Gretchen McKay

What’s for Dinner: Friday Night Salad with Honey and Lime Dressing

Weeknight Leftover Salad with Honey and Lime Dressing

PG tested

Coming off a lazy week at the beach, I sure don’t feel like cooking. But thanks to that nifty culinary shortcut known as the rotisserie chicken, my family will still get fed, and nicely. For this quick and crunchy salad, I shredded the bird’s breast meat and added grilled squash and sweet red pepper from my brother’s garden. Local “Summer Wild Flowers” raw honey from Slippery Rock’s AlwaysSummerHerbs (you can find it at Whole Foods and Pittsburgh Public Market) sweetened the deal.

For dressing:

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey, more if desired
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste (from about 3 limes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

For salad:

  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey, cold or reheated
  • 2 cups cut Napa or other cabbage, or other leafy greens, thinly sliced or chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups chopped leftover vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces, cold or reheated
  • 1 cup shredded or thinly sliced carrots
  • 1 apple, cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (green parts only)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Blue cheese or gorgonzola crumbles, to taste
  • Freshly chopped cilantro, optional, to taste
  • A few handfuls of roasted cashews or dry-roasted almonds, optional

To make dressing: Place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds and toast just until they begin to take on some color and become fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Roughly grind seeds using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, or in a mixing bowl using the bottom of a measuring cup.

In a mixing bowl, whisk in oil, honey and lime juice with cumin seeds until all ingredients are emulsified. Whisk in salt and pepper, then taste and adjust seasoning and flavoring, if desired. Makes 3/4 cup of dressing; cover and keep refrigerated for up to a week.

To make salad: In a large mixing bowl, toss together chicken, cabbage, vegetables, carrots, apple and green onions. Pour about half the dressing over the salad and toss to lightly coat. Taste and add additional dressing if desired, and season to salt and pepper. Toss in the blue cheese crumbles, as well as cilantro and nuts, if using. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 generous servings.

— Adapted from Los Angeles Times’ “Daily Dish” blog

To cook meat directly on the coals is to ‘clinch’ … and it’s a cinch

Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette


Quick and clean with gas? Or slow and smoky with charcoal?

That’s the question backyard grill masters have been hotly debating since the first gas grill in the 1960s.

Here’s another option: Why not get down and dirty, and clinch that rib-eye to crusty perfection?

Clinching — cooking meat directly on hot coals — is one of the more unusual cooking methods grilling guru Adam Perry Lang explores in his latest cookbook, “Charred & Scruffed: Bold New Techniques for Explosive Flavor On and Off the Grill” (Artisan, May 2012, $24.95). It’s a hard-core approach that’s guaranteed to elicit oohs, aahs and the occasional ewws from those who think ash on meat is yucky. Yet it actually makes for a pretty good steak dinner, in that cooking meat directly on white-hot coals creates a charred, smoky and, yes, slightly ashy, crust that is tough to replicate using traditional means.


Cooking on coals usually is referred to as “dirty grilling,” for obvious reasons. Mr. Perry Lang has reinterpreted it as clinching, a boxing term for a defensive move in which a boxer captures his or her opponents’ arms under his own, and holds on to prevent the opposition from punching. When a moist steak hits sizzling hot coals, it similarly will hang on for dear life.

The chef prepares the coals for cooking by making an even cooking surface — using a cast-iron skillet to lightly tamp them down to a uniform height of 4 to 6 inches. Then, just before placing the meat on the coals, he or she uses a hair dryer to gently blow away any bits of ash. If your extension cord doesn’t reach into the backyard, or you think it’s goofy, you also could fan the coals with a piece of cardboard.

“If you ‘close the gap’ between the meat and the coals,” Mr. Perry Lang explains in the cookbook, “there is no room for flame. Instead, the heat is transferred directly, and instantly, into the meat and any flames are smothered.” As for the tiny bit of ash that remains on the meat after cooking? It simply can be flicked off. Mr. Perry Lang views the powdery residue “almost as a seasoning.”

