Posts Tagged ‘grilled carrots’

The Fall Summation III: The Firepit

I was happily involved in writing in the multiple parts of my fall summation IV post, when I suddenly realized that I never remembered to publish fall summation III. So here it is.

I have always enjoyed grilling as a wonderfully tasty way to cook meat and vegetables, but late this summer I acquired a firepit in my front yard, and it is fair to say  that it is one of the best small investments we ever made.  The pit itself is just a literal pit, a big hole in the dirt, skillfully lined with bricks by a landscape crew. Then there is a drop-in steel grill with a grate which is easily raised and lowered for precise control, and I wish I could remember where I bought it because it is the best ever.  Most important is the fuel, almost completely hardwood in my case although I start fires with twigs and small branches scrounged off the nearby walking path.

Cooking with wood is a whole different experience than cooking with charcoal, and I had not done it for about 25 years, so it took some time to get back in the swing.  When I want to just fire up the grill and cook something without undue fuss, I resort to my beloved Big Green Egg.  Cooking on the fire pit is more a process and an experience than just getting dinner ready. First, there is building the fire. Then, there is sitting next to it feeding it the right kind and amount of wood and giving it a few pokes at the right time to end up with a wonderful bed of red-hot coals  a couple of hours later.  Then there is cooking the food itself, and this is a hot eye-stinging experience that is somehow more pleasurable and more primal than any charcoal cooking could ever be.  The finale can then go one of two ways: either the coals can be damped with a bucket of water so that you end up with biochar for the garden or a bed of charcoal for the next fire, or more wood can be thrown on the fire and the diners can gather around it contemplatively with wine and marvel at their good fortune to be alive at this particular moment.

Don’t think that this is only an activity for carnivores. Pescatarians will find that wild-caught salmon is perfect for the grill, as long as you’re careful not to overcook.  Any vegetarian or vegan would love firepit cooking, for the rich meaty belt that hardwood smoke lends to vegetables. Eggplant, zucchini, and carrots are all wonderful sliced and grilled. I like to rub them with olive oil mixed with salt and a little chile chipotle. Wild mushrooms are lovely grilled, and store-bought mushrooms approach the savor of wild ones when grilled. Oyster mushrooms are especially suited to grilling.   Potatoes and sweet potatoes are both really good when pre-baked, pressed flat and about half an inch thick with your hand or the bottom of a glass, salted and brushed with olive oil or bacon fat, and grilled  just until the outside gets crisp and browned.  Sweet potatoes are very quick to burn because of the sugar they contain, so they need to be kept on a cooler part of the grill and be brought along more slowly and cautiously.  I understand that some people grill kale leaves very successfully, although so far I have not made that work well. And the more tender leaves of romaine lettuce are really delicious when the heads are grilled in halves.

One of my favorite recent dinners involved large shrimp seasoned and grilled in their shells, served on a bed of grilled romaine lettuce made by cutting heads of romaine in half, drizzling them with my mother’s marinade, and grilling them over very hot coals for 2-3 minutes on each side.  I am in favor of taking the grilled romaine into the kitchen and slicing it crosswise before plating it, for more graceful eating. The ribs of the romaine  leaves become softer, sweeter, and a culinary revelation. I would think that the same thing could be achieved with Chinese cabbage. Another small drizzle of marinade when on the plate adds to the general savor.  In the photo above you see the grilled treatment given to little dark blue Magic Molly potatoes, which I intend to write about in another post.   In general we eat low-carb and avoid foods like potatoes, but the occasional treat does not come amiss. Overall, this is a meal that makes you realize that nothing more miraculous has ever happened in human history than the taming of fire. It made us more civilized and brought wolves in off the tundra to be our companions. We co-evolved with them for the next 40,000 years to the benefit of both parties, and their descendents still seem to enjoy hanging around the firepit.

For more on the entrancing world of wood fired cooking, read anything by Francis Mallman, particularly his first book, Seven Fires.

