Summer Cooking (and Eating), Alex Guarnaschelli Style
FN Dish – Food Network Blog
The beauty of summertime eats and drinks is that it all comes down to simple, fresh fare, which just so happens to pair well with long days outside and the warm temperatures of the season. Recently FN Dish caught up with Alex Guarnaschelli at one such alfresco feast, where she was celebrating the launch of her partnership with Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi to create a line of cookout-ready wine-infused barbecue sauces (you can buy them here). From her picks for seasonal entertaining to the secret to make-ahead appetizers, she shared her top ideas for summertime cooking, plus dished on what she piles on top of her ultimate burger. Read on below to hear what she had to say in an exclusive interview.
What’s your favorite way to entertain during the summer?
Alex Guarnaschelli: For a barbecue or a cookout — from Memorial Day through Labor Day and maybe even into October — I’m really big into the outdoor stuff. Because chefs are always locked indoors, we really appreciate those spring and summer months. I like to go nuts, and I think the best way to do that is to prepare a lot of stuff in advance. I definitely load my fridge door with a few salad dressings, vinaigrettes, sauces, the Woodbridge Wine ‘Cue sauce. I might take that Woodbridge Wine ‘Cue sauce and take it in a direction — I’ll add a big dose of fresh ginger, put it on shrimp. I’ll take that barbecue sauce and I’ll add a huge hit of chili powder and I’ll put it on a pork shoulder. You know, I might just take the personality of it and pull it. Because it’s got that wine flavor, those tannins. It’s almost like a dry barbecue sauce, like in the good sense, like a dry wine. I think that having all that stuff done in advance, for me, is huge. So when you talk about how charming it is, the butterflies and the unicorns and the rainbows, for me, it’s great when I have company over and I’m outdoors and I’ve lit the little tiki lamps and the food is out and people are drinking and we’re laughing and I’m not going back in the kitchen.
Any tricks for preparing cookout recipes in advance without sacrificing their flavor?
AG: If you are not working with other people and you are the host and you’re your whole staff, which is often the case for people, I would say go for a bowl of dip and a big basket of chips. I may be cooking inside for the hour or two before the guests come, but I’ll have made a basket of chips and I’ll keep it over the stove so it’s kind of warm. So when you put it out with the dip, it’s got that, like, yeah-I-just-fried-those effect. No, you didn’t. You bought them.
What does your ultimate burger look like?
AG: First of all, a grilled potato bun. There’s just no other way about it. Now, when you said “burger,” I have to go with beef. I do. I’m going to be blasphemous for a minute here: It’s got to have American cheese on it. It’s often got to be in an American cheese direction, with pickles and a stack of onion rings this high, and the bun’s sitting on top, and there’s no way it can fit in my mouth until I press it down and you get that wonderful textural moment … where you squeeze the whole thing.
Summer eats rapid fire — think fast!
Michael Symon’s Meaty Secret: Everything in Moderation
FN Dish – Food Network Blog
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
Potato salad or pasta salad? Potato salad
Corn on the cob or corn pudding? Corn on the cob
Pie or cobbler? Pies
Ribs: wet or dry-rubbed? Wet
Grilled chicken or grilled steak? Grilled steak
Iced tea or lemonade? Arnold Palmer
Popsicles or ice cream? Ice cream
On Food Network’s new series Burgers, Brew & ‘Que (Fridays at 10:30|9:30c), Iron Chef and All-Star Academy mentor Michael Symon takes viewers through his favorite cities, introducing us to his ultimate foodstuffs, i.e., burgers, barbecue and beer, among other meaty and nonmeaty things. However, it’s his love for meat that Michael is well known for — that’s no secret. But Michael reveals what he really eats seven days a week, which many people might find shocking.
FN Dish recently caught up with Michael at Hill Country Barbecue in New York City to chat about his show and his favorite topics — which, of course, center around barbecue. We also got into some possible cook-off smack talk regarding his friend Bobby Flay. Can Michael Symon Beat Bobby Flay?
FN Dish: On Burgers, Brew & ‘Que, you visit three cities: Nashville, New York and Cleveland. What makes those cities particularly special for you?
MS: Ah, well, Cleveland is my hometown. I know it so well, and the food culture there and a lot of the places I’m going to are places that I either grew up eating at or are places that when I’m off from work or after work I would go hang out at. So it has obviously a very close personal relationship. And New York is similar; it’s almost like my second home, where I spend so much time. I know so many chefs and so many great little dive joints, and I love being in New York, because not only could I go to places that I knew, but chef friends could take me to places that maybe I’ve never been before. So it was a really fun experience in New York. And … Nashville is one of my favorite cities in America. It just continues to grow and it has a great food culture, a great music culture, and the people there are not only very proud of their city but they are proud of their food. … Nashville is one of America’s real treasures of a city.
