July Menu:

A Trio of Kabobs:

Italian Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Kabobs

 Patio Daddy-O Shish Kabobs

 Grilled Topical Fruit Kabobs

     Now it’s time to get a little retro and make a trio of kabobs.  This week’s menu is both good eatin’ and fun! This is the excuse you’ve been looking for to invite a bunch of friends over to drink fruity drinks and eat food on a stick.

You can set up your party two different ways; you can assemble all the kabobs in advance. Or, you can set out all the fixings and have your guests assemble their own kabobs.  Either way, you’ll want to grill them once everyone has arrived.

I like to grill the kabobs in stages.  Grill the Italian Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Kabobs, place them on a platter and let your guests dig in while they are hot.  Kabobs are easy to eat while standing or can be placed on individual plates and served tableside.  Sometimes, I make twice as many mini-kabobs so that they are even easier to eat while standing and sipping on a drink of your choice.  You can buy 6-inch bamboo skewers or put half as many ingredients on your metal skewer.

Regardless, the easiest way to build the kabob is to use what I call my “Ladder Technique.”  That refers to using two skewers on either side of the food so the food doesn’t twirl around like a wheel on an axis.  This method makes it a cinch to turn the kabobs once halfway through the cooking time and get it browned and caramelized on both sides.

I start on the second kabobs, my Patio Daddy-O Shish Kabobs, about five minutes after everyone has finished their first kabobs. That means that the next course comes off the grill 5-10 minutes after they’ve had the first round of kabobs and everyone is generally ready to eat again.  Even though kabobs are a one-stop meal—meat, veggies, starch, all on a stick—if you want to serve an extra side, this is the time to do it.  And, I always serve these at the table because a knife and fork makes the meat easier to eat.

Once you try these recipes, you can make any kind of kabobs.  In fact, at the end of the summer when the gardens are bursting with produce, I love taking anything I have on hand, cubing it, brushing it with oil and letting everyone pick and choose to make their own kabobs.  The only rule is to put foods on the sticks that take the same amount of time to cook.  For example, you would never want to combine potatoes and shrimp on the same skewer because the shrimp will take very little time and the potatoes will take a lot longer.

When everyone is almost finished with the main kabobs, it’s time to put the Grilled Topical Fruit Kabobs on the grill.  I always assemble the dessert kabobs in advance because by the end of the evening, no one wants to make their own food.  You will want to make sure the cooking grates are brushed well and all the residue of the previous kabobs has burned away.  A clean cooking grate makes grilling fruit simple—almost foolproof. Grill the fruit until lightly marked and warmed through.  You can dip them back into the marinade for a little flavor bath and/or serve them with coconut ice cream and your favorite bittersweet chocolate truffles for a perfect ending to a perfect summer evening.

Italian Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Kabobs

Charcoal:       Direct

Gas:                Direct/Low Heat


1          thick, day-old baguette French or Italian bread

1          pound semi-firm mozzarella cheese (not fresh)

6          ripe but firm plum tomatoes

1          bunch fresh basil

5          tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

8          tablespoons unsalted butter

2          cloves garlic, finely minced

1           tin (2 ounces) anchovies, drained and finely minced

Special Equipment:   Bamboo skewers, soaked in water  or Grill Friends™ Dual Prong  Skewers, Vacu-Vin Instant Marinater, optional

Slice baguette into sixteen ½-inch-thick rounds and mozzarella into twelve ½-inch-thick slices.  Halve tomatoes lengthwise.  Separate basil leaves from stems, setting aside the largest leaves for use.

To make kabobs, on each of four 12-inch metal skewers, thread one slice bread, followed by a basil leaf, mozzarella slice, another basil leaf, tomato half, and then repeat process, starting with bread.  The ingredients should be pressed quite firmly together, and each kabob should have 4 slices bread, 6 basil leaves, 3 slices mozzarella, and 3 tomato halves.  Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over each skewer and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat butter and remaining oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  When butter is melted, add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add anchovies and sauté one minute more.  Keep warm over very low heat.

