Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just in Time for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is coming up real soon.  Memorial Day was originally intended as a day to honor those who gave their lives in service to our country.  And yes, some of us visit the graves of our  loved ones.  But when most people think about Memorial, beginning of summer and firing up the grill rise to the top. 

When Monday rolls around and you need a new side dish, try this recipe for Guacamole Salad.  I originally found this recipe in a Barefoot Contessa cookbook.  This recipe contains two of my favorite ingredients - black beans and avocados.  I love this new take on guacamole. 

Beans are a good source of fiber and protein.  They are fat free and low in calories.  Results of studies indicate that consuming beans may reduce cholesterol levels and aid in controlling diabetes.  And if this ain't enough, they're cheap.  So eat up!

As for avocados, I discovered them a few years ago.  Until recently, I hated avocados.  That just goes to show that change is possible.  Avocados are actually a fruit and are a good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin E and B vitamins.  Avocados also contain fat, primarily, mono- and polyunsaturated that help increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. 

So, combine beans and avocados for a healthy addition to the Memorial Day Cookout!

Guacamole Salad

Serves 6.


1 pint grape tomatoes
1 yellow or red bell pepper
1 can (15 ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup red onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
¼ cup fresh lime juice, about 2 limes
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 avocados, seeded, peeled, and diced


1.  Cut tomatoes in half.  Slice pepper in half.  Remove seeds and veins.  Dice the pepper.  Stir together tomatoes, pepper, beans, onion, and jalapeno.

2.  Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper.  Pour over vegetables and toss well.  Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

3.  When ready to serve, add avocados.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.

When I first tried this recipe, I was mostly into red tomatoes, but now I love the colors of heirloom tomatoes.  For an even more colorful salad, try different colors of tomatoes.  If using large tomatoes, about 2 cups is a good amount for this recipe.  After trying this recipe again, I decided that cilantro would be a good addition. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

If you’re reading this then let me start off by congratulating you.  You’ve made it through yet another winter, a winter of snow storms that knocked power out and left people in the cold for 12 hours, a winter full of bone chilling cold temperatures and highs that didn’t even get into double digits. But with all of that comes great news, it’s coming to an end, and that can only mean one thing, summer.  In kicking off summer we start with the month of May, which as you may or may not know is barbecue month.

Barbecue can be a big tradition in families and communities, and as we start dusting off the grills and breaking out the aprons and the sauces we need to remember one big thing, food safety.  The last thing you want to do is make a batch of delicious, fall off the bone, ribs that will get your family and friends sick.
We all do our best to be as safe as we can when handling barbecue for the family, but are there any specific guidelines we need to follow?  Are there different guidelines we need to follow with the sauces, spices, rubs, and equipment that comes with barbecue?  There are a lot of questions to be answered before we go out and fire up the grill. 
In order to get some answers to these questions and some expert advice to pass on to you, I went to the experts, the boys at Helping U Barbeque “HUB” in Omaha, NE.  The owners started out by going to competitions, and now they own a store to sell you everything you’ll need from pellets, to sauces, to grills. They give classes on how to barbecue. And they still go to the competitions.  So I went to these guys, and here’s the advice they gave me.
Keep Your Equipment Clean
When we cook in the kitchen we always clean our utensils when we’re done and clean the stove or the oven, and we usually do it very thoroughly, so we need to take that same cleanliness to the grill.  Always be sure to clean and wipe down your equipment before and after you grill and barbecue, that goes for the grill itself, and all the utensils that you use.  That little extra time cleaning could be the difference between a great cookout and a sick bunch of friends and family.
The biggest things the boys at HUB talked about was temperature, and everybody’s first question to the temperature discussion was how long things needed to stay at temperature, and their answer was however long it took to get to that temperature.  There’s no magic answer to temperature for barbecue and large slabs of meat due to none of them being the same, it’s about the safe internal temperature to ensure that the meat is safe.  To insure that this is correct they recommended a device called the iGrill, which is a device with 2 probes that you insert into the meat that is cooking.  It monitors the temperature and connects wirelessly via Bluetooth to your iPhone, so you can walk away from the grill if need be and still monitor the temperature of your meat.
Now, if you don’t have all of those fancy gizmos and gadgets there is another very simple way to check the temperature of your meat, with a good old fashioned meat thermometer.  Just make sure you have the thermometer in the middle of what you’re cooking, as that will be the spot in the meat that takes the longest to cook thoroughly. 

One big thing to make sure of with thermometers/probes is that they are properly calibrated, which is very easy, here are the steps:
Calibrating Thermometers
Boiling Point Method
1.  Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
2. Test the thermometer in the boiling water, if it doesn’t read 212°F then adjust the nut on the back of the thermometer and test the water again until it reads 212°F.  The nut on the back won’t require large turns, so easy does it.
Ice Point Method 

1.  Fill a glass with water and ice.
2.  Test the thermometer in the ice water, if it doesn’t read 32°F make another slight adjustment and test it again until it reads 32°F.
Although either method is acceptable, most people prefer the ice point method.  With the boiling point method, one will need to know the boiling point at their elevation.

So those are really the basics to food safety in order to keep your meat clean and safe for the whole family and the entire neighborhood, be sure that your equipment is clean, and always make sure that your meat is internally cooked to the right temperature, and of course have a great time.
For specifics I have 2 resources, the first is from the USDA, and the second is the Kansas City Barbecue Society rule sheet that explains everything they have to do.