Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grilling Neophyte

I've been traveling like a dog for the past two months. Hence the dearth of posts. Sorry about that and thanks for your patience. I think I'm back home for a bit so pledge to get back on the posting band wagon. So without further ado. . . .

One of my resolutions this year was to learn how to grill. While it may seem fairly innocuous to some, it's always intimidated me. I guess I've been of the opinion that the grill is part of the male domain. Right up there next to taking the trash out and putting up the Christmas lights. Yet I pride myself on being a Modern Woman so figured it was high time to face the grill-fearing music. And I will go ahead and acknowledge the fact that we're halfway through the year and I'm just now getting around to this resolution.

Santa Barbara has been living up to its June Gloom moniker this year, which means we get socked in by a cold, gray, misty marine layer until about 2 pm each day. You start the day off in jeans and a sweatshirt, but then find yourself donning a tank tank and flip flops in the afternoon to soak up the glorious rays of Vitamin D spilling forth from the vibrant blue sky. It's weather schizophrenia for sure. But the evenings are also epic weather for grilling. After being on the road so often of late, I've been hankering to get cooking again. And coming off a week of gluttony in Vegas, salads seem to be appropriate. I absolutely adore the late sunlight hours of summer, but the downside is that it can be creeping up on 8 o'clock at night before I start to think about dinner. Despite the hour last night, I felt inspired to uncover the grill and take a shot at grilling.

Of course I thought it wise to begin with the remedial chicken breast. I had earmarked a recipe for a grilled chicken Caesar salad which I'd been saving for such an occasion. I honestly wish someone had filmed the whole endeavor as it was quite humorous. I'm pretty sure I bought a very low-entry grill (which would be gas for you hardcore charcoal fundamentalists), however, I still felt completely incompetent trying to operate it. I can be a fairly inquisitive person, much to the annoyance of many, and have a deep need to always understand what I'm doing, so the whole time I'm asking questions out loud — to no one but myself, mind you:

"How many burners should be turned on to cook 3 chicken breasts? "

"Am I supposed to cook with the lid up or down?"

"I know, righty tighty, lefty loosey. But which direction is OFF for the gas?"

I kept expecting my dear neighbor, Chris, to hear my confusion, take pity on me and come to my rescue. I'm glad he didn't though. I will spare you the drama (rest assured I did figure out how to turn off the gas), but I survived. I actually did better than that. I'm quite proud to say the meal was delicious. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, the grilled romaine had an alluring smokiness, and the toasted garlic croutons could be habit forming. The dressing made it all come together. If you think you don't like anchovies, well you do! It's the perfect balance of salty, tangy and fresh. The simpler the dish, I think the more challenging it is to pull it off. Grilling all the components of this iconic dish really elevated it and made it seem special. It was also fast and easy, which is great when you start cooking dinner at 8 PM. And if you take away one thing from this entry, please try grilling romaine. It will make you rethink lettuce.

Even if my meal was beginner's luck, I have some newfound confidence about "cooking in a man's world." Hmm, what's next on the grilling docket? Would love to hear any favorite grilling recipes for minor leaguers.

I still hate taking the trash out though.

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
Slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine

1/2 cup olive oil
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp herbs de Provence
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic
2-4 anchovy fillets, chopped (Get Crown Prince flat anchovies in olive oil. They're the best!)
Juice of 1 lemon
4 1/2-inch thick slices of focaccia or French bread
4 romaine lettuce hearts, halved lengthwise
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, sliced with vegetable peeler

Place 1/4 cup of olive oil plus next 5 ingredients in a ziploc bag and add chicken breast. Let marinade for at least 2 hours.
Preheat grill to medium high. Mix remaining 1/4 cup olive oil with 2 chopped garlic cloves and puree with anchovies and lemon juice in a blender until smooth; season with salt and pepper.
Grill chicken for approximately 7 minutes a side or until done. [That's the funny part of the directions coming from someone who knows nothing about grilling. That's how long I cooked it for and it was perfectly done but I feel the need to put out a disclaimer.]
Brush the romaine with 1-2 Tbsp of the dressing and grill until marked, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Brush the bread with olive oil on both sides and grill, turning until toasted, about 2 minutes. Rub with the remaining garlic clove. [If you're sensitive to garlic, then skip this or just rub it lightly over the bread.]
Chop the lettuce, bread and chicken and transfer to bowl. Toss with more dressing as desired, the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.


  1. That sounds fantastic! I admire your's such a healthy way to cook, but intimidates me too. I think I'll take your lead and the grilled romaine sounds delic!

    take care,