Archive for August, 2012

Spits, Skewers and Kebabs

Spear your way to culinary succulence
Article By: Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
Spits Skewers and Kebabs

Cultures all over the world have used spits, skewers and kebabs to cook over an open fire. Brazilians have their churraco; the French, their brochettes; the Lebanese, their shawarma. By spearing food over the heat, they can grill it evenly, keep it moist and get the most flavor per bite. So let’s start spearing.

Hand Cranking

There are old-fashioned hand-cranked rotisseries for open fire pits, campfires and even fireplaces. These require patience and forbearance — you’ve got to sit to the side of a hot fire, turning the meat slowly over the flames. These yesteryear gadgets are best for enormous cuts: baby goats, boars, pigs and the like. Look for solid construction: no wobbly legs! And one thing’s for sure: Even the best of these devices are not for the novice.

Spits
Don’t think Robinson Crusoe. Basically, we’re talking about the rotisserie attachment for your grill, an electric motor that slowly turns a steel rod over the grate.

In essence, the meat is self-basting. As juices come to the surface, they spill over the rotating cut, bathing it in what will become crispy goodness.

Which is why the primary meat for a rotisserie is anything fowl: chickens, turkeys, pheasants and game hens. They’re full of subcutaneous fat that melts and bastes the beast on the spit.

But the fat’s not the only reason birds are the first choice for spits. They’re also hollow — which means you don’t have to puncture the meat to get a bird on the spit. And even more important, they’re equally balanced around the spit: one wing on one side, one wing on the other.

A leg of lamb or a prime-rib roast can be poor choices for the spit because neither are balanced. A leg of lamb has a thicker, meatier side — which will cause it to turn unevenly. A prime rib has all those heavy bones.

What’s more, you don’t want to skewer the meat itself.

So what to do with these “uneven” cuts? Roast two side by side and back to front. Secure the two cuts tightly to either side of the spit with butchers’ twine, then use the prongs to hold them in place. This two-for-one technique works for pork loin, beef tenderloin or whole fish.

In short, on a spit, you need to think about:

    1. Balance. Make sure the cut is evenly balanced side to side.
    2. Security. Tie cuts tightly with butchers’ twine. In general, more twine is better. Yes, the rotisserie will come with clamps to secure items to the spit, but you still need to secure wings to birds and cuts to each other.

You’re almost ready. Now for a few last tips:

  1. Indirect heat works best. In other words, the rotating spit should not be directly over the heat of the grill.
  2. Make sure the fire is low, around 325°F. “Low and slow” are the rules of the rotisserie.
  3. Make sure there’s a drip pan directly under the turning meat to prevent flare-ups and save you a big cleanup.
  4. Want more flavor? Wrap long spears of rosemary or branches of bay leaves around the meat once it’s secured onto the rotisserie spit.
  5. Salt draws moisture to the surface. Add a little to the outside of the cuts before they go on the spit to get the most juice bathing the meat as it turns.

 

Skewers and Kebabs
When you shrink those metal spits down to size, you end up with bamboo and metal skewers.

Unlike spits, skewers and kebabs go right over the heat, preferably high heat. If spits are “low and slow,” skewers and kebabs are “hot and fast.” You want these babies to singe — mostly to get good flavor on the outsides of the smaller bits of meat or veggies before they dry out inside.

And keep this in mind: It’s easier to marinate or spice things up before you skewer. Toss everything in a bowl, add the marinade or rub and stir well. Then refrigerate for a couple hours, stirring repeatedly. Once skewered, nooks and crannies can be difficult to reach with that added flavor.

First, meat and fish.

  1. Put only a single kind of protein on a single skewer. Don’t mix tuna cubes and pork loin, for example. Proteins cook at different rates.
  2. Choose firm-fleshed, thick-fleshed fish. Think tuna, swordfish or mahi mahi. Think about fish that can be cut into “steaks.”
  3. In general, consider 1-inch cubes the rule. (Boneless, of course.) Practice good knife technique, making sure meat cubes are evenly sized for even cooking. (Our one exception: shrimp. Leave themwhole and thread them in two places on the skewer.)
  4. Don’t forget fruit. It grills great with beef, pork, chicken or turkey. Use pineapple cubes, apple wedges or halved apricots on those skewers!
  5. Finally, for mixed meat-and-veggie skewers, cook them until the meat is done, not the veggies. To know for sure, take the internal temperature of the meat with an instant-read meat thermometer.