Meanwhile, place kabobs in the center of the cooking grate and grill about 3 minutes per side, to toast the bread and gently melt (but not dissolve) the cheese.  Place kabobs on serving plates and drizzle generously with warm anchovy butter.  Serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

Patio Daddy-O Shish Kabobs

Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat

Zest of an orange

Zest of a lemon

Juice of an orange, about ¼ cup orange juice

Juice of a lemon, about ¼ cup lemon juice

¼         cup olive oil

3          cloves garlic, minced

1          tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh or dried rosemary

3          pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes

1          large red onion, cut into 1-½ inch wedges

2          yellow peppers, seeded and cut into3 inch squares

½         pound medium white mushrooms, stems trimmed

6          ripe Roma tomatoes, cut in half

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Special Equipment:   Bamboo skewers, soaked in water  or Grill Friends™ Dual Prong  Skewers, Vacu-Vin Instant Marinater, optional

In a medium bowl, whisk together zest, orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and rosemary.  Arrange lamb chunks in a single layer in a glass dish and pour marinade over or use a Vacu-vin Instant Marinater.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, stirring every now and again.

When ready to cook, preheat the grill.

To assemble kabobs, put all vegetables on a cutting board with the skewers nearby. Drain meat from the marinade, and discard the marinade.  Thread meat onto two skewers, so they resemble a ladder.  Leave room in between meat so all pieces cook evenly. You should have about 6 kabobs.

Repeat skewering with onion, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes, using two bamboo skewers for each kabob. Brush with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place kabobs in the center of the cooking grate, turning to sear all sides. Cook to desired degree of doneness, 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare. When skewers are done, remove from the grill. Place onto a clean platter. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Note: The vegetables and meat may take different amounts of time to cook. For example, the tomatoes may only take 3-5 minutes; but the onions and pepper should be done at the time as the lamb.

Let meat rest 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 6

Grilled Topical Fruit Kabobs

Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat

2          mangos, slightly under ripe and firm, cut into 2” cubes
1          pineapple, ripe but firm, cut into 2” cubes
2          pints strawberries, firm
1          teaspoon cinnamon
1          teaspoon sugar
½         teaspoon each nutmeg and cloves

½         cup dark rum
½         cup fruit juice, blend of orange, pineapple and passion fruit
¼         cup honey

¼         cup untoasted walnut or hazelnut oil
2          tablespoons brown sugar
1          lime, juiced

Special Equipment:   Bamboo skewers, soaked in water  or Grill Friends™ Dual Prong  Skewers, Vacu-Vin Instant Marinater, optional

Thread alternating fruit onto both sides of the double skewers using the ladder method.  Combine sugar and spices and sprinkle over the kabobs; turn kabobs over and repeat. Make marinade by mixing all the ingredients together and reserve.

Thirty minutes before serving, whisk marinade to re-combine and pour over the kabobs. Remove kabobs from marinade, and place in the center of a very clean cooking grate.  Grill until browned and fruit is warmed through, no more than five minutes.

Serve immediately.

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Grilled Antipasto with Soprano Sauce

Cedar Planked Salmon

Maple-Rum Pineapple with Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

     Summertime and the farmer’s markets are bursting!  Even this early in the summer, it is exciting to go to the market and see what the farmers have brought in this week.   In the summer, I make a grilled antipasto platter, a.k.a. a grilled veggie platter ever week.  I pick up whatever the local farmers are offering and I supplement those veggies with my favorite year ‘round fare such as mushrooms, scallions and sweet potatoes.

The trick to my Grilled Antipasto with Soprano Sauce is in the sauce! I grill my favorite vegetables simply using the Grilling Trilogy of olive oil, salt and pepper and lay them on a platter.  While they are still warm, I brush them with my “secret” Soprano sauce.  The sauce soaks into the veggies infusing them with loads of flavor. I love setting the platter out before my guests arrive because it is so colorful and beautiful.  I serve it as an appetizer or as my vegetable side dish depending on what kind of party it is.  The vegetables change with my whim and with the season but the all-purpose sauce of pureed olive oil, anchovies and garlic never varies.  It goes with everything.

