0711 Our Grill Situation + Squash Math

I sort of feel bad about having people over for dinner these days. It’s just so damned hot in our house, and there’s no escaping it, no matter how precisely we angle the fans.  So kudos to Dave and Juli, who braved the heat to hang out with us tonight!

I had intended to make the beer can chicken recipe that Sarah keeps raving about, but decided against it after assessing our current grill situation:

  1. Grill #1 was, I assume, left by a previous tenant and is in a pretty sad state.  We considered taking it to the dump when…
  2. …we purchased grill #2 over the winter for $25, which included an almost-full propane tank and a bunch of grill rocks.
  3. Grill #2, despite being in much better shape than grill #1, is not operational.  I’m not sure why that is.
  4. Grill #1 is missing the front tempered glass panel, but is otherwise operational.  Lacking really solid grill tools, we’ve stuck to covering the racks with foil.
  5. Grill #1 has a hinged rack that is attached to the lid which, when closed, doesn’t provide enough upright space for a chicken on a can of beer.  Grill #1 also wouldn’t be able to trap the heat and smoke necessary to make the savory bird.
  6. We could do all of those things on grill #2, except that it is not operational.

Long story short: no beer can chicken.  I did, however, take apart the chicken and dress it inside and out with a basic barbecue spice rub.  While I boiled a couple of ears of corn and sauteed vegetables for a couscous salad, Shane grilled up the chicken.  Juli and Dave brought zucchini bread and fresh berries from the market, all of which added up to a really delicious seasonal dinner.

So where’s the squash math?  See, I had a zucchini and a small summer squash on hand, for a total of 2 squashes.  I used the zucchini in my version of Sarah’s seven vegetable couscous, leaving 1 squash.  Then Juli brought the zucchini bread (containing unknown quantities of squash), as well as 2 bonus zucchinis that she had purchased in a fit of zucchini enthusiasm, bringing the net total squash to 1+ in the food and 3 in my crisper.  Squash: the gift that keeps on giving!

Recipes:
Beer Can Chicken and All-Purpose Barbecue Rub from The Barbecue Bible
Moroccan Seven Vegetable Couscous from Vegetarian Times (heavily modified, but I’ll save that recipe for another day)

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0611 Asparagus to Zucchini

Today was the first day all week that I really felt human.  On a related note, it was also the first day all week that I prepared a real dinner.  Of course, I had help:

Friday Night Grilling

Have I mentioned that we got a meat grinder as a wedding present?  Perhaps I have.  Have I mentioned that it’s GREAT?  Seriously, it’s so easy to use, and so convenient to be able to pull a piece of meat out of the fridge, grind it up, and have quick pork burger patties for four, instead of oversized pork chops to awkwardly share.

Grill Up

In addition to the pork burgers, Shane grilled up a bunch of zucchini (!!!) and probably the last asparagus of the season.  It’s been a good run, asparagus, but I’ve moved on to the end of the alphabet.  What looked like a giant pile of vegetables disappeared quickly, leaving us happy and full.

I’m liking this Friday night grilling thing.  We should do it more often.

0530 Notes on a Cookout

When we were planning our wedding, we realized that no matter where we had it, more than half of our friends and family would have to travel to be there.  We were also doing all the wedding budgeting and planning ourselves, so we talked to our families, who agreed to host reception/parties in our home towns.  We left it up to our families – the event could be as large or small, complicated or simple as they wanted – and so we found ourselves in the Cleveland Metroparks this afternoon, having a cookout with friends and most of Shane’s family.

Here are a few things we learned about throwing parties today:

  1. It is difficult to have a party at a place without a street address!  We realized at the last minute that we had the wrong name for the picnic area, which resulted in a lot of panic and confusion.  Somehow everyone made it, though, as did a few other friends who saw Shane’s signs and just stopped by.
  2. No matter how well you plan, there will still be unexpected problems.  Like the two groups that were already using our rented park shelter – one for what appeared to be a family reunion, the other for a small memorial picnic for a friend.  Everyone was very understanding, but I still felt pretty bad about kicking them out.  We scored a totally hot grill, though, so all’s well that ends well.
  3. My asbestos hands from Aroma paid off, as I found myself manning the grill armed primarily with a couple of plastic forks.  I made it work, though, and we had grilled asparagus and zucchini, burgers, sausages, and veggie burgers.
  4. Everyone likes chocolate cake.  For reals.

After the initial stress, though, we had a really lovely afternoon with cake and bocce, talking and playing on the swings, beer and still more grilling.  By the end of the day, we were totally sacked out, and barely managed to stay awake for a quick dinner at the Beer Engine for Spaceman Orin on the eve of his 21st birthday.

0524 Burgers on/with Ciabatta

We got back into town just in time for LOST last night, which meant that we didn’t get back in time to do much of anything else.  I’ve already commented on the season finale, which seemed to go extra fast in part because we were trying to get things done during the commercial breaks – unpacking, cleaning up cat messes, planning meals, etc.  We zipped up to Plum tonight after work to pick up a few things, and came home with burgers and a beet salad for dinner.

One of the great mysteries of grilling season is the quantity mismatch between grillables and their bready receptacles.  Four burgers and eight buns. Five sausages and eight buns.  Eight veggie dogs and six buns.  Clearly this is indicative of a shrewd business decision by the burger and bun people, as it always requires buying more than you want.  We only needed TWO buns tonight, though, so we weren’t about to buy eight and instead went home with a large ciabatta roll to split between us.  This worked out better in theory than in practice – but either way, we didn’t end up with superfluous buns lying about.

