Braille Monitor                                                                               June 2006




From the Editor: The recipes this month come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. As I considered what I might ask the Iowans to contribute, I naturally thought about summer fare in general and grilling in particular. We all know that many people, both blind and sighted, believe that cooking with its routine use of heat is dangerous for blind people--one of the reasons we include recipes each month in the Monitor. In addition to sharing our favorite tastes and styles of cooking from across this vast country, this monthly feature also steadily reminds our readers that blind people do cook. But to those who believe that heating water on an electric stove or warming leftovers in the microwave could be dangerous to blind people, how much more life-threatening is broiling meat over an open flame? I have known Federation leader and Iowan Doug Elliot for a number of years, and one of the first things I learned about him was his love of cooking in general and outdoor grilling in particular. He likes all kinds of cooking and cooking devices. For example, he once prepared dinner using the heat from a car engine, and he has prepared delectable salmon and other fish dishes in his dishwasher of all things.

For this recipes column I have asked Doug if he would share, not only some of his favorite recipes and methods for preparing grilled entrees, but also some tips and tricks for grilling as a blind person. In true Doug fashion he has done just that, and also in true Doug fashion he has recruited some fellow Iowans to help. Here is the result, a blend of methods and recipes from three quite different and devoted outdoor blind Iowa grillers:

Doug Elliott

Doug Elliott: Warm weather is on the way. It is time to think about the grill, outdoor food, and friends. Barbara Pierce asked me to submit recipes but not to stop there. She also wanted me to explain how blind people do the grilling and what equipment we use. Here are three different types of grilling presented by three guys who are totally blind.

My method is natural gas grilling. I have a large, three-burner grill with heat bars and a ceramic tub for catching run-off grease. Heat bars are angle irons placed above the burners horizontally, parallel to each other. The burners heat them to produce a constant temperature. Two heavy grills are laid next to each other and over the heat bars to cook the food on. This type of grill can be used like an outside oven because the top lowers, completely enclosing the heat and cooking surfaces. For fuel, it uses a flexible natural gas tube that connects the grill to the house. This allows you to reposition the grill when desired. The fuel supply is continuous, so you don't need to lug charcoal bags or propane tanks, and the heat is predictable and easy to regulate. This grill geography is easy to understand and remember with a quick examination by hand while the grill is not in use.

I like natural gas because it does not burn as hot as propane, and I seem to have more control of the heat necessary to cook at the temperature I like. The ceramic tub prevents flare-ups and can be removed easily to clean, as can the cooking grills. To light the gas, I use either the push-button flint and striker on the unit or a butane grill starter.

Without any trouble I have cooked burgers, chicken, turkey, hot dogs, brats, roasts, steaks and chops, both lamb and pork, and also carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and whatever other vegetables I feel like cooking. My greatest accomplishment so far has been a thirty-six-inch rack of lamb. It came out fine, tender and tasty.

You can cook meat and vegetables either directly on the grill or using a folding basket that you can flip without losing the food. Yet another technique is to place the meat on a steel sheet with holes in it. This sheet rests directly on the grill rack and allows better control when finding the meat and better leverage when turning food over. In kitchen catalogues and at big box stores you can find these sheets and also high-sided baskets for vegetables made of the same pierced steel. I have also seen spatulas with two sides hinged together that are designed to grasp and clamp the meat on both sides for easy flipping. I don't recommend these because they are too fussy and their makers assume that we cannot flip food without them. They are actually hard to use, and better techniques exist. I use a regular spatula in my right hand, locate the meat or vegetable by touching it lightly with the spatula and also with my left forefinger, then slide the spatula under and, with a quick wrist motion, flip the meat right back into the place it originally occupied, now ready for cooking on the other side. I have never found anything, meat or vegetable, that I cannot cook by using baskets or sheets and this flipping method.

Grilling any food involves heating it on both sides until done, and that is all. With practice you will learn how long various meats and vegetables take and flip with accuracy. Baskets have handles on both ends. You just grasp both handles, which holds the basket closed, flip, and replace.

