Tag Archives: Grilling

Birthday Dinners for Melissa!

Eating at home and having someone else cook for me (all weekend!) is the best thing I could ask for, or be surprised with.  I just celebrated my birthday and had a glorious weekend with some incredible food; I ate very well and loved every bite of it.  On my birthday, we had dinner downtown at one of my favorite local restaurants – Mizuna.  My all-time “most thought about” appetizer is their lobster macaroni and cheese – it is heaven on a plate with silky rich, buttery and cheesy flavors that coat your mouth.  There is just enough lobster to enjoy a bit with almost every bite (we share one serving).  It’s one not to miss, ever.  Later, we strolled through the flower-packed Botanical Gardens where I got my flower fix; if only my backyard could look like that.  I received some beautiful birthday cards that touched my heart, along with some fun and thoughtful birthday gifts.  Thanks to all my family and friends for the love.  The next day, David made me a scrumptious breakfast and grilled up a memorable dinner later that evening.  For dinner, we enjoyed grilled marinated hanger steaks, grilled lobster tails, sautéed mushrooms and wilted spinach with caramelized shallots.  Thanks to my honey for cooking me such delicious food and for keeping the kitchen clean all weekend!

For an afternoon snack, we had roasted shrimp with a quick homemade cocktail sauce.  The shrimp is so easy to do in the oven, with my favorite technique of roasting.  Sure you could grill them but it was easier for me to use the oven.  I like the wild-caught, Key West pink shrimp (16 to 20 count per bag) available frozen at my local grocery store.  I prefer shrimp cocktails without the fuss of a shell so before roasting, I remove the shells and de-vein the shrimp.  They get tossed with some olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and then cooked in a 425 degree F oven until dark pink and slightly firm to the touch.  For extra flavor, we added lemon slices and some smashed garlic to the pan.  The cocktail sauce is super easy to make with ketchup (my favorite is organic because of the pure flavor and sweetness), horseradish sauce (David’s homemade), Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, capers, lemon zest, salt and pepper.  It has a nice sweet, hot and rich flavor that pairs well with the sweet shrimp.

As for those flowers, I never get tired of looking at them.  Especially when they are attached to food!  At the Botanic Gardens, we stopped by the eye-catching vegetable garden and found these happy chives – the flowers are edible too.  We snuck a bite of the chive and they taste so much better when fresh, with a light onion/scallion flavor.

Thanks for joining me on my blog journey.  I have had a blast so far.  Cheers to many more food adventures!  (Below: One of my favorite wines and perfect with steak – Petite Petit by Michael & David Winery.  I never lose my wine glass with this one!)    Eat well and share the love!

Memorial Day BBQ: Buttermilk & Sage Brined Chicken

This Memorial Day weekend many grills will be fired up and friends will gather.  I love simple recipes for the grill that make you look like a grilling star.  In the past I shied away from grilling chicken because it was a challenge to keep the white meat from drying out.  The heavens shone down when I discovered the brining method.  The brine mixture makes the meat tender, juicy and flavorful, and makes the chicken almost foolproof on the grill.  I like using chicken with the bone in (because it has more flavor) and with the skin on to help keep the meat moist.  I know it’s not good for you to eat the skin but I can’t resist it when it becomes a crispy, sweet piece of goodness from basting with the barbecue sauce – just like candy!

There are many variations of how to make a brine mixture – after several trial and errors, I have created my own version of buttermilk and sage brine.  Most brines use lots of salt to tenderize the meat but I chose the buttermilk because it does the same thing without as much sodium.  All you’ll need is a large glass bowl, some buttermilk, fresh sage sprigs, garlic cloves, salt and some pepper.  The chicken gets marinated overnight in the brine mixture, which imparts a wonderful depth of flavor to the meat.  If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand not to worry – you can make it yourself: for every one cup of milk (use 1% fat or higher) add 1 tablespoon of vinegar, stir and let sit for five minutes and you have buttermilk.  For the vinegar, I prefer apple cider vinegar but you can use any white vinegar you have on hand.

Believe it or not, I don’t make my own barbecue sauce!  I found a store-bought brand that we love and have just stuck with it.   Maybe I’ll be inspired to make my own for ribs in July….At any rate, if you have a favorite homemade recipe then use that, or your favorite store-bought brand.  One tip for grilling: be sure to remember to oil your grill before you put the chicken on!  I forgot to do that for this photo shoot and had chicken pieces stuck to the grill; thankfully I was able to recover from that one.  The barbecue sauce goes on after you turn the chicken the first time; the chicken is hot and absorbs the flavors.  Each time I turn the chicken, it gets basted.  When the chicken is done it has a delicious, caramelized sweet coating on it.

What to serve with your barbecued chicken?  We have so many to choose from: potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, grilled vegetables or grilled corn on the cob (see my earlier post for a great recipe to grill in the husks).   And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite – dessert!  Need an idea?  Check out my post from last week for Strawberry Mint Granita with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream – it’s easy to make but decadent and rich. 

Have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend and if you can, please take a moment to remember those who lost their lives while serving and protecting our country.

Eat well and share the love!

Buttermilk & Sage Brined BBQ Chicken
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two   
Serves two foodies
Prep Time: 1 day (brining)       Cooking Time: 20 to 25 minutes

Buttermilk & Sage Brine:
3 ½ cups buttermilk
3 sprigs of fresh sage
3 large garlic cloves, skins removed and cloves smashed
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse-grind freshly cracked pepper
Bone-in chicken with the skin on: 3 legs, 3 thighs, one breast cut in half
1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

Buttermilk & Sage Brine:
Add the buttermilk, sage (lightly bang the leaves with the back of a knife to release the oils), smashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper to a glass bowl and stir well to dissolve the salt.  Add the chicken pieces, cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Grill the chicken:
Heat grill to low heat and season with oil or cooking spray when hot.  Remove the chicken from the brine mixture and transfer to a large platter or 13x 9 glass dish.  Season the chicken with pepper and place on hot grill, skin side down.  After chicken is turned over, liberally brush grilled side with barbecue sauce and continue process each time chicken is turned.  Grill for about 20 to 25 minutes, turning often, until no longer pink in the center and juices run clear then meat is pierced.  Transfer to a clean serving platter.