 

Now the veggies

  1. Tomatoes and mushrooms should go on their own skewers. They cook quickly and turn soft fast, soon becoming a mess on the beef-and-veggie skewer.
  2. Firmer vegetable chunks — zucchini, peppers, yellow squash, fennel and onions — can be interspersed among chunks of meat, fish steaks or shellfish.
  3. If you’re making mixed meat-and-veggie kebabs, put chunks of meat rather than vegetable chunks at each end of the skewer — vegetables can turn soft and fall off.
  4. Forget roots and hard winter vegetables. Butternut squash and sweet potatoes will never get tender on a skewer.

That’s about all you need to know. With a little advance planning and some good technique, you’ll soon be a pro, cooking meat in one of the oldest ways imaginable.

No meat crock pot recipes

Posted: August 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Five Vegetarian Meals Even a Meat-Eating Guy Will Love

Meatless can still be scrumptious.
Article By: Kate Elizabeth Queram
Five Vegetarian Meals Even a Meat-Eating Guy Will Love

If you’re a die-hard carnivore, the kind who likes bacon with his eggs, fried chicken with his biscuits and a little steak with his steak, the idea of adopting a vegetarian diet may be laughable. Even the term probably has you conjuring images of tofu chunks, carrot sticks and endless piles of lettuce. But take it from me: Eating vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to subsist solely on salads and celery stalks.

I decided to go vegetarian when I was 13, right before Thanksgiving. Passing up the golden roasted turkey was tough that first year, but only until I realized I could pile on the potatoes. Being a vegetarian on non-holidays works mostly the same way.

For example, unless you’re going vegan, your diet can still be loaded with all kinds of low-fat dairy products, from shredded cheese made with 2 percent milk to thick, reduced-fat sour cream. In the beginning, I’d recommend steering clear of tofu. Partly because even reading the word probably has you freaked out, but mostly because attempting the spongy white stuff right away is enough to scare off a newbie vegetarian for good. But don’t be afraid to experiment with fake-meat products, which can fill the texture void in your meatless menu. And above all, realize that occasionally eschewing beef and chicken doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite tacos, stews and sandwiches. It’s all about modification.

To get you started, try one of these five road-tested recipes. They’re all meatless and healthy, but more importantly, they’ve all been tried by current or former carnivores—the boyfriends, husbands, relatives and law-school buddies of the chefs who made them—who pronounced them delicious. Dig in.

Vegetarian Chili
Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese
Sloppy Joes
Cheesy Mushroom Broccoli Casserole
Microwave Nachos Vegetarian Chili
When I was growing up, my mom had a rotating schedule of three dinners. (My dad and my uncle always called them “Bonnie’s Big Three.”) This chili, in meat form, was one of them. When I stopped eating meat 14 years ago, she modified the recipe for me, and whenever I go home there’s always a batch of it waiting. We usually eat it on Christmas Eve with a big group of male relatives, none of whom are vegetarian, who come back for seconds and thirds. With a dollop of low-fat sour cream and a handful of low-fat cheese, you’ll never miss the beef. My mom cooks it with tofu (an entire container); if you’re not a tofu-eating vegetarian yet, sub a package of faux beef crumbles or skip entirely.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 container tofu
  • 2 Tbsp and 1 tsp chili powder
  • 12 oz (1 can) diced chili tomatoes
  • 12 oz (1 can) spiced chili tomato sauce
  • 1 can Bush’s chili beans
  • 1 can black beans (drained)
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (drained)
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • Optional: 1 cup cooked elbow macaroni noodles

 

Instructions

Brown onion in butter. Add tofu with 1 teaspoon chili powder.

Add all other ingredients and simmer for one 1 hour. Serve with reduced-fat sour cream and cheddar cheese.

Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese
Leigh Voruz, a 29-year-old elementary-school art teacher from Omaha, Nebraska, created this healthy mac and cheese recipe after failing to find an existing one that cut calories but still tasted good.