I do most of my grilling with bare hands. I do own flame-resistant grilling gloves and regular kitchen potholders, but I rarely use them since I know what food I have placed on the grill and where it is, and I want the information my ungloved hands can provide. For example, I flip baskets so quickly that I rarely use gloves or potholders. A novice might want to have these available until the motions are familiar. I do have plenty of paper towels available to keep my hands clean and ready for the next operation, unslippery from occasional grease, and clean, in order to keep my final product just as clean. In fact, I sometimes jokingly call a long string of paper towels stuck in my back pocket my tail because I want it readily available and therefore make sure one end is firmly tucked in a pocket so I can quickly run my hand along the tail and tear off the free end for immediate use.

Planning ahead to have surfaces on which to place tools and food is another prudent ingredient for a successful grilling operation. My grill comes with side tables. If they weren't there, I would find a way to create them. I like to be able to grab for tools in a specific place, and I like to have a place to set down the plate on which I carry uncooked food to the grill. And, most important of all, I want to grab a tool from where I last placed it and move the food now ready to eat to a plate I can also predictably grab. When I use baskets, I just sling the basket on the plate. When I use sheets or the grill itself, I move the finished products to a plate to carry inside or to the outdoor dining area.

Practice always provides good experience, so no one should ever be daunted by a grilling failure. I once tried cooking bacon. This was in my propane days with fuel I think is harder to regulate and on a grill without a ceramic grease-catcher. The grease flared up before I caught it, and flames were shooting into the sky above my head. This is acceptable, if controlled, unless you are on a covered porch. My neighbors thought I, not the bacon, was in flames. I merely removed the bacon, which by that time was well done and would have suited Peggy but was not to my taste, and the flames subsided. I now know how to grill bacon but view it as too much of a hassle.

Grilling chicken properly is a challenge to some. Most people undercook chicken, being fooled by an exterior that is brown to the eye and firm and hot to the touch. Unfortunately, at this stage the chicken is probably not done and is masquerading as tasty. I have learned that chicken wants to be cooked more slowly, over lower heat than red meats. The other reason to cook chicken more slowly is that higher heat can cause it to catch on fire. This obviously does not produce the desired result, although my grease tub catches and retains most grease that in other grills would be available for flare-ups, and I can simply close the grill door, turn off the natural gas, and wait out a true fire, a purely theoretical solution for me since I have never had to do it and have only practiced the technique mentally.

With years of practice behind me, I can often gauge the doneness of chicken by smell, but I never trust a chicken without the taste test. I have a test piece among the rest, available for this taste test. I make sure not to give this piece to anyone but myself when the cooking is done. I am patient with chicken, giving it time to finish. When I think it may be done, I tease a little piece out with a fork or knife and eat it. Underdone chicken has a bitter after-taste, and it is stringy or elastic to chew. When I get this result and no matter how many sighted people are crowing that the chicken is ready for consumption since it is nice and brown, I keep cooking. I serve the chicken only when it passes the taste test--that is, it has no bitter after-taste and is no longer rubbery to chew. People love my grilled chicken, which is done with care and patience, but I always secretly suspect that they have also had a lot of badly grilled, undercooked chicken and that their compliments are partly due to their pleased surprise at the good taste.

During my propane days I decided to hold a chapter meeting and picnic at my house in Reno and to talk to the members about chapter business while grilling chicken breasts in baskets. I know by the smell and also by the increased sizzling when the chicken needs to be turned. As I talked, I was also monitoring the chicken behind me. As the sizzling began, I paused briefly to spin around, flip the baskets, and then turn back to continue my talk. A sighted attendee came up after the meal to thank me for the tasty chicken and also to say that she had been astonished and amused to watch me talk and grill. She said that, every time little flames started licking around the chicken, I would spin and flip, stopping the incipient grease riot. The first time this happened, she didn't have a chance to say anything before the chicken was flipped and peacefully cooking again. She watched me do this throughout my talk and quickly decided that she didn't need to tell me how to cook chicken because I had both the talk and the grill under control.

With meat other than chicken, doneness is determined by touch. The softer the meat, the less well done it is, and the harder, the more well done. Medium is firm but not hard, while rare is soft, and well-done is hard.

I season my meats by whim. I like a commercial barbecue sauce called Cookie's that I sometimes use straight from the bottle or as a base for a sauce or marinade that I make up as the fancy strikes me, using additional ingredients like salt, pepper, garlic, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or whatever else strikes me. I apply the sauce to the meat before transporting it outside on a plate to start the cooking. Another good sauce is Basque sauce, originally made by the Basques of northern Spain, who were master sheep and lamb people. Nothing enhances lamb like Basque sauce, which also works on most red meats, sometimes in my kitchen dressed up with other spices and sometimes by itself. Basque sauce starts with a lot of garlic. One of Peggy's cats got to the point where he would not eat any meat unless it had Basque sauce on it.

I regulate heat now by long experience. Red meats can be cooked at higher temperatures. The heat is too high when the meat starts cooking too fast, which can be judged by audible snapping and sizzling. I usually preheat the grill at medium high or high and then edge back the heat by lowering the amount of gas until the meat isn't sizzling. I cook chicken at medium or lower. Chicken often takes me as long as half an hour per side, but, as I said earlier, the taste is the definitive test.

I take my grilling seriously, tending the grill and checking the future meal while communing with nature and a beer or two. For example, I have noticed that Iowa locusts are drawn to the heat column produced by my grill and flock over and dance in the air high above my grill while I'm cooking, rasping their little chest plates, producing their characteristic noise as I grill and sip. One technique I use for variety is to place an aluminum pie plate filled with water and wood chips under the grills and on top of the heat bars to use in smoking meat.

Peggy Elliott's Favorite Burgers

My wife Peggy likes burgers made with one pound of hamburger and one pound of Jimmy Dean hot sausage. Mix the two meats together with garlic powder or whatever other seasonings you like and shape into patties. This amount of meat should make about six patties. Cook each patty about fifteen minutes per side or to the point at which the meat is firm to the touch. This should make your burger about medium. If your family or guests like their meat more rare or more well-done, simply adjust the time and expectation of firmness accordingly. Remove from the grill and place on a hamburger bun with your favorite garnishes. Enjoy the meat and the compliments.

Roger Erpelding: Roger, or Rog, as he is known to his friends, is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa board of directors and, as you will also note, a fan of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Rog is also a big fan of NFB-NEWSLINE, which keeps him up-to-date on his beloved team. Here are his grilling tips:

I love outdoor grilling. I am a bit of a traditionalist, so I recently purchased my second Weber charcoal grill. It is simple to operate and reliable and helps me prepare tasty meals.

Preparation: I have a favorite brand of charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid. There are lots to choose from, so pick what works for you. I use a traditional and simple approach--a twenty-pound bag of my favorite brand and the same brand of lighter fluid--the bigger the container the better. I begin by making sure the grill is firmly placed on a patio, away from grass, leaves, and the house. I open all the air vents above and below. I do not measure the amount of charcoal, just open the bag and dump. Usually I have about one layer of fresh charcoal for hamburgers, perhaps one to two layers for steaks. Again, when it comes to the lighter fluid, "dump" is the word. Be generous and plan for a nice fire. You can use a variety of lighters, but again tradition seems best to me, so I use wooden kitchen matches, which work well. Place your hand over the lighted charcoal until it feels warm--then you are up and running. But be sure to place the grill racks over the charcoal after you have dumped the lighter fluid onto the coals but before you light them. This method is called "direct cooking" in Weber parlance.

There is also an indirect method that I enjoy for cooking pork chops, chicken, and ribs. This is a slower method for larger pieces of meat. I begin by placing a disposable pan in the middle of the grill, then placing a large pile of charcoal on each side. Again I don't measure or count--just dump. The same goes for the lighter fluid. Place the rack over the charcoal and pan and light both piles of charcoal. You'll want to light one side then the other rapidly, so have at least two matches ready to strike.

With both cooking methods I wait a half hour before placing food on the grill to cook. This delay assures that the charcoal is good and hot and burns off all the lighter fluid. If you're not sure whether the grill is ready, place your hand a few inches above the grilling surface. You should feel pure heat and not hear any crackling or smell lighter fluid burning.

Rog's Hawkeye Victory Dinner
Iowa Chops, Potatoes, and Carrots

The pork chops: Purchase one to four thick-cut Iowa chops, depending on how many people you are serving. Prepare a rib rub for the meat while you are waiting for the grill to settle down. I use equal parts of garlic powder, lemon pepper, and any kind of season salt. Again I don't measure--just spread generously over both sides of the meat and turn often on the plate to make sure coverage is complete. Wash, puncture several times if left whole, and foil wrap the number of potatoes you will need for your dinner. Peel and cut one to two pounds of carrots into one-inch pieces. Place the carrots on aluminum foil, and before wrapping them, add one half stick of real butter cut into pats and season salt to taste. Then double wrap the carrots tightly in foil.