Sometimes I make a whole meal of the grilled antipasto and grill hearty Ciabatta bread that I also brush with the sauce, and serve with the platter.  Veggies, bread and wine make a perfect picnic or light summer supper. The best part is that you can grill everything early in the day while you are getting your house together, arrange the veggies on a platter, sauce them up and they are ready for dinner!

Grill the pineapple slices for the Maple-Rum Pineapple with Toasted Coconut Ice Cream while you are grilling the veggies.  Make sure you grill the pineapple over very clean cooking grates or the sugar might burn and stick.  Take the pineapple off the grill, brush a final time with the maple-rum glaze and they’ll be ready for dessert when you are.

When you are ready to grill your dinner, you’ll only have one thing left to do and the Cedar-Planked Salmon is a snap to prepare!  The hardest thing about this dish is making sure you soak the cedar plank for 20-30 minutes before you want to cook it.  Prep the salmon with olive oil, salt and pepper and place skin side down on the plank.  You want to buy a 2-pound filet of salmon instead of salmon steaks for this recipe.  The magic of this technique is that you place the seasoned fish on the plank, put it on the grill, letting it cook without having to turn it.

I generally brush the fish lightly with my favorite barbecue sauce during the final ten minutes of the cooking time to give it a shiny glaze and a burst of flavor.  You can use any kind of sauce you like; Teriyaki is great as is pesto or Dijon mustard vinaigrette.  Salmon is a chameleon and works well with almost any global flavor profile.  The cedar plank scents the fish with a delicate woodsy flavor and provides it’s own serving platter.  I love serving the fish on the rustic, slightly charred plank—it makes me feel like I’m camping, even in my own backyard!

Grilled Antipasto with Soprano Sauce

Use the vegetables that I have listed here as a guideline but feel free to substitute your favorite seasonal vegetables.

Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat

Soprano Sauce:
6          anchovy fillets, drained and finely minced
4          cloves garlic, finely minced
1          tablespoon capers, drained and coarsely chopped
2/3       cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably from Tuscany
Sea salt, to taste

To make the Soprano Sauce: Combine the anchovies, garlic and capers in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and season further with salt if desired. Set aside. (Alternatively, you can place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.)

2          small sweet potatoes, peeled and each cut into 8 long slices
4          medium zucchini, each cut into  long slices
2          small radicchio, cut into quarters
2          medium eggplants, cut into rounds

3          fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered

1          pound asparagus, trimmed
3          small bunches green onions, trimmed
1          pint small, ripe cherry tomatoes, tossed in a bowl with a little oil
1 – 2     tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, or parsley
4          lemons, cut into wedges
Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Lightly coat cut vegetables with olive oil.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

One by one lay the vegetable slices and green onions on the cooking grate over Direct/Medium heat. (Do this in batches if necessary so the grill is not crowded.) Cook about 5 minutes. Turn the vegetables over. Cook 3 or 4 minutes longer.  As soon as the vegetables are marked and tender, remove from grill and transfer to a platter or a sheet tray.  The zucchini, radicchio, asparagus and green onions should be done first; the eggplant will take a little longer and the sweet potatoes and fennel will be the last to cook through.  As soon as the vegetables are placed on the platter, brush generously with the Soprano Sauce.  You may need to grill the vegetables in batches.

When all the other vegetables are done, place the tomatoes on the cooking grate to mark and warm

through, about 2 minutes. Place onto the platter with the other vegetables. Brush with Soprano Sauce.  Let cool to room temperature.  Just before serving, sprinkle with herbs, decorate with lemon wedges and serve with extra Soprano Sauce on the side.

Serves 6-8

Cedar-Planked Barbecue Salmon

Brush a center-cut fillet with your favorite barbecue sauce during the final ten minutes of the cooking time for a simple sweet and tangy glaze that adds a rosy sheen and a burst of flavor. 

Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Heat

1          salmon fillet, skin on (about 2 ½ to3 poundsand 12-14 incheslong)

½         cup white wine

1 ½      tablespoons freshly ground pepper

1 ½      tablespoons sea salt

            Olive oil

½         cup favorite barbecue sauce

Special Equipment: 1 Grill Friends™ Cedar Organic Grilling Plank

Preheat gas or charcoal grill and set for indirect/medium heat grilling.