“Every time I’d find a recipe, the texture wasn’t right or it was too bland, so I mixed three or four different recipes together,” she says.

Each ingredient contributes something specific to the dish, Voruz says. The mustard brings out the flavor, and the half-and-half keeps it creamy, while the Velveeta keeps the traditional mac-and-cheese flavor. And using the low-fat versions cuts the calories per serving by more than half, but the dish still tastes decadent, she adds.

Though it contains no meat, mac and cheese isn’t strictly a vegetarian dish—neither Voruz nor her husband Johnny are herbivores—but everybody loves a good comfort food. This one allows you to enjoy it guilt-free.

“It tastes like you’re being naughty,” Voruz says, “but you’re not.”

Ingredients

  • 3 cups pasta, uncooked
  • 3 Tbsp margarine
  • 8 oz Velveeta light
  • 4 oz fat-free cream cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups 2% shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 can cheddar cheese soup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup fat-free half and half
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Instructions

Cook pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes or until it’s just under al dente. Drain and place in slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Cook on high for 2 to 3 hours, stirring about every 30 minutes. The pasta should hold its shape, and the cheese should be completely creamy. Makes about 8 servings.

Sloppy Joes
Sloppy Joe sandwiches, with seasoned beef tumbling out of hamburger buns, are the ultimate meat-eating-guy food. This recipe, which substitutes a mix of mushrooms and nuts for the beef, is just as satisfying as the real thing, according to Susan Schenck, author of “The Live Food Factor, The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet.”
“My husband loves this recipe because it tastes like sloppy Joes,” she said. The meat substitute doesn’t sacrifice on taste, because “the real flavor is in the sauce, and the mushrooms absorb those flavors as well as meat does. This recipe reminds me of the sloppy Joes that were a staple among my mother’s dinner dishes. For those of us raised on Joes, this is a real comfort-food dish!”

Ingredients

“Meat” Mixture:

  • 3/4 cup raw walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, without shells
  • 4 cups mushrooms (preferably cremini type)
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 3 Tbsp Namo Shoyu soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp unpasteurized olive oil
  • 8 green olives, pitted
  • 1/2 to 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 green onions

 

Sloppy Joe Sauce:

  • 1 large ripe red or 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle seasoning powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 pitted dates
  • 1/8 cup fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves

 

Instructions

Ahead of time: Soak walnuts and sunflower seeds in water for 6 to 8 hours. Chop mushrooms (make sure they’re not too small—they should be cut into fourths or fifths). Marinate for at least 1 hour in water, Namo Shoyu and olive oil. Stir well so all mushroom pieces get a bit wet, then set for at least 1 hour.

Later, rinse and drain walnuts and sunflower seeds. Chop walnuts by hand, or in the food processor using the “S” blade. The goal here is to match the look and feel of meat, so aim for little chunks. Chop olives, green bell pepper and green onions. Fold in marinated mushrooms. Set aside.

In a heavy-duty blender, blend tomatoes into liquid form. Add remaining sauce ingredients. Fold in “meat” ingredients. Because the Joes are a raw-food recipe, Schenck doesn’t heat them before serving, but said doing so wouldn’t affect the flavor. For a traditional presentation, scoop onto whole-wheat hamburger buns.

Cheesy Mushroom Broccoli Casserole
Natasha Attal started making this dish for her boyfriend when he stopped eating meat about two years ago. Attal, a 25-year-old marketing and PR rep for a Brooklyn real-estate firm, isn’t a vegetarian, but said both she and her boyfriend find the dish filling and delicious.

“He usually is not a big fan of leftovers, but we ate it again the next night because he loved it so much,” she says. “It has become a go-to casserole dish.”

To add more substance to the dish, Attal recommends adding veggie ground round for the taste and texture of meat, but said the casserole is delicious even without it.

“It’s a very filling dish,” she says.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp butter, plus extra for casserole dish
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 lb shitake or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free half and half
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 box (10 oz) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
  • 2 cups shredded 2% cheddar-monterey cheese blend
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Special equipment: 1 1/8-quart oval casserole dish

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Butter casserole dish. In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter and flour over medium heat until golden to make a quick roux (it should resemble the color of peanut butter).

Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, half and half and vegetable broth. Add broccoli, 1 cup of cheese, and rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into buttered casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and golden, about 20 minutes.

Microwave Nachos
Jessica Keefe, a Washington, DC–based attorney, started zapping nachos in her microwave during law school at the University of Pennsylvania. Keefe, 27, was a vegetarian for 11 years but had started eating meat again before concocting the snack food. She’s made the nachos for groups of friends, meat-eating males among them.

“They’re filling and satisfy your cheese cravings without leaving you feeling like you need a nap afterward,” she says.

For added health bonuses, add diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce after pulling your platter from the microwave.

Ingredients

  • 3 handfuls baked tortilla chips
  • 3/4 cup lowfat shredded cheese (cheddar works well)
  • 1/2 can (10 oz) black beans, drained
  • Jalapeños to taste
  • 1/2 cup lowfat sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 jar salsa

 

Instructions

Place tortilla chips on a large plate. Layer cheese, black beans and jalapeños on top. Microwave for 1 minute or until cheese melts and bubbles slightly.

Top with low-fat sour cream, lettuce, and tomatoes, and serve with salsa.

Hopefully, these recipes, and the meat-eaters who love them, will help you see that dabbling in vegetarian cuisine doesn’t have to mean digging into salad after salad. And if the delicious food and the guilt-free indulging aren’t enough of a reason for you to steer clear of the meat aisle occasionally, consider this: Making a creative and healthy meal for your significant other could earn you some brownie points. Low-fat ones, that is.

Salad Sticker Shock

The inconvenient truth behind our favorite fast-food salads.
Article By: Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
Salad Sticker Shock
We’ve taken it like men—giving up our favorite burgers and fries for healthier salads. But are our favorite salads at restaurant chains and fast-food outlets better choices? Not necessarily. In fact, they can eat up as much as half a day’s worth of PointsPlus®values.

Best of the Worst Salads
Asian Style Salads:
Here, greens are topped with fresh fruit, grilled chicken, and crunchy toppings. The sesame dressing varies from restaurant to restaurant but it’s often outrageous in calories and added sugar, including corn syrup. Hold on to your lunch: all dressed up this salad can come in at a whopping PointsPlus values of 14.
Southwest Style Salads:
Piled high with beans, corn, and roasted peppers, this ground beef-topped salad can’t be bad, can it? At one favorite fast food restaurant, you’re staring at a PointsPlus value of 16!
Chicken Caesar Salads:
Don’t think diet when you think Caesar. Even though it’s only lettuce, chicken, and a touch of cheese, this classic doesn’t fare any better when you look under the label. At one chain, it’s got a staggering PointsPlus value of 12. That’s a lot for so little bang for the buck.

How’d the PointsPlus values get so astronomical? Sure, there are a few fried tidbits and some grated cheese, but the real culprits are the corn syrup-laden, fat-enhanced dressings.

Most restaurants will offer you the dressing on the side, but who wants to eat a naked salad? What’s a hungry guy to do?

Make your own at home. Here’s how:

Greens are the base for all three salads. Here’s our rule: the crunchier, the better. Shredded romaine and iceberg add sweetness while radicchio and arugula add bitter notes. If you’re in a hurry, use a pre-shredded and packaged blend of these greens, found in the produce section of your supermarket.

Use purchased, precooked protein. Pick up a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket; skin it and take the meat off the bones. Or try precooked cocktail shrimp, a nice change of pace. No, you won’t have ground beef in your Southwest salad, but you’ll save PointsPlus values—and it’ll be just as good.

Mix up your own toppings:

  • For Asian-style toppings, steer clear of canned fruit which adds lots of sugar. Peel and slice an orange into sections or peel and dice a mango off its pit. For crunch, sliced water chestnuts and some shredded jicama do the trick.
  • For Southwest-style toppings, try canned beans: just drain and rinse before using. Frozen corn just needs to be thawed, but not cooked. And red bell pepper gives the perfect crunch.
  • For Caesar salads, shred carrots and seeded yellow bell peppers through the large holes of a box grater for a lot of snap and very little effort.

Finally, dress it up.

  • Dress Asian-style salads up with a small splash of seasoned rice vinegar and just a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil.
  • A Southwestern salad needs just 1 tablespoon low-fat mayo mixed into 1/4 cup salsa.
  • And for a Caesar? Dress this baby up with 1/4 cup low-fat mayo mixed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. For the true taste, add 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and 1 finely minced anchovy filet.

Body Fuel: What to Eat Before a Workout

Learn the what, when and why of pre- and post-exercise eating, including easy snack and meal ideas.
Article By: By Meredith Bergman and Amy Leibrock
Body Fuel What to Eat Before a Workout
Just as you’d fill up your car’s gas tank before a road trip, it’s vitally important to make sure your body has the right fuel to sustain you during a workout.

Proper nutrition, both before and after, will also “speed up recovery, protect you from fatigue and get you ready for the next workout,” says Jenna A. Bell-Wilson, PhD, RD, LD, a Board-Certified Specialist in sports dietetics.So, what should you eat before going for a bike ride or heading to the gym? Use these guidelines and snack ideas to keep your engine running optimally.

Balance carbs with protein.
“A relatively high-carbohydrate, moderate protein, low-fat meal is best to consume before exercise,” says Suzette Kroll, a registered dietitian at the Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Arizona. People often underestimate the importance of the carb part of the equation when fueling up for exercise, especially strength training, says Bell-Wilson. “They assume it’s all about protein. Protein is important for muscle building and repair, but in order to lift those weights you need carbohydrates for energy,” she says. Choose carbs that are easily digestible and avoid high-fat foods—or large quantities of any food—just before working out because they don’t digest well during exercise.

Time it right.
“Whether you’re strength training or going on a run, you want to make sure you have something within four hours before the workout and then a smaller snack in the hour before,” says Bell-Wilson. If you know your workout is only going to last 45 minutes, keep the snack small, she says. “If it’s going to last 2 hours, then you’re going to want to beef up that pre-exercise meal.”

Carefully assess protein bars.
When squeezing a workout into a busy schedule, you may like the convenience of protein or “sports” bars. Make sure you choose carefully; according to Kroll, most bars are “glorified candy bars, often providing even more calories.” To find the better ones, Bell-Wilson suggests choosing a bar that has about 200 calories, up to 5 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbohydrates. “If you find a bar that you really like, but it’s high in calories, just eat half of it,” says Bell-Wilson. “Save the other half for after your workout.”

Don’t eat more than you burn.
You just finish a heart-pumping, hour-long workout. You take a quick shower and then pass the gym’s café on the way out. Watch out for those healthy-looking snacks. One smoothie or even a sports drink can replace all the calories you just burned, and then some. “It’s important to realize that just because you worked out doesn’t give you free rein in the kitchen,” says Bell-Wilson. “The reward is that you went and you did it.” If you exercise for an hour or less, your best bet is to grab a bottle of water and eat at your next scheduled meal. “If it lasts longer, plan to have a snack in your locker or on your way home,” says Bell-Wilson.

5 Pre-workout Snack Ideas
1. Half a chicken, turkey or lean roast beef sandwich on whole-wheat bread
2. Low-fat yogurt with a sliced banana
3. Low-fat string cheese and 6 whole-grain crackers
4. Hard-boiled eggs, yolks removed and replaced with hummus
5. Skim milk blended with frozen fruit to make a smoothie

5 Post-workout Replenishing Meal Ideas
1. One or two poached eggs on whole-wheat toast
2. Bean burrito: a whole-wheat tortilla filled with black beans, salsa and reduced-fat cheese
3. Stir-fried chicken and vegetables (try pepper, zucchini and carrot) over brown rice
4. Whole-wheat pasta tossed with chicken, broccoli and eggplant
5. Whole-grain cereal or oatmeal, with milk and fruit (such as a sliced banana)

Grilling Tips @loselikeaman

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Grilling Tips from the Pros

Nine grill-master moves to make your next cookout tastier
Article By: Jeffery Lindenmuth
Grilling Tips from the Pros
Grilling is meant to be caveman-simple: Obtain meat, build fire, enjoy cheerful grunting all around. But if you want to advance your grilling game beyond its Pleistocene peak, try incorporating a few cool tricks.We asked grilling gurus to give us the easiest tiny flourishes and techniques that separate the pros from the rank amateurs.

 

Smoke, the easy way
Whether you choose charcoal or gas, authentic smoke flavor will benefit your grilled food, says Matt Goulding, coauthor of the best-selling Grill This, Not That!Smoker boxes are available in specialty stores, but all you really need is some wet wood chips wrapped in a packet of aluminum foil with holes poked in it to deliver a billow of smoke that packs big flavors and zero calories. Hickory and mesquite impart stronger flavors; apple and alder are more subtle. “You can also add flavors by putting fresh and dried herbs directly in the fire,” says Goulding. “Try rosemary sprigs with steak or thyme with pork or chicken.”

 

Use a brine to make juicy meat
Today’s leaner cuts of meat, like chicken breast, pork tenderloin and or turkey can be a recipe for tough, dried-out grill fare. According to Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible (www.BarbecueBible.com)and the new Best Ribs Ever, you can ensure maximum juiciness with a simple brine. Combine 1 quart of water, 1/4 cup of sea salt and 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Soak pork and chicken in the brine for 1 to 2 hours, turkey breast for 4 hours. The salt reduces the toughness of the meat while allowing water to enter. “The result is meat is meat with maximum juiciness,” says Raichlen.

 

Always Take the Temp!

It’s amazing how few guys include a thermometer among their tools of the grilling trade, says Matt Goulding. “Pros keep a thermometer at hand to ensure their foods are both safe and juicy. Checking meat by slicing into it with a knife just lets all the juices pour out into the fire,” says Goulding. Always insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the cut. If you have an older thermometer, remember that the USDA has recently lowered the safe cooking temperature for pork to 145˚F.

Use lettuce instead of bread
Placing juicy meat on bread can add unsatisfying PointsPlus® values while reducing the flavors of grilled foods. “Follow the lead of Asian grill masters and serve small portions of intensely flavored meat, poultry, or seafood wrapped in lettuce leaves,” says Raichlen. Bibb lettuce, like that used to enjoy chunks of pulled pork topped with pickled vegetables at New York’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar, makes a pliable wrapper that adds crunch. Raichlen suggests serving a plate of these leaves to accompany sliced flank steak, cross-cut short ribs, chicken breast, or chicken meatballs

Get your steak in the mood
“The last thing you want to do is take a cold steak from the fridge and slap it on the grill,” says Tim Love, chef and owner of The Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth, Texas. By the time the outside sears, the interior is often overcooked and gray. Be sure to let your steak come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before grilling, suggests Love. Next, brush it with peanut oil before adding salt, pepper and other seasonings. “The oil acts like an adhesive to help your seasonings stick. A lot of people sing the praises of olive oil, but peanut has great flavor and a higher smoke point, so it can withstand the heat of the grill,” says Love.

Don’t crowd the grate
Flame is the enemy, to be extinguished with a spray bottle before those flames start licking at your meat, turning it into carbon. Sometimes, however, not even a spray bottle can stop the conflagration. “When you are cooking meat with fat you are going to get flare-ups,” says Love. The time to make an evacuation plan is before problems start. “A common mistake is to have the entire grill packed with meat,” says Love. No matter which type of grill you use, leave an empty cool zone for any meats that get into a hot spot. You are always better off doing batches than crowding the grill grate.

Add a pan to the program
Another way to avoid flare-ups is to use a pan on top of the grill grate. Far from cheating, a pan is actually the preferred way to cook certain foods, ideal for shrimp and smaller vegetables when you don’t have skewers handy to prevent losing them through the grate. A pan will also make juicy plancha style burgers, especially when you are using leaner beef and need to retain some of the fat. Select a skillet designed for the grill or a cast-iron pan, which is nearly indestructible, advises Love.

Let the meat rest
You might be starving, but cutting into any meat right off the grill will lead to eventual disappointment, as the juices pour out onto the plate. According to Goulding, allowing meat to cool permits the muscle fibers to reabsorb and retain the juices. “Just like cooking time, resting time depends on the size of the meat,” he says. Burgers, chicken breasts and pork chops need about 5 minutes, while thick steaks will need 10. Larger cuts, like whole chickens, pork shoulder and brisket require 15 minutes.