Dirty grilling has a long tradition and not just among cowboys and cavemen. Dwight D. Eisenhower liked his steak cooked this way, says Herbert Pankratz, archivist at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan. He enjoyed it with the likes of golfing buddy Freeman Gosden, who voiced the character Amos on the Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show. Here’s the president’s recipe:

“Build a charcoal fire on the ground and let it burn until it is a bed of red hot coals. Get a sirloin steak 21/2 to 3 inches thick. Roll the steak in a mixture of fine salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Throw the steak in the fire. After about 10 minutes nudge it over once and let it stay in the fire for a total of about 20 minutes. Take it out, brush off, and slice on the diagonal.”

Julia Child, so famous for her sophisticated French cuisine, also was known to occasionally get dirty. She demonstrated “dirty steak” with a 3-pound rib-eye roast on the PBS series “In Julia’s Kitchen Cooking with Master Chefs.” In that 1996 episode, the husband/wife culinary team of Johanne Killeen and George Germon also prepare a “hot fanny” sauce, a spicy-sweet barbecue sauce made with caramelized onions, jalapeno and chicken stock.

If the queen of traditional cooking can take a walk on the wild side, so can you.

Clinching is best suited to cuts with a smoother muscle surface, such as New York strip or rump, that are cooked to rare or medium rare. But you also can use the technique on English-cut lamb chops, boneless pork chops and tenderloin roast. Ditto with chicken: Mr. Perry Lang offers a terrific recipe for Clinched Chicken Wingettes that includes a brine, butter baste and one of the saltiest (but delicious) seasoning rubs I’ve ever tasted.

To prepare dirty steak, you’ll need lump charcoal, which is made from big chunks of hardwood. (Briquettes are made from compressed coal dust, sawdust and other wood by-products, with a binder and other additives.) It’s best to start the fire with a chimney starter instead of lighter fluid so there are no off-putting flavors. Also, make sure the coals are white-hot before cooking; any flames and there could be flare-up. Don’t freak out if the coals stick to the meat when you flip them, as they easily shake off.

And if you can’t get past the thought of ash on your food? Simply place a thin grill or grate directly on the coals.


Clinched Strip Steak

PG tested

Everyone agreed this was about the best steak they’d ever tasted, despite the tiny bit of ash that stuck to the meat. And what a feast for the nose. It smelled so good, my mailman wandered into the backyard to see what I was cooking.

I was probably a little too generous with the seasoning blend (it’s extremely salty), but the resulting crust was to-die-for. Remember to use tongs for turning. A fork will pierce the meat and let the juices run out.

  • 4 10-ounce boneless strip steaks, at least 1 1/4-inches thick, fat trimmed to 1/4 inch
  • 1/4 cup Four Seasons Blend (recipe follows)
  • An herb brush, made by securing a bunch of herb sprigs (rosemary, sage, etc.) to a dowel or handle of a wooden spoon (I used a chopstick)
  • 1/2 cup Butter Baste (recipe follows)
  • Sea or kosher salt for finish
  • Board Dressing (recipe follows)

Bring refrigerated steaks to room temperature for approximately 1 hour.

Prepare a “mature and level” coal bed, with a clean thin grate or rack set over it if you like; the fire should be very hot.

Season steaks on both sides with the seasoning blend, then lightly moisten your hands with water and work the seasonings into the meat. Allow to stand for 5 minutes to develop a “meat paste.”

Fan or blow-dry excess ash from the coal fire.

Using the herb brush, brush steaks lightly with Butter Baste. Put them on the grill grate or directly on the coals and cook, without moving them, for 2 minutes. Turn steaks, baste lightly and cook for 2 minutes, then repeat 2 more times, basting the steaks each time they are flipped.

Lean steaks up against one another; on their sides, fat side down, and cook for 1 minute. Repeat on the other side, until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 110 to 115 degrees.

Meanwhile, pour the Board Dressing onto a cutting board (or mix it directly on the board). Finely chop the tip of the herb brush and mix the herbs into the dressing.

