What could be more appropriate for solstice eve? We've been lighting a fire to cook dinner more often than we've been turning on the oven of late. There are these cottonwood trees looming over the house, and we had a lot of the dead wood cut back late last winter, so there's an abundant supply of firewood lying in the yard.
I get my exercise knocking these rounds into manageable pieces, and we have no need to buy charcoal for our cook-outs. Cottonwood produces a clean, hot fire; the coals don't last terribly long, but that's fine for quickly grilling a piece of meat and some vegetables.
My trick for grilling vegetables is to set a wire cooling rack with about a 1/2-inch grid atop the regular grill grate. This way we can grill things as small as green beans and snap peas without having them slip through the grate.
The only problem with this kind of cooking is that I come in to dinner smelling like I've been out fighting a forest fire. Oh, well; there are worse problems in life..
While I tended the grill, Mary put the salad together: lovely leaf lettuce from the Menomonie farmers market, radishes from our garden, some cubes of very non-local avocados. Grilled snap pea and the season's first green beans from the market went on top. Into her dressing strong with mustard and garlic she added fresh herbs including chives, thyme, parsley, and mint. The mint went beautifully with the cumin in the steak marinade, a very North African flavor combo.
It was the cumin, in fact, that inspired the whole dinner--a fresh little baggie from the co-op sat on the counter perfuming the kitchen powerfully in this warm, humid weather. Here's the marinade:
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sunflower or canola oil
1 teaspoon sambal oelek chile paste
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 large clove garlic minced
I marinated the steak for a couple of hours at room temp. While the steak grilled, I put the platter with the remaining marinade and a couple of cubes of frozen chicken stock into a warm oven. When the steak was done I put it back on the platter to rest, and the juices combined with the now melted stock and marinade to make the simplest of sauces.
Things could get a little repetitive around here from the cooking perspective. While the thought of doing more elaborate preparations might tempt me from time to time, I imagine that for the next few weeks I'll probably brush those notions aside, and go out to light a fire.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw