Backyard eating, A simple summer meal
Edited by Anne Gray
The price of beef cattle is on the rise. That’s good for the farmers. It has been hard to hang on for the past 10 years, and many couldn’t. Those still in the business are finally seeing a bit of light at the top of the hole they’ve been in. Needless to say, input costs are also climbing, but they have been all along, even as the price for cattle was lower than it’s been in recent memory.
The other side of the equation is the increase consumers are facing in beef prices. Some people have decided to give up beef. I don’t consider that an option. Good, fresh local beef is as much a part of my food life as fresh rhubarb. Has been and will be a staple.
Our choices may change as we watch prices go up, especially for those of us who buy at retail stores, large or small. Those thick, juicy steaks we used to buy for the barbecue now have price tags that burn our fingertips as we reach for them. It’s time to start looking at other options. If you buy from a local farmer, perhaps you can choose to keep intact some of the cuts you traditionally turned into ground beef.
There are a few cuts that you might try that you had never considered for grilling: flank, tri-tip, top sirloin, and sirloin tip. These cost half as much as fancier cuts in a comparable grade, but they still have great flavor and the same nutritional value.
However, there are a couple of catches. You may not be familiar with the names of the cuts. Once you know what you’re looking for, if you don’t see them on display, you can ask for them.
There are a couple of reasons that less-expensive steaks don’t have a reputation as barbecue cuts. They have great flavor, but they can be a little tough. That is not a problem if you handle the meat well. Also, with the exception of tri-tip, they tend to be much leaner, which means you’ve got to be careful with your cooking to keep them moist and juicy.
Another trick I’ve learned is to turn steaks frequently while they’re grilling. I’ve read that food science writer Harold McGee came up with this technique. It goes against previously accepted wisdom, but it seems to keep the meat more moist and evenly cooked. Just be sure to turn the meat with tongs; poking it with a fork is a sure way to lose lots of juice.
For a thin steak like a flank, the fire should be very hot, and the cooking time can be as little as two or three minutes per turn. In that time, you’ll probably need only two turns per side. Sear one side and then the other. Try to give the meat a quarter turn clockwise on the second turn to get good grill marks. Don’t cook beyond the rare side of medium-rare or the meat will be dry and tough.
For steaks such as tri-tip that are more than three-quarters to an inch thick, use a two-stage fire. If you are using coals, arrange them against one side of the barbecue so you have one area of the grill that’s very hot and another that’s medium. If you’re cooking with gas, use the hottest spot first, then move the meat to a less direct heat.
Sear the meat on both sides over the hot fire, then pull it over to the cooler side, turning it from time to time. You can push these steaks to the medium side of medium-rare.
No matter the thickness of the steak, don’t forget to let it rest after you’ve removed it from the grill. This lets the meat finish cooking and the juices settle. When you use the leaner steaks, keep in mind that a bit of sauce covers many sins. You can gain a bit more margin of error in cooking time by spooning sauce over the meat. A few drops of good olive oil with a squeeze of lemon will add that little bit of extra fat to rescue a flank steak that somehow went from the rare side of medium-rare to the medium side while you weren’t looking. Always slice your steaks across the grain for the best eating experience.
GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
Make any pesto with a large pestle or a food processor from the Sally Ann. Chopped herbs (typically basil), olive oil, pine or walnuts, and Parmesan cheese are the main ingredients. Serve with your choice of pasta.
This time of year, harvest garlic scapes (said by some to encourage development of the bulbs) and combine about 20 of them chopped up with a half cup of nuts, a half cup of grated Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and enough olive oil to make a paste the consistency of stiff mayonnaise.
Keeps well in the refrigerator for a week or more, and in the freezer for several months. Before serving, if you remember, add a tablespoon or more of the hot pasta water to liquefy your pesto to a desired consistency. DvL
Leslie Simms, St Peters Cape Breton, N.S.
“We think of tabbouleh as a bulgur salad with lots of parsley and mint. Real Lebanese tabbouleh is a lemony herb salad with the addition of a little bit of fine bulgur. Scoop it up with lettuce leaves or simply eat with a fork.”
1/4 cup bulgur
1 garlic clove
2 large lemons
3 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/2 pound ripe tomatoes
1 bunch green onions
salt, to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Romaine or other firm lettuce
Place the bulgur in a bowl, and cover with water by one-half inch. Soak for 20 minutes, until slightly softened. Drain through a fine strainer, and press the bulgur to squeeze out the excess water. Mince the garlic, juice the lemons, and finely chop the herbs and vegetables. Transfer the bulgur to a large bowl, and toss with the garlic, lemon juice, parsley, mint, tomatoes, onions, salt and pepper. Leave at room temperature or in the refrigerator for two to three hours, so that the bulgur can continue to absorb liquid and swell.
Before serving, add the olive oil, toss together, taste, and adjust the seasonings. Serve with lettuce leaves.
This will keep for a day in the refrigerator, though the bright green color will fade.
And a cookie to end the meal…
CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Janice Smith, Saint John, N.B.
“We make these all the time. They are a lunch box favorite, and I love them with a cup of coffee.”
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
8 ounces soft butter
1 1/12 cups packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 cups chopped toasted nuts
Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy, about three minutes in a stand mixer, or longer by hand or with a hand mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once and blend until a dough forms. Fold in the chocolate and nuts. Chill the dough.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll two-tablespoon sized lumps of dough into balls, then place them on the baking sheet and flatten to one-half inch thick disks spaced two inches apart. Keep the dough chilled between batches. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a baking rack. Makes 30 to 35 cookies.
This is a recipe I adapted from one I found in the New York Times several years ago. This makes one loaf. I have not tried doubling the recipe.
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 /4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water
cornmeal as needed
In a large bowl combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; the dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. and let it rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover it loosely with the plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour or cornmeal. Put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about two hours. When it is ready, the dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450°F. Put a six- to eight-quart heavy covered pot in the oven as it heats. (I use a cast iron Dutch oven.) When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. It may look like a mess, but that is fine. Shake the pan once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown. Cool on a rack.
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