In a sink or container large enough to hold the plank, immerse the plank in water for 30 min. or longer (you may need to weigh it down).

Place the salmon fillet, skin side down, on a baking sheet with sides.  In a small bowl, mix together the white wine, salt and pepper.  Pour the mixture over the salmon.  Cover the salmon with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Uncover the salmon and place it, skin side down, in the middle of the plank and brush with olive oil. Place plank in center of grill and close lid. Cook over medium indirect heat for 25-35 minutes. Brush fish with barbecue sauce during last 10 minutes of cooking time. Fish is done when the flesh flakes easily with a fork. The internal temperature should be between 140-145ºF depending on desired degree of doneness..

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 8 to 10

Grilled Maple Rum Pineapple with Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Low Heat

1 ½      cups dried coconut, toasted

1          pint best-quality vanilla ice cream, softened

Golden pineapple, cut into rings

¼         cup butter, melted

½         cup dark rum

¼         cup maple syrup

Special Equipment:  VacuVin Pineapple Slicer

Put 1 cup of the toasted coconut in a metal or glass bowl.  Add softened ice cream and mix until incorporated.  Put ice cream back into pint container to re-freeze.

Meanwhile, using a Pineapple slicer or a knife, cut pineapple in rings and set aside. Mix butter, rum and maple syrup and brush both sides of pineapple with the sweet glaze.

Just before serving, place pineapple rings directly on a very clean cooking grate and grill 2-3 minutes per side, or until marked and warmed through.  Be careful not to leave much longer as the pineapple burns easily.

Divide ice cream among 4 bowls.  Top with grilled pineapple and a sprinkle of the remaining coconut.


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Rethinking Chicken: How Food Fests Set Trends

Could fried chicken in its many forms—Southern-style, Korean-spiced, even served in a waffle cone—be the next big trend in food?

Elizabeth Karmel, executive chef of New York City’s Hill Country Chicken, can’t be sure, but she feels it’s a sign that the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival has devoted a whole event to fried chicken. Ms. Karmel is bringing her own fried chicken in a waffle cone to the party, a Whoopi Goldberg-hosted event called Shake & Bake, which will take place Thursday night.

Food-festival events have become trend-setters in the culinary world by taking “an iconic food group and turning it into a fabulous celebration,” says Ms. Karmel.

Shake & Bake joins other themed events at the four-day New York foodie extravaganza—such as the Burger Bash and Meatball Madness—that have helped refashion comfort-food staples as chic new creative arenas for chefs.  Check out the whole article Wall Street Journal

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bon appetit blog
Posted by Julia Bainbridge
Filed under: Cooking Tips

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, pretty much everything you’ve been searching for on our website has the word “grill” in front of it. (We know this; we keep tabs on you.) But grilling can be intimidating: What charcoal should you use? For that matter, what kind of heat? (Yes, there are different kinds of heat.) Today we turn to Elizabeth Karmel, executive chef at New York City’s Hill Country Barbecue, teacher at the Institute of Culinary Education, writer of Girls at the Grill, and all-around grilling know-it-all, for tips. Attention!

Thou Shalt Season–and We’re Talking About the Grill
“Barbecue grills are like cast-iron skillets: The more you use them, the better your food tastes,” says Karmel. A new grill that hasn’t been touched by any kind of flavoring will make your food taste like…a new grill that hasn’t been touched by any kind of flavoring. So season it. Here’s Karmel’s method: Fill the cooking grate with link sausages (not the bulk breakfast variety, but Italian or really any uncooked fatty sausages). Grill the sausages slowly on a low-medium heat until very brown. Remove the sausages and let the grill burn off the residue for 20-30 minutes. Clean the cooking grates with a brass-bristle brush. Congrats: You are seasoned.

Thou Shalt Be Prepared
You’ve invited friends over, you’ve shopped for all of your ingredients, you’ve stocked the cooler, and you’re ready to cook. But head to the deck and what do you find? A nearly empty bag of charcoal, and that’s not going to get you far today. “This scramble at the end is typical,” says Karmel–people forget to re-fuel. “If it’s a charcoal grill, always have an extra bag of briquettes on hand. Even if I have a whole bag, I get another for backup. Gas grillers should have a spare tank because it’s not always easy to get one at a moment’s notice.” Think of your grill like a car: Always have a spare.

