Creating Soups, Sauces and Gravies on your BBQ Grille

barbacoaIs there a food extant that does not taste wonderful smoked?  For many of us, this is a rhetorical question.   One thing that I have noticed over the years, though, is that many people who will intrepidly grille or barbecue almost any meat  somehow feel that side dishes, veggies, etc., need to be cooked on the indoor oven/range. As much as it pains me to admit it, I used to be guilty of a similar crime against nature myself.  For years, we had wrestled with the trade-off at holidays, etc., of roasting a turkey, duck or goose in the oven versus smoking it, the trade-off being sacrificing the gravy when smoking the bird,  for that wonderful smoked taste, until the lights came on and I realized that by the simple technique of slipping a drip pan, such as a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, under the bird, in your smoker,  we really could have the best of both worlds.  Since having this relatively simple epiphany, I have gone on to create what is my very favorite gravy in the world, a caramelized onion smoked gravy.  Simply caramelize some onions with a touch of balsamic vinegar, dried basil and thyme, and puree in your blender or food processor.  While the blender is running, add the drippings in a slow stream until you have exactly the right consistency for your gravy.  This is absolutely foolproof, produces a texture that is perfect every time, and has the added benefit that you will never need to add flour or any other thickening agent.  Now,  let’s see if we can take a small step towards adding to our smoked foods repertoire by introducing a few similarly simple concepts/guidelines.

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Flower Power: How to Grow Edible Flowers

flowers_cupcakeAs spring quickly approaches, every gardener is dreaming about the perfect flower garden while every chef is working on creating new dishes with all that fresh produce.  One fresh item that people tend to forget about is all the edible flowers that exist in the garden.  Flower cookery was started in Rome and moved to other cultures such as Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, and even in Victorian times.  Today some of these flowers are commonly found on the salad bar and include broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes while others are found in the herb garden, vegetable garden, flower garden, and even in the rose bed. Borage calendula, chamomile, chives, lavender, nasturtium, roses, violas, marigolds, day lilies, chrysanthemum, hibiscus and snap dragons are just a few of the commonly known edible flowers.

Growing these flower delights is easy but an important factor needs to be considered. Never plant any material that is going to be eaten that is not organically grown and never eat anything that you are not absolutely sure is organic and safe to eat. To be able to consume any flower material the plant needs to be started from organic seed or comes from a nursery that specializes in growing plant material organically.

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Grilling Naan (Indian Bread) at Home

naanongrilleExploring ethnic cuisines is one of the great joys in my life, and I am one of those who, having discovered a new dish that I love, immediately has to go home and try and recreate (and often revise) it.  One type of cuisine which has risen to the top of my list is Indian cuisine.  Over the years, having now eaten at Indian restaurants at least 100 times, I have grown to appreciate the complexity and regional variations presented by this country.  Although we rarely order the same combination of dishes twice in a row, there is one constant in our order: Garlic Naan.  This form of Indian bread has many variations, and can best be described as a cross between a puff pastry and a flatbread.   And while my wife and I are addicted to garlic naan, this bread is versatile, and can be seasoned with virtually any combination of herbs, spices and flavoring agents which suit your fancy.  Indian cuisine will often utilize dried chiles, seeds such as onion seeds, cumin seeds and  fenugreek seeds  in their breads.  Italian seasonings such as basil, oregano and parsley work well here also.  I like to think of naan, chapatis, wraps, etc. as a blank palate, to be painted with your favorite foods and seasonings.  Being a barbecue/grilling fanatic, a typical “morning after” ingestion for me includes firing up the grille to make a grilled meat and veggie dish accompanied by these tasty and unique breads.

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Get Rid of the Winter Blues with a Little Touch of Spring

bulb_forcingBringing spring indoors in the middle of winter is not a difficult task.  Some may do this by making a trip to the local florist or grocery store but this really is not necessary.  All that is needed is to merely look out the window.

Plants in a typical landscape can be an inexpensive answer to the wintertime blues.  Crabapple, flowering cherry, flowering almond, flowering pear, flowering quince, redbud, pussy willow, forsythia, and red maple are just a few of the trees and/or shrubs that are useful in this in devour or what is commonly known as forcing.

The Process of Forcing

Forcing begins by studying the plant material in ones own backyard.  Choose plants that have branches that need to be pruned.  This strategy will reduce the task of pruning later and will provide ample material to force.  It is always better to cut more in length than is needed.

The process of cutting the branch is easy.  Simply pick the branch, cut the length desired, and remove the branch at an angle using hand pruners.  Once all material has been cut, bring indoors and recut all the stems under water.  Cutting the stems under water will prevent air bubbles from forming and blocking the movement of water up the stem.

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Staging the Landscaping for a Quick Sale and Sanity Preservation

curb_appealIt’s a little hard to imagine spring while most of the country digs out from under feet, not inches, of snow. However, before you know it, spring will arrive at our doorstep, and that signals the beginning of house-selling season. Sellers, it’s time to stage your landscape for potential buyers. In this market, all other things being approximately equal—square footage, interior layout, amenities, etc.,—the landscape can close the deal—or kill it.

