BBQ Ribs & Potatoes

The other day I had a desire both not to cook in the house and to try something new. Well, new to me in the cooking department, at least. I grabbed a rack of pork ribs from the grocery store, threw them in a pre-made marinade, and chucked them on the grill.

Although the meat was definitely edible, even tasty, I did discover that I had a lot to learn about cooking ribs because they ended up being rather chewy. When I’ve had ribs that other people have made, they always end up being fall-off-the-bone tender. I think I really needed to cook them low and slow to get that desired tenderness. Perhaps in a slow-cooker, or on a low setting on the smoker grill, once we get the auger fixed. Quick and dirty on the gas grill just isn’t going to cut it for the results that I’m looking for.

As a side, I made foil packet potatoes with garlic butter on the barbecue. They don’t look like much, but they were cooked to perfection and were packed with flavour. As a veggie, we had a quick leafy salad.

All in all, I would consider this dinner to be a provisional success. It wasn’t perfect, but everyone came back for seconds, and I learned something. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt, but I’m sure with practice I could do better.

Grilled Duck Breasts & Strawberry Shortcake

Yesterday I decided to cook something I’d never cooked before: duck. I’d eaten it before, generally in Asian fusion food, but I’d never cooked it. It’s different than most of the poultry I’m used to working with (i.e. chicken and turkey) in that it’s a red meat. It’s honestly more like ostrich. Somehow I’d managed to cook up ostrich long before I’d ever worked with duck, which is a little odd seeing as duck is domestic and ostrich is most definitely not. But I digress.

I found the duck breasts in the frozen section of T&T Supermarket a while back, and I bought them because they looked interesting and they were on special (my favourite combination). I’m not sure if this is usually the case, as I have no baseline, but that day they were significantly cheaper than beef. The breasts weren’t whole; they were already cut up into what I think of as tiny little steaks.

I used the marinade from a Grilled Wild Duck Breast Recipe that I’d Googled, knowing full well that since I liked all of the ingredients separately I’d probably like them together. I only did a quick marinade of about half an hour, since I wanted to taste the meat and not just the sauce. Then I threw the steaks on a preheated gas grill. The real challenge here was not to overcook them. I didn’t want them to be rare in the center, but they were so small that I really worried that I’d accidentally turn them into shoe leather. I settled on about five minutes per side, and that ended up being perfect. There was just a bit of char on the outside, but the middle was tender and soft.

I served the duck breasts on a bed of basmati rice, alongside some green zucchini that I’d sliced and grilled at the same time as the duck breast. Timing is always an issue with this kind of meal, so I cooked the rice first, then put the duck on, and then the zucchini, since it was sliced fairly thinly. It all came to the table piping hot and delicious.

For dessert we piled into the car and drove over to my parents’ house for strawberry shortcake. This time my mother made it, but she basically followed my Nan’s recipe. It was an assemble-it-yourself kind of affair (which the kids love), so if mine ended up being sloppy and leaning, that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Part of the problem with structural integrity is that I had to use a non-dairy whipped topping, which never beats as stiff as true whipping cream. Also, we upped the sweets game by drizzling dark maple syrup over the top, further compromising the tower’s support but definitely enhancing the taste.

Dessert finished and hands (and tables, and place mats) cleaned of sticky syrup residue, we headed back home to put the children to bed and to spend some quiet time digesting.

Shrimp and Asparagus on Steamed Rice

I actually had a moderately successful weekend! First, I got my tomato plants caged before both the exceedingly hot weather and the related thunderstorms rolled in:

That’s eighteen tomato plants, but except for the two that my friend gave me (on the far right, closest to the front), I have no idea what kind they will grow up to be, because they self-seeded. They are coming up nicely, though, and they’re starting to flower, so that hopefully means that they’ll be yielding fruit soon. Now all that’s left to stake or cage is the eggplants, but I’m in no huge rush since they’re not even flowering yet so I don’t have to worry about the weight of their fruit dragging them down.

You might have noticed that there’s a lot more green to the garden than last time I wrote about it. The potato plants have come up nicely, but some other weed has decided that my garden is an absolutely lovely place to try to take over. I’m going to go on a weed-pulling spree as soon as the current heat wave breaks — it hit 48°C (118.4°F) with the humidex yesterday, and I’m just not made for that kind of temperature. The weeds can wait.

And after a string of highly unsatisfying meals, I managed to successfully pull together a lovely light dinner of shrimp skewers with butter and garlic, and asparagus with olive oil and salt. Except for the rice, this supper was all cooked quite quickly on the back yard grill, meaning that I also managed not to heat the house up too badly. Grilled shrimp and veggies is so easy, I’m not entirely sure why I don’t think to do it more often. Perhaps it’s a mental block left over from my childhood? When I was a kid, the barbecue was for hot dogs, hamburgers, and steak, with the occasional foil packet of potatoes thrown in for good measure. I really need to re-think what I can do on the grill to make the best use of it this summer.

Spelunking

We started Sunday with a hearty brunch eaten out on the porch at my in-laws’ cottage. I had bacon, eggs over easy, an everything bagel, apple slices, and a banana.

With this fuel under our belts, we made the drive out to the Bonnechere Caves, which are caves carved by the Bonnechere River into limestone deep underground. I’d been there once as a child, and again as an adult bringing my eldest along, but this was the first time that both kids had been old enough to partake in the tour. I think that it was an experience that they won’t soon forget!

The tour started outside along the Bonnechere River (you can actually see the natural entrance to the caves on the left).

Then you take a man-made staircase down into the bowels of the caves as part of a guided tour. We’d been to the Lusk Caves a few years ago, where the caves are left au naturel (although there is a trail leading to them) and there is no guide, so this was a very different experience. There is a boardwalk over the naturally jagged stone floors, and the caves are lit.