Grill vegetables — for later
“Grilling is a great way to get people to eat their vegetables, or add some intense flavor to a side or salad,” says Love. Grilling a few select vegetables to add to your salad creates a nice contrast of crunchy and fresh versus smoky and flavorful. Love’s favorites include green scallions, cherry tomatoes, whole heads of cauliflower and pickles. You can even try giving whole heads of romaine lettuce a quick sear.

Grill fruit — for dessert
Those burning embers that remain after your steak is finished are good for more than just toasting marshmallows. Raichlen likes to add fresh summer fruit to the grill for dessert, caramelizing the sugars and concentrating the flavors. While au naturel fruits work fine, for a small splurge he suggests piercing quartered freestone peaches with cinnamon sticks and brushing them with melted butter before grilling. Pineapple spears are delicious dipped in light coconut milk and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Grill over medium-high heat for a few minutes and serve with frozen yogurt

Go Bananas!

Why we love’em and how to eat’em.
Article By: Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
Go Bananas!
Bananas are so creamy, they’ve been called “nature’s cheesecake.” And now, under the PointsPlus® plan, that tropical wonder racks up a big zero. Would you pass up “free cheesecake”? It’s definitely time to go bananas!

Simple Things to Do With Bananas

Here are eight more easy choices you might not have thought of:

Banana Black Bean Dip. Bananas add a delicate sweetness to the classic dip. Spray a large nonstick skillet with nonstick spray and cook 1/4 cup minced red onion and 1 teaspoon minced garlic, stirring often, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add 1 banana, peeled and sliced; stir 2 minutes over the heat. Add 1 cup drained and rinsed canned black beans, 1/2 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth, and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Cover and simmer 5 minutes, then pour into a large food processor or blender and whir until smooth.

Banana Batido. This puréed drink is a favorite quencher from street carts. Put 1 ripe, peeled banana, 1 cup lowfat milk, 1/2 cup diced, peeled, mango or kiwi, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 4 ice cubes in a blender. Snap on the top and blend until smooth.

Baked Bananas. What a dessert — especially when topped with frozen vanilla yogurt! Plan on 1 banana per serving. For each, peel and split the fruit lengthwise. Put it on a piece of foil, add a couple of teaspoons of apricot jam and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Fold the foil closed and seal it tight around the edges. Bake on a baking sheet in a preheated 400F oven for 15 minutes.

Easy Banana Pudding. No need to even turn on the stove with this simple, high-protein dessert! Process 1 pound silken tofu, 2 peeled ripe bananas, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a food processor until creamy, scraping down the inside of the canister a couple of times. Spoon mixture into bowls and chill for at least 2 hours.

All bananas are not created equal
Well, as far as PointsPlus values go, they’re all equal: the big zilch. But there are many varieties that show up in our supermarkets. Here are four of the best:

Cavendish. The standard, long, thin, yellow banana, quite creamy when ripe.

Burro. A squat, thick, yellow banana with very silky flesh and a mild, lemony tang.

Niño. A small, 3-inch-long, Ecuadorian banana, the best choice for sautéing and deep-frying because of its firm, aromatic flesh.

Red. A stubby or slender banana with deep-red skin and beige flesh. This one will keep the longest at room temperature — up to three weeks.

Bring on the spots
How do you know if a banana is ripe? Unpeeled, it’s not pure, highlighter yellow. Instead, it has several dark-brown or black spots.

The best banana for baking is riper still. It’s brown all over with distinctly soft spots. There may even be a few fruit flies buzzing around.

However, if a banana is watery when peeled or has a fermented odor, it’s gone too far and is ready for the compost bin.

Myth: Never put a banana in the fridge
You think the one on your counter has never been refrigerated? Ha! On its way to you, it’s been kept in cold storage.

But not as cold as your refrigerator. Once you put it in there, the peel starts to go black. The cold temperature causes the skin’s ripening chemicals to go into overdrive. But we’re talking aesthetics here, not taste.

In fact, the internal enzymes that snap starches into sugars to sweeten the fruit actually slow down in the chill. The banana flesh inside stops ripening.