When the grill is ready, place the chops in the middle of the rack so that the drippings will be caught in the disposable pan. As the chops cook, turn them every ten minutes or so. On one pile of charcoal place the carrots; on the other place the potatoes. Cook for one hour and fifteen minutes.

After forty-five minutes turn the potatoes and carrots. At the same time spoon one cup of your favorite barbecue sauce (if preparing four pieces of meat) over the chops. I use a cup measure for the sauce and a tablespoon to place the sauce on the meat. About five minutes before the cooking time is complete, close all the air vents. Enjoy!

Here are two simple recipes that work well as side dishes for any meal, including ones that are grilled. In fact, maybe I'll try them on the grill next time. But here's an indoor method for each:

Hawkeye Victory Corn

1 pepper
1 onion
1/2 stick butter
1 pound frozen whole-kernel corn
Generous handful fresh basil

Method: Cut the onion and pepper into small pieces. In a saucepan melt the butter and sauté the onions and peppers for five to seven minutes, stirring about once each minute until tender. In a microwave-proof pan place the corn, basil, onions, and peppers. Cook in microwave on high for nine minutes, stirring about halfway through the process. Season with salt to taste.

Mom's Fried Apples

This is the perfect dish to use up apples that have gone a little soft.

4 to 6 medium to large apples, cored and cut into eighths
1/2 stick butter
Brown sugar to taste

Method: In a saucepan melt the butter and place the cut apples in the pan. Cover and cook on high for about seven minutes, until the apples are soft and mushy. Stir at least once a minute to keep apples from sticking. Sprinkle a couple of large handfuls of brown sugar into the pan, stir generously, and simmer for an additional two to three minutes--especially tasty on autumn evenings.

Bob Ray

Bob Ray: Bob has been a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa since anybody can remember. He's been a computer programmer and a food service manager, but the Federation has been at the center of his life for over forty years. Bob lives the Federation philosophy in his daily life as shown by his contributions here:

This kind of smoking is not hazardous to your health!

A few years back we decided that we wanted to buy a smoker and start smoking meats to our taste. I talked with several people that use smokers, including President Maurer, and decided upon the smoker that I wished to purchase and learn how to use. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject of smoking meats.

Various types of smokers are on the market, but the principle underlying theme is the same. You want to cook the meat that you are smoking slowly and have the smoked flavor completely permeate the meat. My remarks here are intended for those who wish to smoke items using a smoker heated by charcoal and wood chips. For the most part the same principles apply if you are using some other fuel and wood chips. After you have selected the smoker you want to use, you must choose the proper fuel and wood chips for the task you are trying to perform. My preference is to use a soft charcoal with no chemicals added and wood chips that are sold for smoking. The type of wood will depend on what you are smoking and your taste. Different woods produce different flavors when burned under different kinds of meat. I like apple wood when I grill pork, and hickory when I smoke beef. I think I have never cooked a cut of meat the same way twice because I enjoy experimenting.

In addition to the soft, no-chemical charcoal, I also use some charcoal with chemicals on it to make it easier to start. I only use as much of the latter as I absolutely must in order to start the charcoal. I wait long enough to burn off all the chemicals before putting the meat into the smoker.

Place a mixture of the charcoal with chemicals for easy igniting and the charcoal that does not into the smoker. You probably should have about four times as much nontreated charcoal as treated. (I use Kingsford as the igniting charcoal.) Light the charcoal mixture and let it burn until you can no longer smell the chemicals burning and have a pure charcoal smell. If your smoker is the direct-heating type with adjustable air vents, adjust the air flow using the vents. You want to cook the meat slowly, so you want no more heat than absolutely necessary to do the job. A good way to tell is to place your hand about an inch from the top edge of the smoker. If you can hold your hand there and it is rather hot but bearable, then you probably have the right amount of heat.

