on DEET and sleep in a tent. Charcoal grills are backyard barbecues, pool parties, and fireworks. They’re late night celebrations of cow and day-long hosannas sung to Hestia and Dionysius. They’re damp bathing suits and cold beer.
So what was I supposed to do with a gas grill?
Pretty much the same thing, I am finding out, with a few exceptions. Here’s a few reasons I love my gas grill:
1. I don’t need to wait 40 minutes for the coals. I am, at heart, an instant gratification kind of gal, but that’s not the only reason. I have these little things I like to make on the grill, like my goat cheese pitettes (recipe below) and grilled romaine (also below). They each take about four minutes. If I’m not cooking meat on the grill, charcoal isn’t practical, so I never made these things unless I was cooking a bunch of things. Never in the history of the world has anyone uttered the words, “Fire up the grill, honey, I need to grill me some lettuce!” Look, I love my salad as much as the next person – possibly more – but I only wait almost an hour to cook dead cow and pig on the grill.
2. It’s cheaper. I’m not into cutting corners that shouldn’t be cut – don’t get me started on store-brand feta cheese or cheap prosciutto – but that doesn’t change that gas costs less than buying charcoal every other meal, or less than using that 220 stove to broil something. For me, this is a benefit, not an incentive, but it’s still nice.
3. When you turn off the gas, it’s done. Charcoals don’t go out just because you’ve finished grilling your meal. I remember walking outside one morning and seeing the start of a fire where someone (NOT me!) had dumped the coals in the grass, thinking they were cooled. Not smart. With my gas grill, I turn off the burners, shut the valve to the tank, and that’s it.
Look, I still want a small charcoal Weber, but I’m just saying, a gas grill is a nice alternative to using your kitchen for a lot of things. Here’s a few things I’ve made in the past week on mine:
Grilled Romaine Hearts
Yeah, I was hesitant, too. Grilled lettuce? Turns out, hell, yes, grilled lettuce. Slice the hearts lengthwise, brush with extra virgin olive oil, add cracked pepper, and put flat side down on high heat for four minutes. That’s it. Smoky and juicy; I don’t need to add dressing but I have a great recipe for a Florida Vinaigrette below if you do.
My friend Kelli turned me on to this. Get an avocado that’s not mushy yet but still ripe, cut in half lengthwise, and remove the pit. Brush with extra virgin olive oil, add cracked pepper (just a touch!) and place on the highest heat possible, skin side down. Grill three minutes, then flip and grill meat side down for between three and four minutes. Kelli serves this witha scoop of salsa in the middle, but I like the way the grill brings out the nuttiness of the fruit and eat the avocado plain.
Grilled Pitettes with Goat Cheese
You have two choices here: pitettes (about an inch in diameter) or mini-pitas (about three inches). Here’s the basic recipe:
1 package whole wheat pitettes or mini- pitas (trust me, you can’t tell the difference in taste)
4 oz. goat cheese
Tomatoes, sliced – camparis for pitettes, plum or larger for mini-pitas
Fresh basil leaves, torn (one per pitette or two per mini pita)
1 clove garlic, cut in half
Rub each mini pita/pitette with garlic clove on both sides.
Add dollop of goat cheese in center of mini pita/pitette. The quantity depends on which you use. I estimate about a teaspoon per pitette and much more for mini pita. When you’ve added the right amount of cheese, it will NOT touch the edges of the bread. It should be roughly the same diameter as the slice of tomato you will add in the next step.
Top with one slice tomato.
Top that with torn basil leaves.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Place on medium-high grill heat (the flames should not touch the food but they should come close) until the cheese softens but does not melt.
Oh, if you need dressing, here’s that recipe. I adapted it from an Allrecipes.com recipe to be more “Florida,” because that’s where I live and what I love.
2/3 c. rice vinegar
2 Valencia oranges, juiced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs. chopped cilantro (Don’t EVER worry about overdoing fresh herbs. You can’t.)
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. minced garlic (I cheated and used the jarred stuff you buy in the produce section)
1 tsp. orange blossom honey*
Whisk all together, hill.
*A note about honey: depending on the season, ALL honey comes from different sources. I buy local honey, or, if I’m feeling flush with cash, Florida Tupelo. I prefer orange blossom honey for this, but I can’t get it all the time. Mine came from Goldenrod Apiaries in Orlando. I cannot find a link for them, but I did link to their Yelp reviews. I bought the honey at Sweet Ida Mae’s in Clearwater, a local consortium of artists and artisans. That’s a link to their Facebook page, because I couldn’t find a web site for them, either. For your vinaigrette, I’d suggest you buy whatever you can find grown locally rather than go nuts for a specific type of honey. Cooking is all about fun and trial and error, so experiment!