Recently I went on a strategic planning retreat that required our group to rent a huge house, which slept twelve comfortably. In the images available online I saw a large deck and a huge grill. I immediately asked if we’d have access to both and I was ecstatic to hear back that we would. I knew I was going to cook on that grill. Ya see, I love summer, grilling, porches, decks, back yards, the beach…except I live in NYC without easy access to most of that. I make good use of the public parks where grilling is available, but it’s nothing like your own back yard and grilling at a drop of a hat.
Some folks who were planning to drive offered to bring their propane tank from their home grill to reduce our expenses. When we inquired if that would be necessary we were told that it was connected to the natural gas line in the home. I had never heard of that before. Couldn’t say I had ever seen one either and I was more hype than ever. In our planning meetings leading up to the weekend I made sure folks knew not to schedule a dinner out for one night because I would be grilling!
I wasn’t checking a bag and I didn’t want the TSA rummaging through my clothes for my hand dried basil so I knew I’d likely have to make a run to the store. When I got to the house the first place I went was the kitchen….the pans were less than desirable and there weren’t spices or seasonings…not even salt. I can’t say I was too surprised about the spices, but really…not even salt? I even considered buying pans and leaving them for the next visitors or checking my bag back if need be, but I was convinced that I could make do with what was provided (and I didn’t rent a car so I couldn’t just go by myself). We rent a large house annually around the country and they generally come pretty well stocked (in regards to linens), but the kitchens in general over the years have been hit or miss.
A trip to the store was in order.
My seasoning haul (along with limes, garlic and onions) at Publix. How cute is that 4oz container of olive oil?
I wasn’t sure I’d find small enough containers of herb blends, spices or salt to season my veggies and meat without wasting spices or breaking the bank. I was pleasantly surprised by what was available at the local Publix, a supermarket chain not currently located in the tri-state/New England area as far as I know. Their meat was fresh and they had a great spice & herb aisle. This trip reminded me of the importance of spices, herbs and seasonings including smoke in creating flavorful dishes to serve for yourself or those you love. The simple things have the biggest impact. On this trip, I realized I take my spice selection for granted. I also realized not everyone uses herbs or spices and their food must be a tad bland so I decided to write this post about two meals I prepared this month where the seasoning and ingredients were really the key rather than technique.
1) Grilled chicken thighs. Bone-in and skin-on thighs are great on a grill. A grill tip: Heat your grill for at least 15 minutes before you cook on it and take your meat out of the frig about 30 minutes before you grill it. It shouldn’t be cold when it goes on the grill.
Clean the chicken with lime. Use the juice of about 3-4 limes to massage the chicken and then remove the juice. Season with paprika (mostly for color), salt, pepper and the herbs of your choice. I had the “Italian Seasoning” blend that includes rosemary, black pepper and red pepper, garlic, onion, salt, tomato and parsley, which is pictured above. Add about 1 tablespoon (up to 2 tablespoons) of good olive oil. Mix well. Set aside for about 3 hours. Drop on a hot grill and cook for about 25 minutes. Leaving it on the first side you drop it for about 8 minutes.
2) Grilled Pork Chops. Clean with lime as stated above. Be sure to dispose of the liquid that remains. Add fresh garlic and onion and Badia Complete Seasoning (or similar). Complete Seasoning is mostly salt, and dried garlic, onion and herbs/veggies. I have to say I prefer the Badia brand over other Sazón options out there. I find it to be less salty, fresher and it doesn’t clump over time. Apologies for the lack of prep photos. I was in the zone.
3) Grilled Veggies. You can add all of this flavor and never eat meat. It’s true. I promise. Go wild on meatless Monday. Add spices to a bowl of larger chopped veggies and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and grill. Don’t have a grill? Lay them out on a baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes on 375. Toss or flip them once during cooking. Ovens vary, don’t wait until you smell a burning odor from the kitchen. If you’re oven runs hot, start with 10 minutes on each side. When nearly done, if you wnat them a bit more charred put them in the broiler (or on broil depending on your oven) for less than 5 minutes. Carrots are a lovely veggie to roast and mix well with a host of others.
3) Pan seared shrimp. Clean with lime as stated above. (Seeing a pattern here?) This works for poultry, pork and seafood. It cleans the meat and adds flavor at the same time. I’ve pan-seared shrimp plenty of times, but I haven’t been able to get that restaurant seared taste on it. In addition, I recently read about the benefits of extra-virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean diet (again). So I added garlic salt, crushed red pepper, Italian herbs and a healthy serving of two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. When you think about how much seasoning to add you have to take into account how much meat or veggies you’re cooking. I used about two teaspoons for about 3/4lbs. of shrimp. This version came out phenomenally well and I’m thanking the olive oil. The other trick is to turn the shrimp (if they’re small like these) only once in the pan. Put about 1/2 a tablespoon of butter in the pan. When well melted add shrimp and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side to avoid them becoming over cooked rubbery.
In closing I encourage you to make your own blends of spices, herbs and pre-made spice blends. You don’t need to stick to one brand and store brands make great options too. Mix and match them to make great blends all your own. Try out different mixes to see what you like best. When and where possible use either whole spices that you can grind like whole peppercorn rather than that black pulverized pepper in a tin or these blends in grinders already. Promise your food will have more flavor.
And when you can, don’t forget to add the smoke.
Adios summer. I’ll miss you. Not ready for you to go, but fall will bring unique ingredients and bring back baking. More to look forward to with only three New Eats posts left for the year.
P.S. For the record and in case you’re wondering, no I was not compensated by any spice makers mentioned or in photos here. And for those of you who are thinking? What, she never grilled chicken before? Not in a dope house with a grill connected to the natural gas line of the house. I have to say it created a very even flame, which I appreciated.