Now place three or four handfuls of the wood chips selected for this session in with the burning charcoal. Place the meat that you wish to smoke on the rack and close the lid. Be sure that you have put enough charcoal in the smoker for it to run several hours. I never seem to get the amount of charcoal right, but it doesn't matter because I keep checking both the heat (with the hand method) and the meat temperature with the thermometer. If you don't put enough charcoal in, you can always add more to continue the smoking until the desired meat temperature is reached, so just keep checking by the hand test. If burning charcoal is left over when the meat reaches the desired internal temperature, you can just let it burn out. Remember that the air vents are present to aid burning and can be adjusted to establish a nice, even burn. I would want to smoke a twelve- to fifteen-pound turkey, for example, for four to six hours.

I have not addressed here putting any rubs or other items on the meat you are smoking. This is a matter of personal taste. I realize that most people prefer to use rubs and the like, but we do not. We prefer the taste of the meat itself enhanced by the smoked flavor. Rubs are often a liquid concoction you make up and rub into the meat before smoking begins. The concoction is made to your and your family's taste and for this particular piece of meat. Some common ingredients are commercially prepared barbecue sauces enhanced to suit your own taste. Some people rub lots of salt into the meat before smoking. Rubs or traditions can be handed down in families or created new for each session. And, as with any other endeavor, much can be learned from other practitioners. The fellows at my favorite grilling shop are competitive smokers, and I am always awed and amused at how seriously they take their rubs and how precise and finicky they are about them. Not my taste!

I purchased a meat thermometer to use when I am smoking. A talking one is on the market that works quite well. I would like to find one that has an armored cable between the probe and the electronics box, but the only one I know of has a basic telephone cable, so you need to be careful not to burn or puncture the cable. Cook the meat until it reaches the desired internal temperature. For pork and poultry the internal temperature should be in the 170-to-185-degree range. I cook pork until it is in the 160-to-170-degree range. For beef 150 to 160 degrees is quite safe. Again personal taste does play a part. As I have gained experience, I have gained knowledge about what we like. After all, smoking, like other food preparation, ends up being a long-range experiment with success built on previous experience.

When the meat reaches the desired internal temperature, remove it from the grill, and let it sit until it cools a great deal. I have found that if you let it cool completely and then slice it, the smoked flavor permeates it even more thoroughly. Here is one other small tip when you are smoking pork. As soon as you remove it from the cooking surface, wrap it in foil. Before sealing the foil, with a knife cut a slit along the top of the meat. Pour about a quarter of a cup of apple juice over the meat. Seal the foil and let the meat set for at least twenty minutes. The apple juice acts as a tenderizer. It should be pointed out that if you put too much juice on the meat, the results will be extreme.

Smoked Pork Loin

Purchase a five-to-eight-pound boneless pork loin. If you like using rubs to add other flavors to the pork, apply your favorite one to the meat. Slowly cook the loin as described above for four to six hours. Remove from smoker. Place on a sheet of foil large enough to tightly wrap the loin. With a knife cut a shallow slit along the top of the loin. Pour apple juice over meat and wrap tightly in foil. Let meat set for at least twenty minutes before removing the foil. Enjoy your feast.

Easy German Potato Salad

by Brandie and Rose Sebeniecher

Brandie Sebeniecher works in Peggy Elliott's office and grew up in a family that often runs restaurants, always capitalizing on the family's German heritage. Brandie offers this salad recipe, which can grace any of the foregoing grilled meals, especially when enjoyed outside. Brandie credits this salad to her grandmother, who is also a strong salesperson of Iowa scissors:

5 medium potatoes, any kind
3 hard-boiled eggs
Chopped onion, any kind, amount to taste
1/2 to 1 cup of mayo, depending on size of potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Boil whole potatoes with skin on, until a fork inserted in the potatoes pierces them easily. Rinse with cool water and peel. Meanwhile hard-boil the eggs, then run cool water over them until you can handle and peel them. When the eggs and potatoes are done and are still warm, chop eggs, potatoes, and onion into bite-sized pieces and combine all ingredients. Optional ingredients can include olives, either black or green, or a teaspoon of horseradish mustard for those who like a spicier salad. Note that it is easy to get too much. This basic salad can be dressed up any way you like. Our family prefers to eat this potato salad while it is still warm, but it is mighty good when eaten cold as well.