Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

It's been a while since my last blog post, so I've been looking for an excuse to write. The truth is I'm not one of those bloggers that just sits here and puts my every thought down in print - I don't need to burden others with the minutiae of my daily life. If I've got nothing to say, I'm hopefully not going to waste everybody's time and bandwidth saying it anyway.

But there comes a time when the traffic starts to drop off and Google's PageRank algorithm starts to wonder if a site has been abandoned. That's when I know I've got to act. See, I'm all about statistics. No, I don't make any money selling ads or anything, I just like to watch numbers going up instead of down.

Today was Memorial Day. Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to go all heavy and political and talk about how the casualty rate of the Iraq War is actually rising quite significantly since George Bush's "surge" began - though I could easily devote an entire blog to that purpose. I understand why we commemorate Memorial Day. I know what the holiday is for. But no, today I'm going to talk about the other side of Memorial Day - outdoor cooking.

One of the biggest perks I was looking forward to when my wife and I bought our first house was being able to grill stuff. You can't really do it in a New York apartment, unless you happen to have a secluded fire escape (secluded because it's illegal) or you're some sort of lucky asshole with a balcony. So procuring a grill was pretty much job #1 when we moved out here.

Now, I'm not old, but I am old-school in almost everything. I work in an internet-related field, and I'm surrounded by technology all day long, and all it's done is convince me how much better everything used to be. The modern world is bullshit. It really is. It's nothing but a lot of people trying to figure out how to make other people buy new stuff that they don't need. That goes for grills as much as anything else. Maybe even moreso.

So I'm a charcoal man, because as the saying goes, "gas is for passin', charcoal is for grillin'!" (Actually, that's just "char" in the pic above - there is charcoal below it, though. I ran out of charcoal so I had to mix.) Don't even get me started on the latest big thing, "infrared" heat - or, as we all used to call it five years ago before the marketdroids got a hold of it, "electric". That's not grilling, that's not barbecue, that's what McDonald's uses to keep the food warm after they microwave it. So my grill is a Char-Griller Professional. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only Real Grill you can even buy these days. And I love it.

The Char-Griller is a charcoal grill with a barrel shape for convection and the one big feature that sets it apart: heavy cast-iron cooking grates. What's the big deal? Well, you know how when you go to a restaurant that advertises "flame-broiled" food, and when you get it, it has these big grill marks on it that scream "look at me! I'm flame-broiled!"? You can only get that with cast-iron. But that's not even the important part; the important part is that cast-iron holds heat evenly, it's naturally non-stick, and it makes the food taste good. Ever had corn bread made in a cast-iron pan? Then you know it's the only way to make real corn bread. Same thing with grilling. Over time, the grates absorb all the charred flavors they've come in contact with, and all the smokiness inside the grill itself. Those flavors then get transferred back to the food through the contact with the grates. Doesn't happen with steel or aluminum. If you've ever wondered why your grilled food doesn't really taste like grilled food, it's because a) you're not using charcoal, and b) you're not using cast-iron grates.

By the way - grilling and barbecuing ain't the same thing. People who say "I'm gonna barbecue some hamburgers" really mean they're gonna grill 'em. Barbecuing is long, slow cooking using low, indirect heat. Grilling is fast cooking using high heat that can be either direct or indirect. Grilling is a lot more common in the North; barbecue is more common in the South. A lot of people use the two words interchangeably, though, and that ain't right.

So today we decided we were gonna grill us up some seafood. We've done all the usual stuff before; hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, pork chops, steaks, all sorts of vegetables, even peaches, bananas and other fruit. (Grilled peaches on vanilla ice cream is TO DIE FOR.) But we live right next to the ocean, and we've never tried any of the seafood stands around us... and there are a ton of them. One of the more famous ones is Jordan Lobster Farms, which specializes in (you guessed it) lobster. So of course, we bought some shrimp. And potato salad. And corn. Hey, where else would you go for potato salad but a lobster farm??

We'll get some lobster next time. Probably not for grilling, though.

The key to good grilling is timing. Grilling happens so fast that it's really easy to char almost anything into a hockey puck without realizing it, then remember that half your food hasn't even been started yet. Today, I kinda dried out my corn a bit (corn is always difficult to get exactly right on a grill, but oh so good when you do), although everything else turned out perfect.

Shrimp kebobs! Notice that the vegetables are on separate skewers - timing again. Vegetables take longer to cook than shrimp - you can't put them on the same skewer and expect everything to turn out right. You need to cook the vegetables for longer.

I had meant to take a photo of our great outdoor spread that we've got set up now that we're into our second year in this house, but unfortunately, just as we were finishing up the cooking, this happened:

Yeah, that's rain. It rained for literally about ten minutes, and pretty hard - just long enough to ruin our outdoor dinner. We ate inside - at least it was air conditioned and noise-free. But still, not really in the spirit of things.

Oh, by the way, that pathetic little flag at the top of the post? That's actually an ad. Century 21 Realtors sticks these little flags in the ground in front of all the houses in my neighborhood, with a little picture card on them saying who personally the flag is "courtesy of". There's nothing the marketdroids won't co-opt these days.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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