Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I smell summer...

It's starting to smell like summer. I know that sounds kind of strange, but when you think about it, there are certain smells we associate with every season. For me, freshly cut grass, the after-rain smell (due to the daily afternoon rain Florida summers are known for) and the pervasive smell of charcoal grills all scream summertime.

I'm not picky: throw just about anything on a hot grill and I want to eat it. Maybe it has more to do with my consuming obsession with summer than the actual flavor of grilled foods, but to me, there's nothing better than an outdoor BBQ with friends, especially if there's a swimming pool nearby.

Burgers and hot dogs are tasty and cheap, but I wanted to think of another option that's just as simple, but has the potential to take a little backyard cookout from expected and ho-hum to fresh and impressive. Served with some ice-cold watermelon and homemade lemonade, you just may forget about the old standbys.

Summertime Steak with Grilled Corn & Dill Butter
serves 6
For the steak
2 2 lb flank steaks, trimmed of any big pieces of fat
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 juicy lime

For the corn
6 ears of sweet corn, silk removed but husks on
1 stick of softened butter
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Light squeeze of lemon juice

Combine the oil and spices (everything except the lime) in a small bowl and mix well with your fingers (it should make a paste.) Rub mixture evenly over entire steak and let marinate on counter top for 30 minutes.

Completely submerge corn in cold water (either in a large stockpot or in the sink) for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the butter, dill, salt and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside.

Prepare your grill and lightly brush grates with oil. Shake excess water off of corn and place directly on the grill. Close top to control flames. After 10 minutes, turn corn with tongs and cook, with the cover on, 8 to 10 minutes more. Pull corn off grill and set aside.

Brush grates with oil again and put steaks on. Cook 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. When finished, set aside for a few minutes to let juices re-distribute before slicing. When slicing, find the grain of the meat and slice against it. The more thinly you slice it, the more tender it will be.

Just before serving, squeeze the juice of a lime over the sliced steak. Peel back corn husks and slather generously with dill butter, or serve corn with butter in a bowl on the side.

Side note:
If you have a gas grill, lucky you. Hit the switch and you're set. But if you fall into the old-school charcoal grill category, there is one grilling sin that you should never, ever commit. I went to a party a few years ago where all of the otherwise delicious-looking BBQ had the distinctive and unpleasant flavor of lighter fluid. Nothing ruins hard work and incredible grilled food like the noxious aroma of gasoline. Do yourself and your guests a favor and outlaw those squeezy bottles of lighter fluid. Your best friend when lighting those stubborn little black nuggets is a charcoal chimney. For little more than $10, they ignite charcoal with zero chemicals. Plus it's a great way to recycle newspaper. Win-win!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Easy Being Green

I really can't think of a vegetable I don't like. Honestly. Even Brussels sprouts. It's all in the preparation. Roasting is usually my favorite way to make my veggies, especially Brussels sprouts, eggplant and broccoli. (Trust me, even if you thought you never liked broccoli, try it roasted. You'll change your tune.)

Generally, my favorite way to eat green beans is the good ol' Southern version — slow cooked in broth with salt pork. Not the healthiest, but still delicious. But my mom recently mentioned she made some green beans that she had to urge my 15-year-old brother to
share, rather than begging him to eat more.

Cooked in a super-hot pan in a mixture of butter and olive oil, the sugars in the beans caramelize and the starchy, bland beans are transformed into sweet, juicy, crisp-tender bites of goodness. (Overboard? Make them yourself and tell me then.) Here's the thing: these are best when the beans are the skinny, French
haricots verts. We tried the recipe with both skinny beans and regular beans, and the smaller, tender ones are the best. Look for them in the grocery store, pre-washed and bagged.

Mom's Green Beans
serves 4
2 bags haricots verts
1 1/2 tablespoons butter*

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Generous pinch of Kosher salt

Put butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high to high heat. When butter stops bubbling and starts to turn light brown, add beans. Sprinkle with salt and sautee, tossing frequently at first to coat in the oil, then less often, letting beans brown in places. When the beans are tender and mostly browned, they're done. This u
sually takes 3-6 minutes. You want to see an even, golden-brown to dark brown color on the beans, but if they get too dark before they seem tender, turn the heat down.

*On a side note, I recently used
Plugra brand butter for risotto. It's got a higher butter-fat content and less water than regular butter (the name is a play on the French words plus gras meaning more fat.) I have to say, we really tasted the difference. (You may remember that I am a big fan of butter...) The price was comparable to the other butters in the dairy aisle, and although it's obviously not the healthiest choice, I think if you're using butter, you may as well go all the way. Look for it and give it a try if you're a butter lover like me.