Thou Shalt Buy a Good Thermometer
Sure, there are other cues for doneness, but a good thermometer takes the guesswork out of the equation, and most home cooks–and even pros–need that. “We have lots of fancy thermometers available to us in the market today, and I’ve tested every one out there–people give them to me as gifts all the time,” says Karmel. “I have found that the best is the old-fashioned analog thermometer.” Why? 1. It’s less expensive; 2. It doesn’t rely on battery; and 3. It can be re-calibrated. To re-calibrate, which you only need to do every other year if you use it often, submerge it in a glass of ice water to test that it reaches 32 degrees F. Get more instructions here.

Thou Shalt Just Learn to Build a Fire Already
The number one rule of successful grilling, says Karmel, is knowing the difference between direct and indirect heat. When using charcoal, arrange the briquettes so that one “zone” of your grill that isn’t directly above coals (an “indirect heat” zone). Here are our tips on setting up a CHARCOAL GRILL with INDIRECT heat, setting up a GAS GRILL with INDIRECT heat, setting up a CHARCOAL GRILL with DIRECT heat, and setting up a GAS GRILL with DIRECT heat. Finally, if you want to keep the fire burning, keep the vents open.

Thou Shalt Oil the FOOD, Not the GRATES
“Many grilling people say to dip a paper towel in oil and then rub the grates with it,” says Karmel. “But the grates are hot! That rag is just a torch waiting to happen. And because oil burns at a low temperature, the minute you put it on that preheated grate it will burn, get tacky, and act as a glue to your food.” To get those beautiful grill marks and to prevent those natural juices from escaping your steak, oil the meat.

Thou Shalt Not Extinguish Flare-Ups Using a Water Bottle
No brainer: Grill grates are really hot. So the minute you hit them with water, you create steam that can burn you. The only way to extinguish a flare-up is to reduce the oxygen–meaning close the lid of your grill. And in case that flare-up turns into something bigger, have a fire extinguisher on hand at all times.

Thou Shalt Work Clean
Wash your hands and your platters between raw and cook stages to prevent cross contamination. Use two sets of tongs, one for raw food and one for cooked food. Karmel color-codes hers with red and green duck tape: “Red means stop, raw food has touched these. Green means go, only cooked food has touched these.” Finally, keep the grill clean by using a brass bristle brush. Brush those grates twice every time you use the grill: once after pre-heating and once after all your guests have left. (But first, put the burners back on high for ten minutes, which will burn off any stuck-on food, and then brush away.)

Thou Shalt Not Stab Your Food
Use tongs instead of a fork. That way you don’t pierce the meat and let all those yummy juices fall into the ash, never to be tasted. Karmel goes for 12-inch locking tongs. She finds that the length and the locking capability help prevent hand fatigue (and she’s done a LOT of grilling), plus locking makes them easier to store.

Thou Shalt Be Patient
Don’t open the lid while cooking. “You’d never bake a cake with an oven door open, would you?” says Karmel. Well, no. You want to allow the hot air to surround your meat so that it cooks through in a reasonable amount of time. And, as tempted as you may be to slice right in, allow the meat to rest for 5-10 minutes. This way, the natural juices get re-absorbed before slicing and serving. Translation: Your meat will be tender and juicy.

Thou Shalt Not Overthink It
In other words: have fun. “People get nervous and tied down to a recipe,” says Karmel. “So just buy what want to eat–or go to the farmers’ market–try something you’ve never eaten before.” Then, just grill it! “If you know the difference between direct and indirect heat, all you need then is olive oil, salt, and pepper and you’re ready to grill.”

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New York Times, Dining & Wine
Dinner’s Journal
By Pete Wells
Published July 9, 2012

When I used to go to Hill Country Barbecue Market as a civilian, I regarded the sides and desserts as unnecessary calories that would keep me from consuming unholy quantities of barbecue. But when I returned as a critic and began to eat my way around the entire menu, I quickly realized that the sides and desserts were often as impressive as the meat, and in a few cases more impressive. Elizabeth Karmel, the restaurant’s executive chef, oversees all the food at Hill Country; I spoke with her by telephone to learn more about three standout dishes from both sides of the operation.


