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THE HOT AND COOL OF MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND FIRE UP THE GRILL WITH INSPIRATIONS FROM NEW COOKBOOK.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

With today's penchant for outdoor living, creating a luxurious contemporary patio and back yard and investing in a fabulous custom built-in barbecue - an extension of the great room - is one of the hottest trends.

But you don't have to have a lavish setting or a fancy grill to enjoy wonderful succulent foods cooked outdoors. A simple charcoal or gas grill - or even a hibachi - will do.

Grilling is still the all-American pastime. Seventy-five percent of U.S. households own and use a barbecue grill - and more than 60 percent of gas grill owners cook out several times a week year-round, according to the Barbecue Industry Association.

``Grilling is so easy and tasty, it's no wonder it is one of America's favorite outdoor pastimes,'' says Kristi Fuller, editor of ``Better Homes and Gardens The New Grilling Book'' (Meredith Books; $29.95). The down-to-earth volume covers all the basics - including information on regional preferences, starting a fire, heat control, timing tips, food safety, grilling gadgets and how to select a grill. You'll also find a grilling glossary along with grilling charts and tips sprinkled throughout the 372 pages, which feature more than 500 recipes.

Taste was the primary focus, although simplicity and ease of preparation - along with straightforward ingredients readily available in supermarkets - were also considerations in recipes, Fuller says. All include prep and cooking times, as well as nutritional information.

Recipes run the gamut from condiments, appetizers, sides and desserts to beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, game and fowl. A separate chapter covers smoke cooking with recipes like Pecan-Smoked Pork Chops, Texas Beer-Smoked Ribs and Double-Smoked Salmon With Horseradish Cream.

When it comes to smoke cooking, Fuller favors an electric smoker because it's the most reliable. However, she suggests getting acquainted with the smoking process on a simple scale by using a charcoal or gas grill before investing in other equipment such as a vertical water smoker or a horizontal dry smoker.

Cooking on gas or charcoal grills is done by one of two cooking methods - direct or indirect heat. Direct grilling - where foods are placed directly over the heat source (and should be turned halfway through the cooking time) - is similar to broiling and best-suited to foods that are tender, small or thin and cook quickly in less than 25 minutes. That includes burgers, steaks, kabobs, chops, hot dogs, boneless poultry, fish and most vegetables.

Direct grilling can be done with the lid up or down, but when the cover is closed, the grill begins to simulate an oven. You can cook larger items such as roasts or bone-in poultry more slowly this way and impart a smoky flavor.

When food is cooked by indirect heat, it is placed adjacent to, rather than directly over the coals - and the cover is down. This method is used for large cuts of meat, ribs, whole fish and birds, and other foods that require longer, slower cooking.

When starting a charcoal grill, figure on mounding and igniting about 30 briquettes per pound of meat to be cooked with the lid up. Since it'll take about 20 to 30 minutes for the coals to turn ash gray, start the grill 30 minutes before you're planning to grill the food. Begin preheating a gas grill 10 to 15 minutes prior to cooking.

A key to successful grilling is determining the point when the charcoal or gas will have attained the ideal temperature for cooking the food.

``Too-high heat can char and dry out the food, while too-low can defeat the quick-cooking benefit of grilling,'' says Fuller.

You can judge the approximate temperature of the coals by how long you can hold your hand above the coals at the cooking level (of the food). If you can hold your hand comfortably over the coals for only two seconds, figure that the fire is hot and the temperature will be around 400 to 450 degrees F. Coals should appear barely covered with gray ash and be burning when done. A medium fire equates to a four-second hand count, a temperature reading of 350 to 375 degrees, and coals should be glowing through a layer of gray ash.

A low fire is the equivalent of a five- to six-second hand count, a temperature of about 300 to 350 degrees, and the coals are covered with a thick layer of gray ash.

Controlling and keeping the grill at the proper temperature during cooking is one of the biggest problems for grill cooks. If you have a gas grill, adjust the heat with the control knobs, advises Fuller; otherwise adjust the vents in the grill bottom or sides (close to restrict airflow and heat; open to increase heat). To avoid smothering the fire, keep top vents in grill cover open during cooking.

If it's difficult to alter the grill temperature, change the distance between the food and the fire.

The three most frequently grilled foods are steaks, chicken and hamburgers, according to the Weber Grill company.

