Saturday, August 30, 2008

recipe: eggplant parmigiana on the grill

The haphazard success I achieved making roasted potatoes on the grill has inspired further experimentation with using a charcoal grill as an oven. As mentioned last time, baking/roasting food on the grill, in place of your indoor oven, keeps your house cool during the hot months. It also maximizes the amount of heat you actually use from your coals, since the most common use of charcoal is high heat, short term, flash-grilling for steaks, sausages, vegetables, etc. It's surprising how long a briquette will generate heat, so put that energy to good use by slow-cooking something before you flip the burgers.

How it happened: yesterday I realized there was a bag of slender, pale-purple eggplants sitting in my fridge, just waiting for a simple summer preparation. My brain immediately leaped to a seductive recipe for eggplant parmigiana in one of my favorite Italian cookbooks, for which the ingredients and technique just begged for smoky hot coals. Moreover, it's not comfortable or convenient to set up a chaise longue in the kitchen, so do yourself a favor and bake this on the grill while soaking up some shade.


  • 2 pounds eggplant (any variety), sliced into 1" disks
  • 2 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes (good ones)
  • 1 bunch basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic (slightly crushed)
  • .5 lbs fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (don't even think about the green can from Kraft. if you live in the midwest, try Sartori Parmesan from WI - it's a local alternative to the real stuff from Italy)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Start a full chimney-load of charcoal.
  2. While coals heat up, coat the bottom of a deep-sided baking pan (brownie pan works well) with about 2 tbsp olive oil.
  3. Layer eggplant slices in an orderly fashion across the bottom of the pan - you may need to or three layers to fit all the eggplant. Grind some pepper over the top and drizzle with some more oil. Stuff the garlic cloves randomly into the eggplant layers.
  4. When coals are hot, deposit them on one side of the grill, making a tidy-looking pile (you may need to use some tongs).
  5. Set the baking pan on the grill grate directly over the coals. Cover grill, open vents, and let it cook for about 12-15 minutes.
  6. Remove grill cover and check the color of the eggplant, it should take on a light brown color at this point (if it still looks raw you'll want to leave it on for another 5-10 minutes). You should also use a tongs to check one of the bottom slices, to make sure they're not burning.
  7. Once the eggplant has browned slightly, remove it from the grill and add another 10-15 charcoal briquettes to the existing pile (this is important, as it keeps the grill hot).
  8. Layer the basil leaves on top of the eggplant. Then pour the diced tomatoes over the basil. Then add the mozzarella and parmesan.
  9. Put the pan back on the grill, but on the cool side. Cover grill and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Make sure you don't peek at the dish too early, because each time you lift the cover you release the heat from your grill.
  10. While patiently waiting for cheese to melt, prepare the remaining elements of your meal, which you can cook over the hot side of the grill once the eggplant is done - you should have plenty of heat left in the coals.
  11. Congratulate yourself on yet another rustic, yet elegant, grilling victory.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

must read: animal, vegetable, miracle

For my 29th birthday my very thoughtful wife gave me a book I had wanted for some time: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by the esteemed Barbara Kingsolver. I'm now plowing through the chapters and the content is exceeding expectations.

Based on the three chapters I've read so far, the book mainly focuses on Ms. Kingsolver's experience moving to a farm in Virginia to reconnect with the land and create a lifestyle out of eating locally produced food, exclusively. The prose is very smooth, and it exudes the right combination of personal anecdotes and hardhitting facts about the broken American food economy/culture. Here's just a small taste:

All the world's farms currently produce enough food to make every person on the globe fat. Even though 800 million people are chronically underfed (6 will die of hunger-related causes while you read this), it's because they lack money and opportunity, not because food is unavailable in their countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that current food production can sustain world food needs even for the 8 billion people who are projected to inhabit the planet in 2030. This will hold even with anticipated increases in meat consumption, and without adding genetically modified crops. [page 18]

So where does all this food go, you ask? According to Kingsolver, "most of it becomes animal feed for meat consumption, or the ingredients of processed foods for wealthier consumers who are already getting plenty of calories." You can add the production of ethanol to the mix, too. Think twice about that bag of Tostitos.