Moist Brisket ($23 a pound)

Because Hill Country uses gas-assisted rotisserie barbecue pits, the pitmasters are able to regulate the temperature precisely. They keep the heat in the pits very low and even, so that much of the meat cooks for as long as 10 or 12 hours before it’s tender. This means that pitmasters are often tending the smokers in the middle of the night so the meat will be ready by lunchtime. (The tradeoff for this extremely tender meat, I think, is a less pronounced smoke flavor than you’d find in an old-fashioned Texas barbecue pit.)

Hill Country rubs the brisket, like all its barbecue, with a mix of salt, cayenne and butcher-grind black pepper, which is coarse-ground pepper with the fine powder sifted out. The restaurant cooks whole brisket, then carves off the deckle and tip; these fatty pieces make the “moist brisket,” while the flat of the brisket is what the restaurant sells as lean brisket. During cooking, the fat cap is left on the brisket. “The brisket really needs to have that fat rendering out and continuing to moisten the whole piece of meat during whole cooking time,” Ms. Karmel said. “That’s the mistake people make when they’re cooking brisket at home. You really need that fat.”


White Shoepeg Corn Pudding ($4.75 for 8 ounces)

At times, I was sure that this peppery corn custard was the best thing on the menu at Hill Country; other times I favored the moist brisket. The corn pudding is Ms. Karmel’s attempt to reverse-engineer and adapt a recipe made by her grandmother, Mary Odom. Ms. Odom, who was born in North Carolina, spent part of her childhood in Georgia and moved to Virginia after she married, made this recipe only in the summer, and only with white corn. “As a true Southerner, she would not eat yellow corn,” Ms. Karmel said. White pepper and nutmeg are spices Ms. Odom relied on frequently; the cayenne and dried chives are Ms. Karmel’s idea.

She shared her recipe, which would make an excellent addition to a Fourth of July celebration. I’d suggest making it in the cool of the morning, though, since the oven needs to be on for more than an hour.

White Shoepeg Corn Pudding Recipe

Adapted from Elizabeth Karmel, Hill Country Barbecue Market, Manhattan
Time: 1½ hours

1          teaspoon sugar

½         teaspoon salt

½         teaspoon ground white pepper

1/8       teaspoon cayenne

¼         teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

8          cups fresh or frozen corn, preferably white shoepeg, cooked and drained

2          cups heavy cream

2          eggs

¼         cup freeze-dried chopped chives

3          tablespoons butter

1          cup finely chopped shallots

1          cup finely shredded skim-milk Cheddar

1          cup finely shredded Monterey Jack cheese

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the sugar, salt, white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg in a small bowl. Purée 6 cups of the corn in a large food processor. Processing until smooth between each new ingredient, add the cream, the eggs, the sugar and spice mixture, and the chives. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. When it starts to bubble, add the shallots and sauté until they are translucent and beginning to brown on the edges. Add the remaining 2 cups of corn and stir until heated through. Add to the mixing bowl with the corn purée and stir. Mix in the cheese until well combined.
  3. Pour the corn pudding into a buttered 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish and set it in a larger baking dish or sheet pan. Pour warm water into the larger dish to a depth of about 1 inch. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until the custard is slightly golden on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve hot or warm.

Banana Pudding

What I love about Hill Country’s banana pudding is that it isn’t a fancified, cheffed-up riff on the original; it more or less turns back the clock to a time before many cooks began to get their pudding out of a box. The pudding is a French-style custard with cream and egg yolks with a bit of banana liqueur but no banana extract and no cornstarch. Once the pudding thickens, it’s layered over sliced bananas and Nilla wafers.

“I really wanted it to taste like your mom made it, or your grandmom made it for you,” Ms. Karmel said.

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By Pete Wells
Published: July 3, 2012
New York Times

IN the line of duty, I’ve eaten food served on a curl of bark, food served on a slate shingle, food served on the end of a wire, food served in an antique silver caviar caddy and food served in a box of rocks.

