Memorial Day Kabobs

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Where has the Spring gone? May has been alive with hustle and bustle, and just when you think you can’t do any more, Memorial Day pops up to give you a long weekend to unwind with friends and family, as well as gather together to celebrate our freedom and honor the men and women who have served our country.

Gatherings like this are a great time to get into the kabob spirit. Kabobs never discriminate! You can be a carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, or just about anything you can think of. This time of year, farmers’ markets and family gardens are becoming abundant with zucchini, squash, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and eggplant — just to name a few potential vegetable ideas. Fruits such as pineapple, bananas, cantaloupe, and honey dew melon are easy to cut up and have ready to make up some fruit kabobs. If you are looking to stick to a Memorial Day theme, use blueberries, strawberries, and bananas for “red, white and blue”. Or buy a fresh pineapple, leave the core intact, and cut slices into star shapes. If you have little ones, this is a great time to enlist their help. They can help wash and thread fruit or veggie kabobs. Wooden skewers, rather than the metal ones, are probably the better option when you have kids involved. Just be sure to soak wooden skewers in water ahead of time if you plan to put them on a grill.

For tastier veggie kabobs, you will want to season your vegetables somehow. If you are not into making your own marinades, you can try any number of store-bought options. The easiest is some kind of oil-based salad dressing. The oil helps coat the vegetables to make them grill-friendly. You can hardly go wrong by choosing Italian dressing. Whatever you choose, the overall goal should be to add a light flavor while not disguising the flavor of the veggies or meats.

Most meats are kabob-friendly. Chicken and steak are the most common, but feel free to branch out. Choose meats without bones and cut them in to bite size pieces. For best results, marinate meat for a least an hour in a covered container or food storage bag prior to cooking. For a more intense flavor, marinate the meat overnight. Like with veggies, oil-based dressings also work well for marinating meat. Or for a zesty home-made honey BBQ marinate, try the following:

  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 3-4 tbsp honey or agave nectar
  • ½ cup of your favorite BBQ sauce

Quick and Easy Backyard Fiesta

iStock_000023365878_MediumCinco de Mayo is on a Thursday this year, which may make you inclined to think that it will be a little hard to pull together a fabulous celebratory backyard bash. After all, it’s been a crazy week with a mile-long to-do list, plus all of those end-of-school-year activities. All the more reason to take a deep breath and relax with a mid-week margarita!

Here is a list of some easy tips for pulling off a casual backyard Cinco de Mayo fiesta like a pro — with nothing more than a quick trip to the grocery store and a peek inside the back of your hall closet.

Decorations

Ok, so you’re the type of person who typically likes to channel your inner Martha Stewart when it comes to preparing for a party. Well, it’s doubtful you’ll have time to make your own paper maché piñata in time, so it’s time to get creative with existing supplies. Unless, of course, you happen to have an old piñata in the back of your closet, in which case, dig it out!  For other decorations, think in terms of earthy textures: wooden items, wool blankets, burlap sacks left over from the 4th of July sack race (which make excellent table drapes)…you get the idea. Fruits and vegetables also make festive table decorations — for example, a glass bowl or trifle dish filled with limes, avocados, or tomatoes.

Menu

When planning your menu, think dishes with minimal prep. A slow cooker and a packet of taco seasoning can come in handy for making “crock pot chicken fajitas” or “pulled pork tacos”. Another idea is to turn meal prep into a party activity by making Mexican pizzas on the grill. For a quick-and-easy “homemade” salsa recipe, throw a large jar of cheap salsa, a can of mild Rotel, and some fresh cilantro into a food processor. Spice it up with a little cumin and garlic powder, then puree everything together. It looks and tastes like restaurant quality, and they’ll think you whipped it up from scratch.

Beverages

Of course, let’s not forget the best part of Cinco de Mayo celebrations! Obviously, you will add Mexican beer to the grocery list. But for a perfect pitcher of homemade “top shelf” margaritas on the rocks, forget the bottled mixes — instead buy frozen limeade. Mix the limeade per directions, replacing one can of water with gold tequila. Add a healthy splash of orange liqueur (like Triple Sec), salt the glass rims, and you’re good to go. If you want to add a pitcher of mojitos, use rum instead of tequila, and grab some mint from the garden for muddling in each glass as you serve it. If you want to get really fancy, muddle in some strawberries, too. For kid-friendly versions, just make the limeade per package instructions, using water only, then garnish with salt (or mint/strawberries) and lime.

Now…make a quick grocery run, and get ready to enjoy your fiesta!

