MY — July 2012
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Healthy Cooking 101
Dawn Bause

Grills are for more than just meat! Grilling from the garden! Go Meatless on the Grill! These are all headlines from recent foodie blogs and magazine articles.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to have lived long enough to see this trend, cooking healthier foods go mainstream! Gone are the days when grills where only used for dogs and burgers.

Summer is in full swing and this is the time of year when cooking out, replaces eating out! Whether, you are cooking on a fancy grill, an hibachi pot, or even a campfire, it’s a great opportunity to try some different foods over the fire.

Here are some of my favorite foods to cook on the grill. Fish, scallops, shrimp, mussels, oysters, lobster tails, polenta, asparagus, eggplant, peppers (any kind), zucchini, beets, Portobello mushrooms, red onions, plum tomatoes, radicchio, cabbage, corn on the cob, sugar snap peas, edamame, pineapple, peaches, banana’s, grapes, angel food cake slices, sliced French bread, flat bread and pizza dough. I’ll bet some of these things you never thought of grilling, but grilling gives all these foods a new and exciting taste and look. Plus, vegetables and fruits retain their color and flavor much better when cooked on the grill.

Since this is July, and the 4th is one of the biggest grilling days of the year with grills lighting up across the country let’s think about all the fun it is to host a BBQ.

It’s like a circus act where you balance cooking, serving, socializing, cleaning, and the general task of keeping guests happy.

The key to having things run smoothly is to prepare as much as you can 1-3 days before, and encourage friends and family members to come help with this prep. The day of the party, situate the grill so you’re facing guests, at least partly, while cooking. For larger parties, I always serve the food buffet style, and when doing an outside BBQ, I prefer to set the serving table up inside the house rather than outside. This makes your set up and clean up so much easier, and cuts down on bugs and flies devouring the food before your guests get to it.

There are some secrets to successful grilling that I’d like to share with you.

1. Keep your grill grate clean.

2. Before heating up the grill, spray the grates with “high temperature PAM” Or, if you’re cooking smaller or thinner pieces of fish, veggies or fruit you may want to use “heavy duty non stick aluminum foil” over the grates.

3. Preheat the grill to the desired temp before placing food on the grates. A quick and easy way to estimate the temperature is to hold the palm of your hand about four inches above the grate. Count the seconds you can hold your hand there before the heat forces you to pull it away. Five seconds means your grill is at about 200-300 degrees. Four seconds 300-350 degrees. Three seconds 350-375 degrees, two seconds 375 and more.

4. Always keep a close eye on what you’re grilling. Food can burn quickly, so be on guard and check food frequently.

5. Turning food is essential to even cooking. However, turning too often slows cooking and can result in tough, dry food. For example most fish filets or fish steaks (under 1 inch in thickness) should be turned only once during cooking time.

6. Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before building kabobs to prevent skewers from burning. I’m not opposed to using metal skewers but I like the wood ones for parties because they’re disposable. Be sure to cut food into even size chunks. Many people place different meats and veggies on the same skewers which is not a good idea, because different foods have different cooking times. For example, place chicken chunks together on one skewer, group steak on another , slide shrimp onto their own skewers and bunch vegetables on their own, to ensure that each food is cooked for the proper amount of time. Rotate the skewers every few minutes, until all sides have been in contact with the grill and the food is done. Use tongs to remove the food from the grill because the skewers will be very hot.

7. Spice up your food a good hour or two before it hits the grills. The marinating time allows the food to absorb the flavors.

8. Don’t apply sauces prior to grilling. Consult the recipe to see when to begin basting; it’s usually about 5 minutes before the end of the grilling time.

9. Keep a spray bottle filled with water handy so you can spritz flare-ups, which can blacken your food.

10. Place cooked foods on a clean plate – not one that has previously held raw meat, fish or poultry. Bacteria from raw food can contaminate the cooked food and cause food poisoning.

Enjoy the joys of eating more fresh veggies and fruits this Summer! Try grilling peaches next month when they are “in season” here in Michigan.