But for sheer power to send ripples of anticipation through the pit of my belly, none of those vehicles beat the greasy butcher paper at Hill Country Barbecue Market.

Whenever I eat at this restaurant on West 26th Street, I head for the meat counter and ask for a pound of moist brisket. If a pound strikes you as too much, then you haven’t had Hill Country’s moist brisket. A counter worker with a long knife tears off a sheet of brown paper and proceeds to bury it under slabs of meat. Beef ribs, too, yes, and some jalapeño-cheese sausages.


Chef, Author, Media Personality

A couple of those, please.

Let’s make it three.


When I stop at last, the counter worker grabs the ends of the butcher paper and scrunches them to form a basket filled with smoked meat and serpentine wisps of steam. I carry that basket to my table and set it down in front of my friends, casual as can be. They look amazed, and if they don’t, I rethink the friendship.

At the table, the paper is flattened into a communal plate, and I cover one patch of it with seasoned salt. Pink from cayenne and spotted with black pepper grains, the salt goes with brisket better than barbecue sauce. Paper, meat, salt: by now my stomach is in a riot and I am sure I should have ordered two pounds of brisket.

Moist brisket on greasy paper is not the only reason to eat at Hill Country, but it’s a convincing one. The term “moist brisket” is the restaurant’s euphemism for the deckle and tip of the brisket, upholstered in fat that will slowly render and baste the meat during the 13 or 14 hours it spends in the smoker. Carved just before serving, the meat is juicy throughout, but the parts that really get me going are the blackened edges that give way to a mahogany-tinted quarter-inch or so of smoky borderland between crust and interior.

The moist brisket, along with the beef and pork ribs that carry a similarly peppery, crunchy top layer, show Hill Country’s rotisserie barbecue pits at their finest. The restaurant is a state-of-the-art Manhattan homage to the preindustrial craft of Texas barbecue, particularly as it is practiced in the town of Lockhart.


The flavors Hill Country achieves in its pits are not precisely the ones I remember from meals at Lockhart’s legendary rivals, Smitty’s Market and Kreuz Market. At both places, the smoke was deeply entrenched in the meat.

Despite burning about 1,500 pounds a week of post oak shipped in from Texas, Hill Country doesn’t produce that kind of deeply smoky barbecue. It produces very slowly roasted meat with an echo of campfire around the edges. The low smoke quotient makes a spongy, beige pork chop a disappointment, and leaves the market chicken just another slightly dry rotisserie bird.


But it does no harm to the prime rib and the beef shoulder. They may not be great Texas-style barbecue, but they are still terrific slabs of roast beef, cooked medium-rare through and through and ringed with that salt-and-pepper crust. And the jalapeño-cheese links, shipped to Manhattan by Kreuz Market, are always full flavored and insistently spicy, though their juiciness varies from day to day.

When Hill Country opened, five years ago last month, it joined a wave of new restaurants that tried to coax more smoke into barbecue than had seemed possible on the tightly regulated shores of the East River. In a glowing $25 and Under column in 2007, the last time Hill Country was reviewed in The New York Times, Peter Meehan focused on the meat, especially the brisket. “No other barbecue place that has opened in New York in recent years has gotten it so right, right out of the gate,” he wrote.

Since then, Hill Country’s other virtues have become easier to notice, or harder to ignore. Year after year I am drawn back to the dessert case for another plastic cup of banana pudding, built upon a custard so thick with eggs and cream it brings Paris to mind, and not the one in Texas. And as New York has become cluttered with strenuously playful cupcakes, few make me smile as easily as the one at Hill Country that is filled with grape jelly and frosted with a fluffy turban of peanut butter.


According to hard-liners, the only permissible side dishes with barbecue are white bread and saltines. Anything else is as out of place as a yuzu macaron.

Hill Country takes a more liberal point of view, thankfully. When I can afford to surrender the stomach space, I will have some peppery corn pudding, which has roughly the same relationship to an ear of corn that an ice cream sundae has to a cow. And I am always grateful for the relief provided by crunchy, sparingly dressed coleslaw and a vinegary salad of black-eyed peas.