Despite the somewhat staged air that the man-made additions add, they did allow me to get a much clearer look at the rock formations.

For the last section of the tour, the path runs under the water table, so concrete barriers and pumps are put to use to make the area dry enough to walk through. This lets you see exactly how deep these caverns really go. Although if you’re claustrophobic, I can see how the idea of all of that ground above your head would be difficult to deal with. One lady kept making comparisons to The Cave…

It was a very neat experience. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to take yet another generation of children to explore this enthralling natural formation.

Of course, after all of our spelunking we were ravenous, so we headed back to the cottage for dinner. We chowed down on grilled chicken legs with hot sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a salad of mixed greens, red grapes, and ground cherries. What a great way to round out the day!

Not Charcoal Briquettes

Last night for dinner I wanted something quick and easy, as well as something that could preferably be cooked on the barbecue. I just wanted to spend time on that lovely new deck! There are lots of options along those lines, but unfortunately not a lot of them could be made without having to make a run to the grocery store this time. Honestly, I have run out of rice, potatoes, and carrots, which are three of my main staples. I really must go do a large grocery run. But I still needed to cook a family dinner with what I had at hand.

So I went with what I’ve been resorting to all too often of late: eggs and toast. The toast was day-old Fluffy Dill Bread. (I’d run the bread machine in the garage since it was so hot and humid the day before, and I didn’t want to heat up the house.) Eggs are always quick and simple, so I made both over-easy and scrambled, to peoples’ preferences. But then there was the sausages to go with the dinner, which are not, as one might think, charcoal briquettes.

Something about the kind of wood pellet we’re using at the moment in the smoker grill turns everything cooked in there black on the outside. I think it’s just a high-ash mixture. You can see it to a certain degree on the burgers, but the buns hide the worst of it. But with the sausages, it just looks horrible. It’s funny, though, because the meat tastes absolutely fabulous. It’s juicy and tender and not at all overdone. And, of course, there’s a lovely smokey flavour and scent that comes through with anything on a wood pellet grill. We’re just going to have to invest in some nicer pellets next time we run out. The ones we’re using came with the grill when we got it last fall second-hand from my in-laws, and I have no idea what kind they are. After all, not every dish needs to look as if it’s been blackened.

In the Back Yard

This Sunday was Father’s Day, and our family had the chance to spend the day primarily out on the new back deck. You see, as of two weeks ago our back yard looked like this:

You see, we had a deck when we first moved in, but the previous owners had done everything wrong. They’d tied it into the house, they’d painted it with interior paint, they’d lined the ground underneath with plastic causing water to pool there… So much poor construction. There are all kinds of pictures of the original in my post about building a garden, when I took the old deck out to make room for my vegetable garden. But when that deck was gone, we didn’t have the funds to build a new one right away, so that section just became a mud pit for a few years (the ground here is mostly clay and is slick when wet). My husband used a few salvaged paving stones to keep the barbecues from sinking too badly, but that’s all we were able to do for a while.

Last week, though, my brother-in-law built us a deck. The actual work only took a couple of days, and with all of his experience in the trade he made it look so easy! (It would have taken me a month, and much frustration and swearing.) Not only did he build the deck, but he re-leveled the ground underneath so that now it drains away from the house instead of toward. He also put in gravel with a layer of landscape fabric underneath, creating better drainage and resisting weeds at the same time. (You would think that the lack of sun underneath would keep plants from growing at all, but I have been waging war against an ivy vine since I moved into this house.)

So no more mud pit, proper drainage, and a lovely deck upon which to spend the summer! We’re just waiting on the delivery of some new boards for the stairs so that they match, since I’d salvaged old stair brackets we wanted to use. But for now it’s totally functional, and still beautiful. I am so happy!

Having a brand new lovely deck encouraged me to get off my butt and plant my main vegetable garden, too. My tomatoes actually self-seeded this year — not in those nice straight lines, I picked the best ones and arranged them how I liked. Now we’ll have to see how well they fruit. I also planted white radishes, eggplants, onions, beets, and potatoes. The potatoes are where nothing has sprouted above-ground yet, but I find they can be slow starters.

The weather was so lovely this weekend that we ended up spending most of our time in the back yard. Sunday was especially warm, and I didn’t want to cook indoors, so my husband did the stereotypical thing of grilling up some hamburgers on Father’s Day. It was so nice to be able to just sit outside and enjoy the summer — although there was a fair amount of goofing around too, and my hubby playing soccer with the kids. All in all, it was a lovely, low-key Father’s Day.

Now to plan a nice barbecue for next week so that I can have my BIL over for a thank-you meal!

Healthy Summer BBQ

We are almost done having a deck installed in our back yard, covering the mud pit that used to be there where the old, rotten deck used to be that we hadn’t had the funds to replace. The new deck was supposed to be done last week, but some of the deck boards in the package that was bought were warped or otherwise damaged, and we’ve been waiting since last Wednesday for Home Depot to deliver the replacements. Two delivery dates have come and gone, and the delivery never showed up… Needless to say, we are not amused.

But most of the deck is done, which means the barbecues are back in place and it’s time to cook outside!

Dinner started with a lovely fruit smoothie: banana, peach, strawberry, mango, and orange juice, with all the fruit other than the banana coming out of a package in the freezer that I really needed to use up. The kids loved it.

Dinner for me was quite filling, although you’d never believe it from the look of it! It was salmon in a honey dijon marinade, which I bought grill-ready from the grocery store, and zucchini cooked with a bit of olive oil and salt. I made it all up on the wood pellet barbecue, which added a lovely smokey overtone to the whole dish.

Of course, the kids wanted — and received — hot dogs made in the microwave. You can’t win them all.