Serve hot with grilled corn in the husk and a potato salad or coleslaw on the side.

  • No buttermilk on hand?  Use 3 1/2 cups regular milk (1% fat or higher) and add 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (or any white vinegar), stir together and let sit for five minutes.

Weeknight Meal: Cheeseburgers and Crispy Oven Fries

Yes, you can make mouth-watering burgers at home for a weeknight meal!  After a busy and crazy day there are times when I just crave a good burger to end the day and transition out of work.  We made burgers this weekend and was reminded how easy it was to pull off at home.  In fact, you can have lip-smacking hamburgers plus crispy oven-roasted fries within 30 minutes of putting the fries in the oven.  The burgers taste so much better because they are homemade with love and use fresh ingredients.   I like burgers cooked to medium that have flavorful meat, with some seasoning you can taste on the outside.   For the texture, I love a bit of a crunch on the outside and tender meat on the inside that isn’t too chewy.  The sharp cheddar cheese that melts down the sides of the burger makes it irresistible.  With the exception of the buns, I usually have all the ingredients in my pantry or freezer.  Give it a shot, here’s how.

The burger is the centerpiece of the creation and I found the grade of meat you use matters in terms of flavor, juiciness and texture.  For these burgers I used Angus Ground Chuck with 20% fat content.  We usually buy organic ground meat with 5 to 10% fat content, so the 20% fat was a stretch for me.  The grill masters have always recommended meat with higher fat content and now I see why.  There was a huge flavor and texture difference compared to the ground meat I usually buy.  I am somewhat of a seasoning purist and only use kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, onion powder and garlic powder to season the meat, with a citrus pepper dusting on top of the burger.  It’s up to you – there are so many different ways to season a burger and you can make awesome ones at home.

I think I have mentioned several times (thanks for letting me repeat myself) that I swoon for anything fried.  French fries are one of my favorites.  You have probably seen countless recipes for fries roasted in the oven; I think oven-roasting is one of the best cooking techniques for vegetables – it makes you look like a pro with very little effort.   Roasting gives the potatoes a golden crispy crust with a soft and fluffy inside.  The prep work takes about 5 minutes, and while they are cooking you can get the burgers and garnishes going.

So far we have talked about the meat for the hamburger and oven-roasting the fries, but what about the supporting cast of the bun and condiments?  My favorite grocery store buns are premium sesame seed buns.  If I’m near a bakery, I’ll pick up some artisan rolls but I wanted to stick with more accessible items for this post.  I went all out for this photo shoot and lightly buttered the buns before I grilled them – fantastic!  That detail really pulled it all together for me.  The condiments, or all the good stuff around the burger, are what gives you those layers of flavors.  I love sharp cheddar cheese, but choose your favorite.  As a time saver, I buy the cheese pre-grated but slices are better to use for burgers.  I am a huge mayonnaise fan (Hellman’s!) and have to have it on my burger along with red onion slices, tomato, sliced pickles and butter lettuce.  David goes for a bacon cheeseburger with mustard, mayo, lettuce, onions and pickles.

What is your favorite burger?  I would love to hear what burger combination makes your mouth water!  Hopefully you are inspired to re-create this classic at home more often, with ease and very little planning.

Cheeseburgers with Crispy Oven-Fries        
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies
Prep: 12 minutes         Cooking Time: 30 minutes total

2 medium russet potatoes, skins on and washed well
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
¾ to 1 pound of ground beef (chuck or sirloin: 20%
   to 30% fat content)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon citrus pepper for top (or favorite seasoning salt)
2 slices sharp cheddar cheese
Yellow mustard
4 slices red onion
4 slices tomato
6 to 8 slices dill pickles
2 whole pieces butter lettuce (or romaine or iceberg)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees F (convection if available) and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Cut potatoes in thirds width-wise and then into wedges or strips – try to make all similar in size for even cooking.  Place on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Toss potato pieces with your hands and level out to a single layer.  Place in middle rack of oven and cook for 15 minutes.  Turn fries over with a spatula and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.  If needed, season with more salt.

Serve immediately with cheeseburgers.

Cheeseburgers  (heat grill 15 to 20 minutes before fries are done, start cooking burgers when fries have 10 minutes cooking time left):
Heat grill to medium high.  Melt one tablespoon butter in ramekin in microwave (three to four 10 second intervals) and grab a pastry brush – for the buns.

In a medium glass bowl, add ground meat, salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder.  Gently mix with hands until the seasonings are incorporated into meat; one trick to tender burgers is to handle the meat as little as possible.

Form two, one-half inch thick burgers and season top with citrus pepper or seasoning salt.  Place on hot grill and lightly smash down burger.  For a medium burger, cook for 4 minutes and turn over; lightly smash burger down again with spatula and cook for another 4 minutes (for well done burgers, cook on second side for 6 minutes).   A few minutes before the burgers are done cooking, toast the buns: brush the top and insides of the buns with butter and grill about one minute each side.  Place a cheese slice on each burger and transfer burgers to top rack of grill while buns finish toasting. 

Dress buns with mayonnaise or mustard; build burger on bottom bun starting with lettuce, cheeseburger, pinch of salt and pepper, onions, tomatoes, pickles and top bun.   Enjoy!

  • Can substitute sweet potatoes for russet potatoes