Transfer steaks to cutting board and turn them in the dressing to coat. Allow coated meat to rest for 5 minutes.

To serve, slice steaks 1/2 inch thick, turn each slice in the dressing to coat, and arrange on plates. Pour some of the board juices over each serving and finish with a sprinkling of salt.

Serves 4.

— “Charred & Scruffed” by Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky (Artisan, May 2012, $24.95)


Four seasons blend

A little bit of this blend goes a long way.

  • 1 cup sea or kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Transfer to a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder and pulse to the consistency of sand. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Makes 1 cup.


Butter Baste

Definitely not kind to your waist, but incredibly flavorful.

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 5 peeled and crushed garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter melts, then bring just to a simmer and simmer gently for 2 to 4 minutes. Let stand for at least 1 hour to let flavors meld.

Makes 1 cup.


Board Dressing

You can improvise this recipe by adding your favorite chopped herbs (such as rosemary, thyme or sage) or scallions or mixing in grated shallots or garlic (use a Microplane). For a little fire, add finely chopped chiles.

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Sea or kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Tip of the herb basting brush, chopped very fine

Combine olive oil and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. If using, add shallots, garlic, etc.


Clinched Chicken Wingettes

PG tested

Make sure the coals are absolutely white or you’re guaranteed a flare-up. Even with blackened skin, the wings won my kids’ approval.

  • 24 to 30 chicken wingettes (wing pieces, not including wing tips)
  • 8 cups Very Basic Brine (recipe follows)
  • 6 tablespoons Four Seasons Blend (at right)
  • 1 cup Butter Baste (at right)
  • An herb brush, made by securing a bunch of herb sprigs (rosemary, sage, etc.) to a dowel or handle of a wooden spoon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • Finishing salt of your choice

Put the wings in a large heavy-duty plastic bag or medium bowl and add the brine. Seal bag or cover bowl and refrigerate at least 12 hours, and up to 16 hours.

Drain wings (discard brine) and pat lightly dry with paper towels. Allow to come to room temperature, approximately 30 minutes.

Prepare a “mature and level” coal bed, with a clean thin grate or rack set over it if desired; the fire should be very hot.

Season wings all over with seasoning blend, then lightly moisten your hands with water and work the seasonings into the wings. Let stand for 5 minutes to develop a “meat paste.”

Fan or blow-dry excess ash from the coal fire.

Toss wings with Butter Baste in a large bowl and arrange in a single layer in a grill basket; reserve Butter Baste in the bowl. Put basket on the grill grate or directly on coals and cook for 3 minutes. Turn basket, baste the wings with the herb brush, and cook for 3 minutes, then repeat 2 more times, basting each time the basket is flipped.

Transfer basket to a platter and allow wings (still inside) to rest for 5 minutes.

Put basket back on grill grate or coals and cook for 2 minutes, then flip over and cook for 2 minutes more or until wings are crispy and cooked through.

Remove chicken from grill and carefully open basket, teasing out any pieces that have stuck. Transfer to platter, sprinkle with chives and salt, and serve.

Serves 8 to 10.


For the brine

Combine 1/4 cup sea or kosher salt, 3 cups water, 2 cups apple juice, 10 peeled and crushed garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Transfer to a bowl or other container and allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight before using.

— “Charred & Scruffed” by Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky (Artisan, May 2012, $24.95)


A salute to the kernels and the cobs

Roasted Corn Relish/Gretchen McKay

Janoski’s Farm typically picks the first of its sweet corn the first week of July, just in time for Independence Day cookouts. So imagine customers’ delight when they discovered heaps of silk-topped ears in the Clinton farm market on June 16 — roughly three weeks ahead of schedule.

Doesn’t the farmers’ axiom have summer’s favorite veggie only knee-high this early?

“I know,” said Patty Janoski, with a chuckle, when I tracked her down between customers at the store on Route 30 to see what gives. “This is the earliest we’ve had it in the 50-year history of the farm.”

It’s so early, in fact, that many shoppers were just as surprised as the farmers.