How to love Your Carrots

I’m doing a blog series for our local newspaper this month, but some readers had trouble accessing those posts, so I decided to put them on my own blog as well. Here’s the third one:
Eating seasonally is a pleasure for most of the year, and fall is a wonderful time to eat carrots. We all know how healthy carrots are, so I’ll skip over that part and concentrate on how delicious they are. When I cook carrots I make a lot, because they are wonderful for at-your-desk lunching the next day. Usually I retrieve my lunch from the refrigerator at my mid-morning brief break and eat it at room temperature at lunchtime, as long as no egg yolks, mayonnaise, or other extreme perishables are involved. If I plan to eat them at room temperature for lunch I use olive oil instead of butter, since animal fats congeal unattractively when they aren’t hot, but if you prefer to use butter, no problem. Just heat your carrots a little the next day, then carry them back to your desk and eat happily, with the slightly smug glow that comes of doing the right and healthy thing and getting your work done at the same time.

First, catch your carrots. Real carrots come in bunches with the tops on, and if the tops look withered, don’t bother with those carrots. Get some fresh ones instead. Your nearest growers’ market is a great place to shop for them. Here in Albuquerque you can find several colors, including yellow, the standard orange, red, and a glowing royal-purple. I love the purple ones, but any of these techniques can be used for any carrot.

I use the word “technique” with forethought, because it is basic technique that makes it quick and easy to cook and eat lots of vegetables. If you have to read a recipe in the kitchen as you work, you will eventually get fed up, but technique lives in your brain and makes it a snap to blanch, saute’, stir-fry, bake, boil, or grill any veggie that you care to eat. No precise measurements are needed. So here are a couple of basic techniques for carrots:

Blanch, then saute’: trim and scrub four large carrots or six smaller ones of any color. Peel if needed (usually I scrub well with a brush instead.) Slice into slices about a quarter inch thick. Fill a large saucepan with about 2 quarts of water, add 2 teaspoons of salt, bring to a boil, toss in the carrots, boil 5 minutes, and drain thoroughly. If you want to, you can hold the drained carrots at room temperature for 2-3 ours, making it easy to do some work ahead of time if needed. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan, or use olive oil if you prefer. Put in the carrots, 2-3 teaspoons of honey, salt to taste, and a grating of fresh nutmeg. Saute’ over medium heat until the carrots are done to your liking, and serve. The blanching makes sure that the carrots cook evenly, and the saute’ing brings out their flavor. You can vary this infinitely: add herbs in the saute’ stage; thyme or savory are especially good with carrots. Chop a clove of garlic or half a small onion and cook in the butter or oil until just cooked through before adding the carrots. Use a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar instead of honey. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a very fresh flavor. Add half a teaspoon of grated orange rind with the honey. Add a tablespoon or two of dark rum and cook it off thoroughly before serving. Or, if you have access to some good artisanal root beer (I brew my own. Just don’t use the grocery-store glop) you can add a quarter cup of it when you add the carrots to the butter, and cook over high heat until the root beer is reduced to a syrup that just coats the carrots. A quarter-cup of dark ale produces a malty, ever-so-faintly bitter glaze that’s great with game. You can also cut the carrots into chunks about 2 inches long and then cut those into quarters at the initial prep, for a different texture. When using orange carrots, sometimes I cook a couple of purple potates separaely, slice them, and add them in for the saute’ stage.

Grilling: Usually people don’t think of grilling carrots, which is a shame, because the caramelization around the edges is delicious. Just cut them thinly. I like slices about 1/8” thick. Use a griddle or grill-wok so they don’t fall through the grill, and watch them closely so that they don’t burn. I describe a Southeast Asian seasoning here, but again the technique is key, and once you get the hang of it, you can season them any way you like. Trim and scrub 3-4 large carrots of any color, and slice them thinly. Toss with two chopped cloves of garlic, a 1” chunk of ginger grated, a tablespoon of Asian fish sauce (you can use soy sauce instead if you insist,) a tablespoon of agave nectar or coconut sugar, and 2 tablespoons of canola oil or similar. Heat the grill to medium-high and spread the carrot slices out on the griddle section or put them in the grill-wok. If griddling them, turn them in bunches with a spatula about halfway through. If using the wok, you will need to turn several times during cooking. Taste to see when the texture seems just right to you, salt a little if they need it (the fish sauce is fairly salty) and serve with some chopped cilantro on top.