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Posted: Friday, June 29, 2007 10:00 pm

Dear Barbara: It is obvious to me what a dry rub would be when grilling meats, but could you explain the difference between marinating and brining? You are putting meat into a liquid, so it seems they would be the same.- Annlyn from Elk Grove

Dear Annlyn: Yes, you are putting meat into liquid, but the similarity stops there. A marinade most always contains an acid (lemon, vinegar, or wine). It also contains flavorings that will infuse into the meats. The acid starts breaking down the proteins in the meat, thereby making it tenderer. I would definitely use it on less expensive cuts of meat. Always marinate the meat in the refrigerator using a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel dish. Since there is an acid in the marinade, never use an aluminum container. I like using a zip-loc freezer bag (set in a dish in case it leaks) for marinating because there is much less clean up. Be sure and discard the marinade after removing the meat.

Brining would be putting the meat in a salt and water solution (you can add other things such as sugar, onions, etc.) so that the meat retains moisture. This procedure is excellent for poultry and pork. You need the correct proportions of each, so you will need to check online, or in a cookbook, for the formula. Happy grilling!

Dear Barbara: I want to make shish kabobs for the Fourth of July barbecue, but I have no idea what kind of meat to buy. Any suggestions would help. I am cooking for a crowd, so I don't want to use steak or a really expensive cut of meat. Thank you.- Eric from Lodi

Dear Eric: Kebobs are great for a crowd! The great part is that they can be made ahead and also cook very quickly on the grill. The best cut to use, in my opinion, is top sirloin. It would be nice and tender if you could marinate it after you cut the pieces. If your skewers are wooden, be sure to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before making the kebobs.

Years ago, a friend of mine purchased meat for kebobs. Being a new cook, she thought it was nice that the meat was already cut into nice sized pieces. When people tried to eat them, they were so tough that they couldn't chew them. She had purchased stew meat! If you feel at all uncomfortable picking out the meat, ask the butcher. They are just great at suggesting what would work well.

Dear Barbara: My herb plants are going crazy! I can't use them fast enough and I will lose them by the end of their growing season. How can I preserve them?- Sarah from Lodi

Dear Sarah: There are different ways you can preserve the extra herbs.

You can clean them - be sure they are totally dry - and then microwave them for 40-45 seconds on high. I have found that sage leaves take a little longer because of the thickness. When they are dry, crumble them into small airtight containers, and they will keep up to three or four months.

The herbs freeze very well. Chop them by hand or in the food processor. Add about two tablespoons of the herbs to each cube of a standard ice cube tray. Add one tablespoon of water to each cube and freeze. Once they are frozen solid, remove them to a freezer bag and they will keep indefinitely to be used in soups, stews, etc.

Tip of the day! If your grill's propane tank doesn't have a gauge, boil a cup or so of water and pour it down the side of the tank. Feel the metal with your hand. Where the water has succeeded to warm the tank, it is empty. Where the tank remains cool to the touch, there is still propane inside.

- Tip of the day courtesy of America's Test Kitchen Quick Tips

Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at bdspitzer@comcast.net. Please include your first name and city.

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