At Kaelin Farms in Franklin Park, where the daily harvest began on June 23, or about 10 days ahead of schedule, sales were uncharacteristically sluggish the first three or four days corn was available.

“People didn’t know what to make of it,” said Curt Kaelin. “We didn’t sell that much.” (The price is $6.75 per dozen, 25 cents more than last year.)

The first tender ears also arrived earlier than expected at Schramm Farms in Jeannette, Westmoreland County, where white and butter-and-sugar varieties are selling for $6.50 a dozen. Staff there started picking on June 27.

Overall, it’s shaping up to be a pretty good year for local corn in Western Pennsylvania, thanks to a mild winter and the warmest March in Pittsburgh meteorological history (the average temperature was 51.5 degrees, and there was one four-day stretch where it reached into the 80s). Those ideal conditions means farmers were was able to sow the first of their butter-and-sugar (bi-color), yellow and white varieties even before St. Patrick’s Day, and see the first green shoots before Easter.

“Last year, we didn’t even plant until April 7,” said Mr. Kaelin.

As a result, consumers can expect abundant supplies of Pennsylvania sweet corn at farmers and roadside markets, and in local supermarkets, according to William Troxell of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program. (Giant Eagle expects to stock local corn by mid-July; look for signs indicating the farms it’s from.)

All this is good news for those among us who can’t imagine a summer that doesn’t include salty, buttery ears of corn on the cob, corn salad, corn chowder, corn relish, corn pudding . . . .

Whether this early bounty will continue into the dog days of summer depends on the weather. Corn gets replanted into July so the crop continues into early October. While it loves sunny, hot weather, it also loves (and needs) water. So even farms that irrigate are hoping for stormy skies in the next few weeks, even if it ruins the picnics and barbecue at which the cobs will be eaten.

“Definitely, the lack of water is an issue,” said Ms. Janoski.

Mr. Kaelin, when I caught up with him last week on his cell phone, was busy moving irrigation pipe into his family’s corn fields, and he agreed, “It needs to rain.” And not just because the plants will wither in dry conditions.

When it gets hot and dry, he said, wildlife start searching a little harder outside the woods for something to eat — and there’s not much you can do to keep deer out of a cornfield that’s kept green by irrigation.

So here’s hoping for a few drenching rainstorms.

In the meantime, here are some quick and easy recipes that celebrate the cobs and the kernels.

Worth noting: The sugar in corn’s kernels start changing to starch almost as soon as you pick it (40 percent within six hours), so for best flavor, try to eat corn the same day you buy it. If you must store it, place it with husks still on in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two days.


Chiang Mai Corn Fritters/Gretchen McKay








Chiang Mai Sweet Corn Fritters with Cucumber Relish

PG tested

You might not immediately make a love connection between curry and corn, but they actually pair really, really well in this Thai-inspired fritter. Do yourself a favor and double the relish, which I made with pickling cukes I picked up at the Market Square Farmers Market — you’ll want to spoon it on top of burgers and hot dogs. You’ll find rice flour in your grocer’s organic section.

For relish
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium-size unpeeled cucumber, halved and seeded, and sliced thin
  • 1 small shallot, sliced thinly
For fritters
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten together
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 large ears corn, cooked, kernels removed
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 8 cups vegetable oil for frying

Make relish: Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Add cucumber and shallot. Refrigerate for 25 to 30 minutes, until pickled.

Make fritters: In a medium-size bowl, mix curry paste, eggs, coconut milk, rice flour, coconut, salt and sugar. Fold in corn, then cilantro.

Heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees in a deep fryer or medium-size deep pot. Use a medium-sized spoon to scoop 4 to 6 rounded tablespoons of corn batter into the oil at a time to avoid overcrowding. Fry until golden, 2 to 4 minutes each, turning frequently to cook evenly. Transfer the fritters onto a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Season with salt.

Serve hot with cucumber relish. Serves 4.