The Secret to Perfect BBQ Ribs

BBQ Ribs on the Grill

For those who subscribe to the “Hail to the Pig!” philosophy, there is nothing more fabulous than perfectly cooked ribs. Many people shy away from cooking them at home, instead preferring to trek to their favorite local BBQ joint, knowing the ribs there will be perfectly seasoned and fall-off-the-bone tender. After all, cooking ribs is a science that can’t be mastered at home. Home-cooked ribs are typically tough and lack flavor, right? Wrong! Read on to learn the secret to cooking perfect BBQ ribs at home.

STEP ONE: THE RIBS

There are a number of different cuts, but if you’re cooking at home, your best options will be spareribs, St. Louis cut ribs or babyback ribs. Babyback ribs are smaller, leaner and include delicate loin meat, which makes them a little pricier. Spareribs are cut from the ends of babybacks down to the breast bone. The flavor of the meat is typically richer because of increased marbling, but the texture is less delicate. St. Louis cut is simply spareribs with the rib tibs cut off, which can be a little more manageable for both cooking and eating.

STEP TWO: THE RUB

Lay aluminum foil on a baking sheet — at least double the length of the rib rack — and place your ribs meat-side down for rubbing. There’s no one recipe for a good dry rub. In fact, feel free to buy a prepared rub or experiment with different flavor profiles. The key is to use only dry seasonings and use way more than you think you’ll need. Liberally coat both sides of the ribs and pat it in. For a basic foolproof homemade rub, try sprinkling salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin and coriander on your ribs. You CAN overdo it with the salt and cayenne pepper, but be generous with the others. For best results, sprinkle all seasonings on the underside, pat everything in at once, then flip and repeat. Remember…use lots of rub!

STEP THREE: THE WRAP

Completely wrap your ribs in the foil. Now do it again. Now a third time. Why so much foil? Simple — you want to tenderize the meat by allowing it to steam in its own juices, so a tight wrap is important to the process.

STEP FOUR: THE BAKE

Nope, that’s not a typo. You will finish the ribs on the grill to get that smokey flavor, but first you want to cook them low and slow in the oven. Bake them at 325 degrees. The time will vary depending on the type and quantity of ribs. Babybacks will cook more quickly, and a single rack will usually be ready for the grill in about 1.5 hours. For two racks, you might want to add about 10-15 minutes. Spareribs or St. Louis ribs will need to cook for about 1.75 hours for a single rack, adding 10-15 minutes for a second rack. To test the ribs, unwrap a section and test the meat with a fork. You don’t want it falling off the bone yet, but it should be fully cooked. The meat should be firmly attached to the bone, but tender.

STEP FIVE: THE SEAR

Unwrap your tenderized ribs and transfer them to a hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side. Whether you’re using charcoal or gas, you’ll want to add wood smoke, if possible. Cherry or pecan, in particular, will add an excellent flavor. Sear both sides of the ribs until you create a nice brown outer layer on each side. If you like wet ribs, coat with your favorite BBQ sauce before the last five minutes of cooking time. Otherwise, leave them dry and serve the sauce on the side for those who like to dip.

STEP SIX: THE MEAL

Remove your ribs, slice and serve with your favorite fixins. You’ll never go back to that BBQ joint again.

Rosemary Skewered Scallops

scallops-cl-1012604-xSea scallops are a succulent treat that many people are afraid to cook at home, and for a good reason. If they’re not prepared properly, scallops can have a rubbery consistency or taste a bit fishy. However, with this simply grill recipe, the scallops will melt in your mouth and leave you wishing you had more! If you’re not a scallop fan, this dish also works well with unpeeled shrimp. For a little extra flavor, use garlic infused olive oil.

Ingredients

12 large sea scallops
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 (12-inch) fresh rosemary sprigs
Hot cooked basmati rice
Garnish: lemon slices

 

Preparation

  1. Combine scallops and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl; cover and chill 30 minutes.
  2. Pick leaves off 6 inches of one end of each rosemary sprig, leaving the other end intact. Soak rosemary sprigs in water in a shallow dish 20 minutes.
  3. Place 2 rosemary skewers side by side, leaving a small space between. Thread 3 scallops onto bare part of rosemary skewers. Repeat with remaining rosemary and scallops.
  4. Grill over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
  5. Serve on a bed of basmati rice with lemon slices, if desired.

Recipe courtesy Coastal Living. Photo: Howard L. Puckett.