Staging the landscape goes far beyond curb appeal. While curb appeal is critical in getting potential buyers to your front door, your property will sell on its merits and proper pricing. According to the Journal of Environmental Horticulture, you receive a return of $1.35 for every $1 you spend on the landscaping.

Many homeowners consider the patio and backyard an extension of the house. When properly staged, a hospitable outdoor environment is an additional selling point for those buyers.

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Designing an Orchard for Small Spaces using Espaliers and Festoons

espaliersAs the hyper-local movement takes hold more and more people are looking into growing their own fruit.  But fruit trees, even the dwarf variety, take room to grow and in a majority of the single-family dwellings this room is not available.  So what is the urban gardener to do?


The Romans created a solution to this problem years ago and referred to it as espaliers.  This term comes from the Italian term spalliera, which translated means, something to rest the shoulder (spalla) against.  It also refers to a training technique used for trees.  This technique consists of training fruit trees to grow up a flat plane such as a wall, fence and/or trellis.  The Europeans refined the design so the trees could easily fit into their garden style.

To create an espalier starts with the plant. Vines, shrubs, and trees are easily turned into espaliers. The process involved is simple. If planting in containers, make sure to allow enough space for a trellis.  Plant the fruit tree as usual and begin the pruning process.

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The Cure for the Gardener’s Itch: DIY Seed Germination

SeedlingsEvery gardener has experienced that gardening ailment called the gardener’s itch.  The gardener’s itch symptoms include drooling over seed catalogues, dreaming about the gardening section of the home improvement center, and an uncontrollable hunger for fresh tomatoes.  The cure for this ailment is as simple as starting seeds for the garden.

Seed germination is not a complicated process. It requires a seed starting medium, containers, and fresh seeds. If the gardener saved seeds from last year, it may be a good idea to test the vitality of the seeds.  To do this, simply plant three to five seeds in a container and wait between one to two weeks for germination.  If all seeds germinate, the seeds are viable.  But if fewer seeds germinate, one may consider buying new seeds.

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Jungle Fever

jungle_gardenMerriam Webster defines a jungle as “an impenetrable thicket or tangled masses of vegetation.” That’s a bit extreme for a jungle garden or jungle patio! Creating an orderly mass of vegetation, with a heavy ratio of foliage to flora is more on the order of a workable jungle garden. It borrows elements from the rainforest (also known as the jungle forest) and the jungle, which lies on the outskirts of the rainforest, relying heavily on varying sizes, shapes, textures and colors of tropical and tropical-like foliage. The pièce de résistance is the splash of intense color from bromeliads cascading from tree branches and scattered along the floor of the garden.

The rainforest has a higher canopy than the jungle—reaching over 100 feet, which makes it denser and darker than the jungle. It supports little plant life on its floor; instead, it is home to a whole lot of wild animal life that you would rather observe from afar. The jungle lets in enough light to support a thicket of plant life on its floor. The ideal jungle garden is composed of a lush, canopied area that filters the sunlight, dense vegetation on the floor and at the mid-height level—a cool and private oasis for relaxation and meditation during the summer months.

You’ll have little problem finding appropriate plants to create your garden. According to Cal Tech, 90 percent of all vine species and two-thirds of all plant species grow in the rainforest.

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When is a grill not a grill? When it’s converted to a pizza oven, of course!

Ceramic Grill pizzaDon’t fall into the trap of assuming your grill can only be used to cook steak. Any grill, and any avid home cook, can produce restaurant quality pizza by following a few simple guidelines.

To create authentic tasting, envy inspiring pizza and flat bread you really only need one thing: HEAT! High heat is the key to traditional wood fire ovens, and is the one major component that will make a difference to homemade pizzas. For obvious reasons, this means that a gas grill is preferable to a charcoal one when it comes to baking. Charcoal can still be used, but you will find it difficult to achieve high enough heat in a reasonable amount of time. Given that most pizzas and all flat breads will take less than ten minutes to cook, the effort of nurturing a charcoal fire to a high enough temperature might seem silly. That said, the flavor that comes from using charcoal will be closer to that of an actual pizza oven.

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Tandoori Prawns with Apple Salad from the Kenwood Inn and Spa

Kenwood InnFebruary marks the beginning of prawn fishing season off the California coast. What better way to enjoy the local abundance of Poseidon’s bounty and celebrate the unseasonably gorgeous warm February weather than with some time outside on the grill. Recipe contributor and Sonoma Chef Jon Mortimer of the Kenwood Inn and Spa has offered up his recipe for Tandoori Prawns with Apple Salad to awaken your taste buds for the coming Spring.

Chef Jon Mortimer is a Certified Executive Chef and adjunct Professor at the Boise State University School of Culinary Arts. In addition to apprenticing in Norway and Italy, Chef Mortimer has authored the cookbook The Idaho Table and his Idaho restaurant has received the prestigious Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. Chef Mortimer also serves KBCI’s “Culinary Tip of the Day” correspondent. Check out Jon’s blog for more grilling tips and recipes.

Whether you seek to satisfy your stomach with an Italian-inspired meal or treat yourself to a weekend getaway of relaxation and massage, Kenwood Inn is the choice wine country destination for indulgences of the palette and the body. Try out Tandoori Prawns with Apple Sauce on your grill this weekend and shop Outdora now for all your grilling needs.

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