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Summertime and the grilling is easy

April 24, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

This week's weather is more seasonably springlike than the recent record-breaking heat wave that provided an early taste of summer.

Did that little preview inspire you to do a some summer-style cooking?

Did you fire up your grill for the first time?

If you're like many Americans, you didn't wait for warmer weather. More than 3 billion meals were grilled in American back yards last year, 60 percent by people who barbecue all year round - most of them in the Northeast.

What kinds of grills are those many meals being cooked on? There are charcoal, gas and electric grills in a range of types and prices to astound.

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The average price of 80 percent of grills is about $300, but $10,000 grills are available, says Donna Myers, spokesperson for the New Jersey-based Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. "They are quite magnificent. They really are outdoor kitchens," she says.

Myers has 35 backyard grills, including charcoal, gas and electric, covered, uncovered and smokers, too. "I like to know how they cook," she explains.

There's a world of grilling possibilities - gas or charcoal, wood or wood chips that provide different flavors from black walnut to sassafras, orange and mulberry, Myers says.

One of her favorite grill menu items is very basic. She likes to stick whole onions in the ready-for-cooking-gray-covered coals. Myers uses fairly large onions, peels off the papery outer covering. She checks for tenderness - 30 to 40 minutes is about right. She peels off the blackened outer layers and eats the delicious charcoal-flavored onions, she says. Myers treats acorn or butternut squash to the same grill treatment.

Taste is one reason barbecuing is popular, according to information on the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association Web site at www.hpba.org. You can enjoy the outdoors and avoid heating your house, and entertaining and clean-up are easy.

Where did the word "barbecue" originate?

There are a couple of theories. Some say the Spanish used "barbacoa," to mean the American-Indian framework of green wood on which foods were placed for cooking over hot coals. Others believe the source is French, citing Caribbean pirates' custom of cooking animals on a spit - "whiskers to tail," or "de barbe queue," according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association Web site.

Want another bit of barbecue trivia?

Half of all marshmallows eaten in the United States have been toasted over a barbecue grill, according to HPBA.

Enjoy a sweet and sticky ending to your outdoor meal.

Beef Fajitas

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1-1/2 to 3 pounds skirt steak

2 large, ripe avocados

1 each, red, green and yellow bell peppers, halved and seeded

1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced

8 flour tortillas, 8 to 10 inches in diameter

1 cup sour cream

Tomato Salsa (see below)

In a bowl, combine garlic, olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Add the steak and marinate for one hour.

Peel and coarsely mash the avocados. Stir in the remaining lime juice. Set aside.

Light a charcoal fire. When the coals are 80-percent covered with gray ash, place the skirt steak on the cooking grid about 6 inches above the coals. Grill 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare. Grill the pepper halves and onion slices at the same time. During the last few minutes of cooking time, warm the tortillas on the grill. Remove steak from the grill and let rest for about 5 minutes. Slice the steak into 1/2-inch pieces. Separate the onion slices and cut the pepper halves into strips.

To serve, lay a tortilla on a plate. Spread about 1/4 cup of the mashed avocado down the center. Arrange the slices of steak, peppers, and onion over the avocado. Top with the sour cream and Tomato Salsa. Fold tortilla in half and eat.

Serves 6 to 8.

Tomato Salsa

1 small red pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

4 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 large dill pickle, coarsely chopped

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped

5 scallions, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

In the work bowl of a food processor combine the red pepper, tomatoes, yellow onion, dill pickle, jalapeno pepper and the scallion. Pulse on and off until the mixture is evenly chopped and well blended.

Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cilantro, lime juice and salt.

Peppered Fish Fillets with Lemon

2-1/2 tablespoons peppercorns, multicolored

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1-3/4 to 2 pounds firm mild white fish fillets

8 slices fresh lemon wedges for garnish

Crush peppercorns using mortar and pestle. Combine melted butter and lemon juice and brush fish fillets with mixture on one side. Press crushed peppercorns into fish fillets. Turn fillets over and brush other side with lemon butter mixture. Press remaining peppercorns into fillets.

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