Rise of the Outdoor Chef

Remember the days when outdoor cooking basically referred to your father grilling up a few burgers? Perhaps he went the fancier route and threw some steaks on the grill, or even a tuna steak if he wanted to get really fancy. The rest of the family prepared the sides inside or just waited patiently for the ole’ man to finish. Well it’s 2016 now, and while some traditionalists choose to keep their sacred bygone grilling rituals intact, the rest of us are moving forward into a new generation of gourmet outdoor cooking. With outdoor kitchens gaining in popularity, it’s no longer just dad out there by himself. Meal preparation has become a community event with a team of chefs prepping, grilling, or just hanging out to enjoy a glass of wine and camaraderie. Yes, outdoor cooking has become a team sport, and why shouldn’t it be? Everyone likes a good party, and this year, you can be the envy of the neighborhood with some exciting cooking techniques you can use in 2016.

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Photo: Johnny Autry; Styling: Mary Clayton Carl (Courtesy Time, Inc.)

YOU WOOD NOT BELIEVE

Puns aside, if you have never grilled with a wood plank, you’re missing out. Paul Bunyon should have been a chef. He would have been a great addition to your All-Star grilling team. At your next gathering, enhance the flavor of your favorite meats by grilling them on top of a wood plank made of hickory or maple. If you truly want an unforgettable experience, try grilling a fillet of redfish or salmon on top of a cedar plank. It may become your favorite meal. However, feel free to experiment with different seasonings and wood planks to find your next signature dish. Make it your own, or check out this recipe for Cedar Plank Salmon with Mango Kiwi Salsa to get you started.

HIMALAYAN VACATION

While it may be impractical to pop over to Tibet, you can bring the taste of Himalayan minerals to your next party by purchasing yourself a Himalayan salt block. This is another easy tool you can use to show off to that neighbor who always wants to one-up you. All you do is place the salt block on your grill, let it heat up to the desired temperature, and throw your food on top. Your meal will come out with a hint of salt that goes well with so many different foods. Let’s see Susan top that.

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Photo: SOS Shells

CHARGRILLIN’ TIME

While raw oysters may not be everyone’s cup of tea, chargrilled oysters are amazing. Made famous in New Orleans, it can be a real pain to chargrill your own oysters on the half shell. Luckily, thanks to SOS Shells, you and your new team of outdoor chefs can channel your inner Cajun. These reusable, stainless steel shells are perfect for chargrilling oysters, shrimp, scallops, vegetables or more. They are extremely easy to use and are great gadget to break out at your next grill party. For more information on chargrilling, check out our chargrilling blog.

GADGETS GALORE

While we’re on the gadget subject, in order to truly become a gourmet outdoor chef, you’re going to need to invest in some additional tools of the trade. It’s hard to make smoked almond and honey brie without a cast iron brie baker. And if you’re going to make bacon-wrapped goat cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers, it’s a whole lot easier with a chili pepper grill rack and pepper corer. You can certainly use foil to cook both of those gourmet appetizers, but it gets a little messy. Luckily, there are no shortage of companies that offer great gadgets for the outdoor chef. For a plethora of gourmet outdoor cooking gadgets, check out Sur La Table or Crate & Barrel.

Carnival Time King Cake Recipe

Throughout the Gulf South, communities began celebrating the “carnival season” on January 6, which culminates on Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”), which this year will be on February 9. One of the many traditions of carnival is to serve King Cakes throughout the entire season. Similar to coffee cake, this ring-shaped confection is as rich in history as it is in color and taste. Trademark decorations–sugars in the royal colors of purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power)–honor the three kings from the biblical story of Christmas. Bring some carnival fun to your neck of the woods by baking this tasty confection and hosting a Mardi Gras themed party this carnival season.

Ingredients

1 (16-ounce) container sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour (substituting all-purpose flour will make a denser cake)
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Creamy Glaze (recipe below)
Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles

Preparation

  • Cook first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside, and cool mixture to 100° to 110°.
  • Stir together yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.
  • Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add enough remaining flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups) until a soft dough forms.
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.
  • Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.
  • Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22- x 12-inch rectangle. Spread 1/3 cup softened butter evenly on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.
  • Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at 1 long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.
  • Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  • Bake at 375° for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cakes on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes). Drizzle Creamy Glaze evenly over warm cakes; sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating colors and forming bands. Let cool completely.

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CREAMY GLAZE RECIPE

Ingredients

3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons milk

Preparation

Stir together first 4 ingredients. Stir in 2 tablespoons milk, adding additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until spreading consistency.

Recipe & Photo courtesy Southern Living Magazine. Photography: Beth Dreiling Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey / Food Styling Pam Lolley