Hamburgers are always popular, says Fuller. There are all kinds of things you can do with them to make them flavorful - such as adding fresh herbs - or topping them with condiments, salsas or the like that you can make or buy. Try stirring some ginger and crushed pineapple into prepared mustard, she suggests. You can also add things like Green Tangy Avocado Salsa, Smoky Sicilian Salsa or Red Sweet Pepper Relish to gussy up grilled chicken and steaks.

When it comes to cooking ribs on the grill, for best results, Fuller opts to bake them, covered, in the oven first before tossing on the grill for 15 minutes to finish them off.

She also advises adding barbecue or other sauces to meats and other foods only during the last 10 minutes of grilling time to avoid ending up with excess browning and burned, unpleasant-tasting results.

And if you plan to marinate foods before grilling, always discard the marinade mixture; DO NOT reuse or serve as an accompaniment to the cooked food.

Grilling offers plenty of versatility. Fuller likes to cook vegetables on the grill in a little oil in a grill-wok, which looks like a wok but has holes in it. ``They get a nice carmelized flavor.''

The most innovative grill recipe in the cookbook, says Fuller, is the Peanut and Banana Pizza using a grill pizza pan (with holes in it) and a package of refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough. Topped with caramel ice cream topping, chocolate chips, peanuts and sliced bananas, it's a fun recipe for kids.

For some tasty grilling, Memorial Day weekend and beyond, try these ideas culled from ``The New Grilling Book'' and other sources.

And meanwhile, if you call the toll-free Weber Grill-Line at (800) 474-5568, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, you can receive a free copy of a nifty 50-page recipe booklet, ``Grilling Through the Seasons.''

SZECHWAN CHICKEN STRIPS

4 medium, skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound total)

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1 to 2 teaspoons Szechwan chili sauce OR 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

12 cherry tomatoes

2 cups packaged shredded broccoli (broccoli slaw mix)

1 tablespoon chopped peanuts

If using bamboo skewers, soak 4 (12-inch) skewers in warm water 20 minutes; drain.

Cut chicken into bite-size strips. Place chicken in a plastic food bag set in a shallow dish.

For marinade, in a small bowl, combine vinegar, hoisin sauce, Szechwan chili sauce and garlic. Reserve 1/2 of marinade for dressing. Pour remaining marinade over chicken; seal bag. Marinate in refrigerator at least 15 minutes or up to 2 hours, turning bag once.

Drain chicken, discarding marinade. On bamboo or metal skewers, thread chicken, accordion style.

For a charcoal grill, grill kabobs on rack of an uncovered grill, directly over medium coals, 10 to 12 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink, turning once. Add tomatoes to ends of skewers last 2 to 3 minutes of grilling. For gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place kabobs on grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as above.

Serve chicken over shredded broccoli. Drizzle with reserved dressing and sprinkle with peanuts. Makes 4 servings.

From ``Better Homes and Gardens The New Grilling Book,'' Meredith Books.

MONGOLIAN-STYLE LAMB CHOPS

4 to 6 lamb loin chops, cut 1-inch thick

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Snipped fresh cilantro (optional)

Lemon wedges (optional)

Trim fat from chops. Place chops in a plastic food bag set in a shallow dish. For marinade, in a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Pour marinade over chops; seal bag. Marinate at room temperature 30 minutes or in refrigerator 2 to 3 hours, turning bag occasionally. Drain chops, discarding marinade.

For a charcoal grill, grill chops on rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals until desired doneness, turning once halfway through grilling. Allow 10 to 14 minutes for medium-rare and 14 to 16 minutes for medium doneness. For a gas grill, preheat grill, reduce heat to medium. Place chops on grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as above.

If desired, garnish chops with cilantro and lemon wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From ``Better Homes and Gardens The New Grilling Book,'' Meredith Books.

MAHI MAHI WITH VEGETABLE SLAW

4 (5- to 6-ounce) fresh OR frozen mahi mahi OR pike fillets 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel

1 1/2 cups packaged shredded cabbage with carrot (cole slaw mix)

1 cup shredded jicama

Thaw fish, if frozen. Rinse fish; pat dry. Place fish in a shallow dish. For dressing, in a small bowl, combine lime juice, cilantro, oil, honey, jalapeno pepper, garlic and salt; divide in half. Stir lime peel into 1 portion of honey dressing. Pour dressing with lime peel over fish; turn fish to coat. Cover; marinate at room temperature 30 minutes.

