Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kitchen Sister

I love to eat and luckily, I also love to cook. Being home on a "Stay-cation" this week has given me some added time to experiment and prepare healthy but tasty dinners for the family. Maybe I'll even get around to posting some photos.

My favorite method of cooking is, without a doubt, grilling. I don't approve of gas grills, at least not for my personal use. The possibility of causing the propane tank to explode is something I'd rather not chance. Plus, the job of filling the tank would fall to the hubby, who has enough problems making sure there is adequate film in the camera for special occasions.

For the second day in a row, the temperatures reached 100 in Philadelphia. Since we don't live on a farm, we don't have the luxury of a summer kitchen. Back in the day (before gas stoves) the family would move the kitchen to a free-standing structure known as the summer kitchen. The purpose of the summer kitchen was to keep the house cooler for sleeping on hot July nights. Even with air conditioning, it's mind-boggling how quickly the stove-top and/or oven can heat up the house.

So, on this second scorching day, it was time to light the grill. We use wood coals on a modified kettle grill with air vents and a vented lid. The wood coals are placed in a metal chimney that has a small barrier or shelf with holes at the bottom of it. The upper portion is filled with coals, while the lower chamber is stuffed with a sheet or two of newspaper. The chimney is set upon some bricks and the newspaper is lit with a lighter. In about 10 minutes or so, you have glowing hot coals ready to be poured into your grill. And you don't have the awful smell of lighter fluid.

We have neighbors that don't like the smoke created when the chimney is lit, so my husband gives a courtesy call so they can close their windows if they choose. On a day like today, their AC was running full-blast but we still gave them a ring. I had some things that had defrosted in the fridge sooner than I'd expected, so we had pork short-ribs and a chicken I picked up from an Amish farmer at the Farmers' Market this past weekend. Both the ribs and the chicken were smothered in a barbecue rub from Frog Park Herbs, who we visit every year at the Kutztown Folk Festival. I set the chicken in a rack that is designed to hold either a roast or, upside down, several racks of ribs. This creates plenty of space between the chicken and the coals so that the skin gets nice and crispy without burning. The ribs were set on the perimeter of the coals and slow-cooked. I added a handful of applewood and hickory woodchips to the hot coals to impart a sweeter flavor to the ribs, and then added my own barbecue sauce before the taking the ribs off the grill.

On a separate but smaller kettle grill, I cooked baby Yukon gold potatoes with fresh onions and garlic. The potatoes and the garlic and onions were from a CSA we joined about a month ago. We never know what vegetables we're getting til a few days before but everything is remarkably fresh and pristine and even when I get something I'm unfamiliar with, the farmer sends a recipe. It's a good way to learn to eat more of a variety of vegetables as well as a way to directly support the family farm. More on that some other time....

I cook with the lid down, but I noticed that the fire, which was initially white-hot, had died down some, so I left the lid open for awhile to stoke up the coals. I think on a day that is so hot and humid, there simply isn't very good airflow to ventilate the coals so you have to tweak it a bit. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I chopped up Kirby cucumbers (or pickles), juicy red tomatoes and some green onion-tops. I added a little bit of fresh chopped cilantro and a touch of salt and olive oil and then set that aside to make its own juices. There's nothing like sopping up tomato salad in summer with Sarcone's bread. Once the tomato salad was finished, I chopped up some fresh Swiss chard and sauteed it along with the garlic we got from our CSA.

Sometimes when I'm grilling, I take out the Rosary I keep in the pocket of my apron and try to squeeze in a decade or a chaplet. Our kitchen is not air conditioned because our window unit is in the dining room so even if I don't have an opportunity to pray, I offer the sauna I'm soaking in to God in thanksgiving for His bounty.

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