— “I Love Corn” by Lisa Skye (Andrews McMeel, June 2012, $19.99)



Grilled Corn on the Cob with Piquant Sauce

PG tested

Corn on the cob is delicious, but can it also be entertaining? John Schlimm, whose family has been in the (Straub) beer business since the 1870s, proves it can in “Grilling Vegan Style,” a comprehensive vegan grilling cookbook and handbook. “Piquant is really just another word for rowdy,” he writes, “which is really just another way of saying FUN.”

  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ears corn, husked
  • 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and pressed or finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice, from about 1/2 lime

Heat grill to medium-high.

Prepare the corn: In a small bowl, whisk together the corn oil, chili powder and salt. Rub corn all over with the mixture. Wrap corn in aluminum foil and grill it, turning often with tongs, for about 25 minutes. Remove foil and finish grilling right on the grates, about 5 minutes. OR peel back the husks, remove the silk, season the corn, then pull the husks back over the kernels before grilling for a nice smoky flavor.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients. Slather the grilled corn with the mayonnaise mixture and serve at once. Serves 4.

— “Grilling Vegan Style” by John Schlimm (Lifelong, 2012, $20)


Roasted Corn Salsa

PG tested

This quick-cook salsa is a good topping for fajitas or tacos, but beware: it’s spicy. It’s ideal for late summer, when both tomatoes and corn are at their peak.

  • 2 ears fresh corn, shucked and silked or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 small jalapeno
  • 2 medium, ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 scallions, white and green parts trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lightly packed chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Hold corn upright in a large mixing bowl and use a chef’s knife to slice off kernels. (If using frozen corn, cook it directly from the freezer.)

Heat a large, dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves and jalapeno and let them cook undisturbed until tinged with black, turning them 2 or 3 times. Transfer garlic and jalapeno to a cutting board, and add corn. Cook, stirring frequently, until kernels are speckled brown and fragrant.

Transfer corn to a medium mixing bowl. Peel garlic and chop it finely. Seed jalapeno if you prefer milder heat and chop it finely. Gently toss with corn. Add tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, lime juice and salt and toss well. Taste the salsa for lime juice and salt and serve it at room temperature.

Makes 2 cups.

— “Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut” by Lynne Curry (Running Press, May 2012, $27)


Corn Spoon Bread/Gretchen McKay


Spoon Bread

PG tested

If polenta and a cornmeal souffle had a baby, I’ll bet it would look and taste a lot like spoon bread, a rich, creamy cornmeal pudding that originated more than a century ago in the South. This modern version from Martha Stewart gets extra flavor with onion and spicy sausage.

I substituted bulk Italian sausage for the chorizo, which gave the dish a pinkish color, but you also could leave the meat out completely if you want to go vegetarian.

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish, divided
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 5 ounces chorizo, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup white cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh (from 2 large ears) or frozen corn kernels (do not thaw)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add chorizo and saute until onion is soft and chorizo is lightly browned, about 4 minutes more. Drain excess fat and transfer mixture to a medium bowl and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water to a boil in small saucepan. Slowly pour in cornmeal, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add to sausage mixture. Stir in corn kernels, salt and remaining tablespoon butter, and combine well.

Whisk together eggs and cream. Stir into sausage mixture until incorporated. Pour into a buttered 2-quart souffle dish or deep-pie plate. Bake until set and top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 8.

— “Martha’s American Food” by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter, 2012, $40)


Curried Corn Chowder

PG tested

  • 1 tablespoon extra-light olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 14-ounce cans chicken broth
  • 1 cup chunky mild salsa
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen whole kernel corn
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons curry powder, or to taste
  • 1 cup finely crushed baked tortilla chips (measured after crushed)
  • 15-ounce can cream-style corn
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream or low-fat plain Greek yogurt for garnish

Heat oil in saucepan. Add onion, celery and garlic; saute until onion is translucent. Stir in broth, salsa, corn, cumin, curry and tortilla chips. Bring to boil; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in cream-style corn, salt and pepper. Heat briefly. Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

Serves 8.

— Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program