To put it simply: At room temperature, the banana flesh gets softer more quickly but the peel stays lightly colored; in the fridge, the banana peel gets darker more quickly but the flesh stays firmer longer.

Let’s also give a shout-out to a corollary that howls around the internet every once in a while: that putting bananas in the fridge turns them poisonous.

If cold bananas were lethal, everyone would have dropped dead from eating your Aunt Sally’s gelled salad, that quivering dome with the banana slices in it. Or from eating her banana cream pie. Or her banana pudding. Those things have been in the fridge for days. Aunt Sally works ahead. Days ahead. Nobody’s ever dropped dead because of her cold bananas. Because of her cooking? That’s another story.

A Guy’s Guide to Slow Cookers

When you walk in the door, dinner’s ready. What could be better?
Article By: Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
A Guy’s Guide to Slow Cookers
A slow cooker — sometimes called a “Crock-Pot,” although that’s a brand name — can be your secret weapon in the kitchen.

You fill it in the a.m. with the makings of chili, stew, or even pulled pork — then head off to work.

When you walk in the door, dinner’s ready. What could be better?

In their early days, every slow cooker was basically the same — not many bells and whistles. These days, it’s a sophisticated gadget.

Here are the four features to look for, along with some product recommendations that will help you get the most bang for your buck.

Slow cooker

 

Durability
A slow cooker’s meant to last. Problem is, most are built with crockery inserts — which can chip and break.

If you’re hard on your appliances or know you’ll be stacking a slow cooker among other pots, check out the All-Clad Deluxe Slow Cooker It’s got a nonstick metal insert. Even the lid is stainless steel. No chips or breaks there, either.

 

What’s more, this baby’s two pots in one. That sturdy insert can even go right on a stovetop burner. You can brown a piece of meat or some veggies before it starts its slow simmer—or you can boil down a sauce after the dish is done.

slow cooker

 

Size
Slow cookers range from 1½ -quart gadgets to 8-quart behemoths.

Standard recipes call for a 5- to 6-quart model. That said, you may not need 8 to 10 servings of stew. You probably want dinner tonight, with an additional serving for a friend, and maybe a leftover serving or two for the days ahead.

You can’t just cut a standard recipe in half in a bigger slow cooker. The appliance needs to be filled at least halfway for even cooking.

 

There are smaller slow cookers on the market — like Essenergy Inc’s VitaClay VF7900-4 Chef Gourmet Rice N’ Slow Cooker Pro.

This is an 8-cup clay pot within a slow cooker, so you get the benefits of cooking in clay (moisture and steam retention) with an easy-to-use slow cooker.

The cooking time can also be calibrated in 10-minute increments. That means better control for small batches.

 

Plus, the VitaClay is a rice cooker as well as a slow cooker — two appliances in one. That’s a lot of functions for a small appliance.

Slow Cooker

 

Multiple settings
Most slow cookers have two settings: low and high.

But you’re a guy. You love gadgets. You know there’s got to be more to finesse than low and high.

The KitchenAid KSC700SS 7-Quart Slow Cooker has five settings: buffet, simmer, low, high, and auto, plus a “warm” setting the cooker will automatically jump to once the meal’s ready. “Auto” starts the cooker on high and then drops it to low after two hours, a way to get things going and then slow them down for better flavor.

 

It’s got another cool gadget: a food-temperature sensor that alerts you if your meal drops below the USDA safe point due to temporary power outage or some other unforeseen accident.

Slow cooker

 

4. Temperature Control
A slow cooker must hold an even, steady temperature over a long time.

All the models we’ve described do a grand job. But if you’re going to cook big hunks of meat in your slow cooker — a ham, a pork loin, a brisket — you’ll want to make sure the meat itself is also done to the right internal temperature. After all, you’d use an instant-read meat thermometer for those cuts when they’re on the grill.

 

The Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker is the only slow cooker with a temperature probe that threads through a rubber gasket in the lid to poke into the meat and measure its internal temperature as it cooks. You can even program the machine to take the meat to the right, safe, internal temperature, then hold it there in “warm” mode until you’re ready for dinner.

 

So there’s what you need to know, with some specific buying recommendations. Now you can get the model that fits your lifestyle. Imagine: a hot dinner waiting for you when you get home from work. Not too shabby.