None of these dishes look like restaurant food; they seem like things packed for a church picnic by the best cook in town. The cook in this case, or at least the one whose recipes the kitchen follows, is the restaurant’s executive chef, Elizabeth Karmel. Named in her honor, EAK’s Bowl of Red is a ground-beef chili that could be a meal in itself, although it’s soupy enough that I wish Hill Country really did serve it in a bowl rather than in the same paper cartons used for all the sides.

In Texas, much of the atmosphere of a barbecue joint is provided by the employees and the customers. Since shipping live Texans across state lines can be complicated, Hill Country’s owner, Marc Glosserman, bought inanimate objects like battered butcher blocks, salvaged floorboards and an old Blue Bell ice cream freezer.


All this may be mistaken for the set dressing a big chain might use, but no chain would play Ray Wylie Hubbard and Reckless Kelly, or hire bartenders who mouth the lyrics as they tuck their bottle openers into the back pockets of their jeans.

Hill Country may not be the real thing. But it plays the part better than anybody else in town.

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While you are rushing around and enjoying the summer sunshine, take a break and prepare this heady, soul-satisfying pork roast. Known to us from the ad world as “the other white meat,” a pork loin roast is lean and delicious on it’s own, but even better spiced with a dry rub full of black pepper, garlic, rosemary and smoked paprika.

The double flavor-whammy in this recipe is that you are studding the roast with fresh garlic and rosemary before coating it with the dry spices. The inside herbs echo the flavor of the rub so they will be infused through the whole roast. The rub will caramelize on the outside and form a crust and the garlic and rosemary will get soft and scent the juicy meat. Besides, the slices look extra cool with little bits of rosemary and garlic buried into the meat. I love this pork roast served with Sweet Potato Chipolte Puree for dinner but make enough for leftovers, it makes a killer Cuban Sandwich the next day!

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You know, sometimes cooking can be as therapeutic as it is nourishing—not to mention tasty! And I think that making a paillard is the ultimate in stress relief since you pound the meat until it is uniformly thin.

This week, I am getting out my frustrations by making Chicken Paillard with a Greek Farmer’s Salad and that heavenly garlic-cucumber-yogurt sauce called tzazaki. The fresh lemon and oregano rub infuses the thin pieces of chicken (called paillard), making it sparkle with flavor. Served on top of a Greek farmer’s salad (a.k.a. Horatiki) and dressed with the pungent tzazaki, it’s a dish that’s hard to beat. If you’re not a yogurt person, the chicken is also good served on the salad with a spicy oregano vinaigrette.

Have fun pounding the chicken and…don’t forget it’s fun to play–or pound–your food!

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This week, I am making a simple, and simply, delicious recipe. Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon is served in steakhouses across the country and sold by specialty meat houses and butchers.

And I am here to tell you their secret; you can make them yourself at home quickly and easily! I usually cut the steaks themselves because beef tenderloin sells for an average of $19.99 to $24.99 a pound, and often times the already cut filets (sold as filet mignon steaks) sell for about $5.00 more a pound. Besides, when you buy a whole or a half of a tenderloin, you can make sure that the filets you cut come from the center and not just the ends of the tenderloin! The bacon lends a salty, savory, smoky flavor to this very lean beef, and it is also a great way to keep the filets together while they are grilling.

I “flavorize” these steakhouse filet mignons by brushing the grilled filets (while they rest) with a simple butter sauce seasoned with shallots and parsley. Feel free to grill the filets without the final flourish, but it is that little “je ne sais quoi” that takes these steaks from the GRATE to GREAT!!!!

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Tired of the same ole dogs and brats this summer? Try these soul satisfying Fresh Turkey Sausages with Apple Fennel “Sauerkraut.” It’s a real treat for everyone–people who think they don’t like sauerkraut will love the “not” sauerkraut. Those who favor the kraut will love the sweet savory flavor of the tart apples and fennel as a nice change of taste. Serve on a bun or off with lots of spicy brown (German) mustard and a robust beer, sparkling wine or hard apple cider. This is also a great cookout dish!

And if you are wondering why the gorgeous green parrot? It’s because I didn’t have a good picture of the sausages and kraut and the Parrot makes me smile:)!

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