I'll try to share some other tidbits as I move through the book - stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

light your grill sustainably

I know it's obvious to veteran charcoal grill-masters, but I'm consistently shocked by people who ask: "what is that metal thing?"

I'll keep this short: avoid the use of nasty charcoal fluid. It smells awful and isn't good for your food or body. Instead, purchase an inexpensive chimney-starter (pictured), which uses old newspaper to start coals for cooking. Enough said.

There are several schools of thought debating the correct way to use this device, but here's a process that works for me every time:

  1. locate two full pages from your daily newspaper (or your neighbor's)
  2. crumple up one sheet and place it in the underside of your starter
  3. fill the top with charcoal, place on grill grate
  4. light paper and let it burn off completely
  5. load the second piece of newspaper into the bottom
  6. light paper and let it burn off - your coals should be emitting some smoke and heat at this point
  7. drink 1-3 beers while waiting for coals to heat up (15-30 minutes, depending on the weather and amount of charcoal used)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

co-ops go social media

While visiting Seward Co-op in Minneapolis today, I read some info about a great initiative happening right now. The "Eat Local America" challenge is a month-long event to promote and celebrate local food. Anyone who's interested in feeding their inner locovore should check it out, and it also seems like a great way to introduce friends, family, etc. to supporting local producers. To highlight participants' activities, the organizers are showcasing personal blogs and other cool content.

From the website:

This summer, you can kick-start your quest to eat more local by joining the “Eat Local America” challenge, presented by co-op grocers nationwide. This national challenge celebrates and supports the growing interest and passion to eat (mostly) locally grown or produced food - inviting individuals to try to consume 80 percent of their diets (or 4 out of every 5 meals) to local foods for a select amount of time during the summer months.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

recipe: roasted potatoes on the grill

In a rare moment of clairvoyance, I invented this recipe in an effort to enjoy roasted potatoes without turning on the oven. Root vegetables taste great (and are inexpensive) year around, but it can be a challenge to prepare them during the summer, as the kitchen can become a real sweat lodge. I've listed the ingredients and technique below, but you'll quickly realize that a cave person likely came to the same conclusion. This recipe begs for variation and experimentation. Go wild.


  • 2.5 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces (I used Yukon golds, but any variety should be fine)
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
  • chopped leaves of one rosemary sprig
  • olive oil
  • black pepper
  • kosher salt
  1. Light a chimney-load of briquettes. While the coals are heating up, locate a deep, heavy roasting pan (see picture) that can handle high heat.
  2. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil - this will keep the potatoes from sticking
  3. Combine all of the ingredients in the pan, drizzle with more oil, and toss to evenly distribute oil, herbs, salt, and pepper. Cover it with tin foil.
  4. Once charcoal is ready, dump it onto one side of your grill - make sure it's relatively flat and not heaped in a pile.
  5. Place the pan on the grill grate directly over the coals and cover grill. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes. The goal of this step is to fry the potatoes, so you should hear a sizzling sound after a few minutes of cooking.
  6. Check the potatoes by lifting the tin foil - if the bottom layer is browning, use a spatula to toss them. Replace foil and continue frying for 5-10 more minutes.
  7. Have a drink.
  8. Once you get a nice brown color on most of the potatoes, slide the pan to the cool side of the grill - cook, covered, for at least another 10-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are fully roasted and tender.
  9. Have another drink, and enjoy your effortless grilling mastery.
There are several beautiful elements to this recipe, the main one being that you don't really have to pay close attention to it (as long as you know when they're browned and not burned). And you can leave the pan on the cool side of the grill for quite a while, which is especially helpful if you're going to use the hot coals for the rest of your meal, be it vegetables, hamburgers, sausages, etc.