All in all, dinner tonight made me miss the days of buying a couple of Italian rosemary rolls from Atwater’s at the market in Arlington, grilling up bison burgers from Cibola Farms, and serving them with whatever veg the market had on offer.  The vendors are different now, but I’m looking forward to a summer of much of the same.

Local dinner
photo from last summer, but you get the idea.

0515 David Byrne Day (Observed)

In lieu of a local wedding reception, and also in celebration of the birthday of our favorite Talking Head, we threw a party tonight and called it David Byrne Day (Observed).  We’d been anxiously watching the weather given the omg constant rain, so were delighted to have a beautiful day and clear night for grilling and campfire sitting.

But before I get to that, let me tell you about what we did earlier in the day!

First, we got up and drove to WCCC so that I could run the Washtenaw County Start! Heart 5K .  Last night’s sausages and polenta proved to be excellent fuel, and I logged my best 5K yet, although I don’t think the distance was actually 5K.  To celebrate, we grabbed breakfast at Beezy’s, where Shane overheard a fortuitous conversation: a sever had spotted a moped at a yard sale!  So off to the yard sale we went, returning home with a non-running $100 Suzuki FA50.  Shane spent a good part of the afternoon poking around at the ‘ped, while I camped out in the kitchen and prepped for the party.

I never know how much food to make for parties, especially potluck-y cookout-y type parties.  You always end up with too much of this and not enough of that, with way too many buns and not enough condiments, etc.  The thing you decide not to make is always what someone else also forgets.  We decided to just do a variety of things, knowing that a cake and other delicious treats would be coming with our guests.  Worst case scenario? We order a pizza.

No pizza was necessary tonight, though!  We had tiny pork burgers – made from our pork, ground by me – on homemade dinner rolls topped with delicious pickled red onions.  The roll recipe was supposed to make 24 and instead made 40, so we have a bunch of delicious yeast rolls for the freezer.

Rolls + rolls

I also made cole slaw with the remaining cabbage from last weekend, and a lovely and simple asparagus crostini that disappeared within the first half hour of the party.

Asparagus crostini

In addition, friends brought salads, lots of grillables, homemade bread and prosciutto, dulce de leche ice cream, and a totally beautiful wedding cake (pictures forthcoming).  We ate well, and then we sat around the fire and talked until late.  It was a fantastic evening.

(One of these days I really will talk about our wedding.  I promise.  We’re still working on the photos, and I want to be able to show you guys instead of just telling.)

Recipes:
Pork Sliders With Pickled Red Onions from Moogie & Pap
Pillow-Soft Dinner Rolls from Taste of Home

0430 First Cookout of the Season

Cat on a leash, originally uploaded by sukisuki.

Over the winter, we bought a grill off a guy on Craigslist – Shane really needed was the propane tank, but for $25, we got a nice gas grill with all the rocks and racks, plus the nearly full tank that alone would’ve cost nearly $25. I mention this because it was unexpectedly gorgeous today, and at the last minute, we invited a couple of friends over to grill out and break in the firepit (which didn’t end up happening).

While Shane and Aaron wrestled the grill into shape, Suz let Basil drag her around on his leash (hence the photo courtesy of Suz). The little dude LOVES being outside, so this was pretty much the best thing ever for him. He ate grass, rolled around in the dust, and generally claimed the yard as his own. Too bad he isn’t better behaved on said leash or we’d let him out more often.

This being the first cookout of the year, it’s fair to say that our technique needs a bit of work. It took two dudes with at least five combined college degrees to light the grill, and once lit, parts of our pork chops were a little overcooked, while parts of the veggie dogs were cool when served. I put water on to boil for asparagus, then went outside and got distracted – the asparagus ended up a little overcooked as well, but I did my best to disguise it with a vinaigrette. Everything was great – but not the pinnacle of grilling cuisine – pretty much what you’d expect at the beginning of the season.

As if the spring evening couldn’t get more picturesquely Midwestern, after dinner we walked to Dairy Queen in the gathering dark and ate our cones on sidewalk benches. A totally happy evening if I do say so myself.

0406 Mid-70s and Sunny

There was absolutely no way that we could have SOUP on a night like tonight: clear, sunny, even a big muggy and still the FIRST WEEK OF APRIL.  So after walking home from work and climbing in a window (left my keys on my desk – oops!), I ran to Plum to pick up something to throw on the grill.  We’d planned to grill out on Sunday, but had put the meat in the freezer when our dinner plans changed – very practical of us, but not so useful for last minute menu changes.

Instead, dinner was “signature sliders” from Plum’s very nice butchers, grilled on the grill pan – I was too hungry to wait for Shane to clean the grill – sandwiched between slices of Zingerman’s farm bread.  A bunch of asparagus was steamed until bright green and dotted with butter at the table.  It wasn’t quite as beautiful as this meal from last summer, but it was fast and satisfying, and left both of us excited about many summer dinners to come.

Oh, and can I just tell you how much I love the guys at the meat counter at Plum Market?  I’m not sure if ‘butchers’ is the right term for them, but they know their meat, and they don’t mind answering all of my questions.  They’re also just really funny and friendly guys, and they say hi to me when I walk by, even if I don’t stop to pick anything up from their counter.  This is the kind of relationship I’d like to have with all of the people and places where we get our food.

Also! Tonight I planted the first seeds for our garden.  Expect more information about this in the weeks and months to come.