For slaw; in a medium bowl, combine cabbage mixture and jicama. Pour remaining dressing over slaw; toss to coat. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Drain fish, discarding marinade. Place fish in a greased grill basket, tucking under any thin edges. For a charcoal grill, grill fish on rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork (allow 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish), turning basket once halfway through grilling. For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place fish on grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as above. Makes 4 servings

From ``Better Homes and Gardens The New Grilling Book,'' Meredith Books.

BALSAMIC-MARINATED SIRLOIN AND ASPARAGUS

BALSAMIC MARINADE:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon sugar

STEAK:

1 boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 1-inch thick (about 1 1/4 pounds)

Water

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a small bowl, combine Balsamic Marinade ingredients. Place steak and 1/3 cup marinade in a food-safe plastic bag; turn steak to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in refrigerator 15 minutes to 2 hours, turning occasionally. Cover and refrigerate remaining marinade.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, bring 1-inch water to a boil; add asparagus. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain. In a shallow dish, combine asparagus and reserved marinade; turn to coat. Set aside.

Remove steak from marinade; discard marinade. Place steak on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, uncovered, 17 to 21 minutes for medium-rare to medium doneness, turning occasionally. During last 3 minutes of grilling, arrange asparagus on grid around steak. Grill 3 minutes, turning once.

Season steak and asparagus with salt and pepper. Carve steak crosswise into slices; serve with asparagus. Makes 4 servings.

NOTE: To microwave asparagus, place asparagus and 1/2 cup water in a shallow microwave-safe dish; cover. Microwave on high power 5 to 6 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain.

GRILLED GARLIC-STUFFED STEAKS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup very finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 boneless beef top loin steaks, cut 2 inches thick (about 1 pound EACH)

In a small nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat until hot. Add garlic. Cook and stir 4 to 5 minutes or until tender, but not browned. Add green onions. Continue cooking and stirring 4 to 5 minutes or until onions are tender. Season with salt and pepper; cool completely.

Meanwhile, with a sharp knife, cut a pocket in each beef steak. Start 1/2- inch from one long side of steak and cut horizontally through center of steak to within 1/2-inch of each side. Spread 1/2 of garlic mixture inside each steak pocket. Secure openings with wooden toothpicks.

Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 22 to 24 minutes for medium-rare to medium doneness, turning occasionally. Remove wooden toothpicks. Carve steaks crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Makes 6 servings.

HOT TEMPERED BABY BACK RIBS

WITH SWEET GUAVA GLAZE

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons seasoned salt

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 to 4 pounds pork baby back ribs

1/4 cup water

1 cup guava jelly

Combine brown sugar and spices in a small bowl; reserve 2 tablespoons spice mixture. Rub remaining spice mixture on ribs; coat well.

Place ribs in a single layer on a foil-lined 17 by 11-inch jelly-roll pan or roasting pan. Pour water into pan; cover with foil.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 1 hour or until meat starts to pull away from bones.

Meanwhile, combine jelly and reserved spice mixture. Brush steamed ribs with jelly mixture. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight, if desired.

Grill or broil 3 to 5 minutes per side or until heated through and nicely browned. Makes 4 servings.

ISLAND-STYLE VEGETABLE-BEEF KABOBS

Water

1 medium boniato, batata OR sweet potato, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 pound beef sirloin, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 medium red OR yellow bell pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 cup shallots, halved

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup orange juice

3 tablespoons Caribbean jerk seasoning

2 teaspoons ground cumin

In a large saucepan, add enough water to cover cubed potatoes; bring to a boil. Boil 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and cool.

Place beef cubes, potatoes and remaining vegetables in a plastic bag. Mix olive oil with orange juice, jerk seasoning and cumin. Pour over beef and vegetables.

Refrigerate 30 minutes; turning bag occasionally. Thread meat and vegetable cubes alternately on skewers, discarding marinade. Grill or broil until desired doneness. Serve with white rice, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 (10- to 12-inch) kabobs.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) For something different from the grill, offer Mahi Mahi With Vegetable Slaw, far right, and Szechwan Chicken Strips, near right, dressed with a mixture of hoisin sauce, rice vinegar and chili sauce and topped with peanuts.

(3 -- color) Grilled flavor can enhance this Caribbean dish, Island-Style Vegetable-Beef Kabobs, featuring such luscious vegetables as tropical boniato or yams.

(4 -- color) Mongolian-Style Lamb Chops sounds like a complicated dish, but the ease of grilling, plus a simple marinade, make it worthwhile.

(5 -- color) An old cookout favorite is reborn with this recipe for Grilled Garlic-Stuffed Steaks.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
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Date:May 24, 2000
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