On the show you try all kinds of foods, but what food is your No. 1 happy place?
MS: [Laughs] Gosh, you know, it’s hard to beat barbecue in my world. “Everything that I love about food is barbecue” really sums it up. It’s typically eaten in a group, with a lot of people or a family. You know, the culture of it is that they put meat in the smoker the night before or in the morning, go to church, then come home and have a feast with their friends and family. So, you know, the culture of barbecue I love. And being a meat guy, it really all revolves around the cuts of meat that are a just little more fatty, a little bit more delicious and you have to have patience to make them fantastic. So, I mean, how can’t you love a brisket? [Laughs]
Is that your favorite cut?
MS: Oh, my favorite cut is whole hog. The process of cooking the whole hog to me is barbecue’s greatest gift. But I love a brisket. [Laughs]
Would you say the pig is your absolute favorite animal to eat?
MS: Uh, yeah, the hog. I mean, it’s so versatile. … Other than the oink, the whole animal is edible. You know, I love it, from chicharron to crispy ears to fried pig tails to braised or smoked pork belly to the ribs, to the hams to the shoulders and the butts; I mean the whole animal is just absolutely delicious.
Hypothetically, the doctor tells you “Michael, cut back on the pork” or, worse, “You’ve got to eliminate it from your diet.” What do you do?
MS: I panic. My saving grace (this is … my dirty little secret) is my wife (we’ve been together for 20-plus years) is a vegan. So at least two, typically three, days a week I eat vegan — not always vegan but vegetarian, because it’s easier to cook for us both at home if we eat the same thing. So essentially I binge on meat four days a week, and then she makes sure that three days a week I’m kind of squared off where I’m doing yoga, drinking green juice and eating a lot of vegetables. So that has given me a balance in life where hopefully the doctor would never have to say that to me. [Laughs]
You two make a perfect pair, then.
MS: Yeah. Exactly!
What would you say is your favorite style of barbecue?
MS: My favorite style is … the vinegar-based sauces that run through the Carolinas, sometimes with mustard and sometimes without. … [For] me it’s the best because it really allows you to taste the meat and the vinegar kind of accents it, and the meat’s not hiding behind anything else. And then my next favorite would probably be Texas, specifically Austin.
Would you use either of those styles on your whole-hog barbecue?
MS: Um, yeah, for sure. The Carolina style, I think, is the best for whole hog. That eastern section of North Carolina is really where all they do is whole hog. Most of the places that you go into, they’ll only be cooking whole hog — that’s what they do.
Do you have a favorite wood for barbecuing or smoking?
MS: I like fruit woods better, specifically apple. They’re a little less bitter, the smoke is a little bit less forward. So for me, like when I’m smoking, I usually use some post oak to control the heat and then apple wood to control the flavor of the smoke.
How often do you barbecue at home, and what kind of setup do you have?
MS: I barbecue endlessly at home. I have several smokers, some that are big enough to fit entire hogs in. So typically when I entertain, I’m barbecuing. We have some small Green Egg-style smokers for some smaller cuts. But then I have this enormous 10-foot-long steel drum offset Yoder smoker that I’ll do larger cuts or whole hogs in.
What were family barbecues like when you were a kid? Do you have any great memories?
MS: You know, when I was a kid it was more grilling out than it was barbecue. I think there’s a big difference between the two. Like I think sometimes people think, “I put some burgers, dogs on the grill and I’m barbecuing,” where you’re more grilling. But, you know, in Cleveland, because we have such a huge Eastern European influence, there was a lot of smoked sausages, kielbasa, stuff like that on the grill. And because my mother’s Greek, we did a lot of lambs or goats [roasted] on spits. That’s more of a barbecue style … . It was like My Big Fat Greek Wedding at my house.
Coming up as a chef, was there someone in particular who ignited your passion for barbecue?
MS: I would say from a barbecue standpoint the guy that has really inspired me the most is Mike Mills. He has an innate sense about barbecue and where the heat should be. It’s almost like he doesn’t need to look at a thermometer to check what temperature his meats or his smokers [are] at. He just knows. He just has an innate sense around barbecue. To me he’s an incredible inspiration, not only for the way he smokes meat and handles meat but just him as a person. He’s an incredible guy. He always does things the right way, and, you know, I don’t think there’s a better pit guy or barbecue guy in the country.
Now, the show doesn’t just leave off at food; it includes beer. Do you have a go-to brand or a local, small-batch brewery that you’re really into right now?
MS: There’s a brewery out of Cleveland — we’re actually doing it on the show – Great Lakes Brewery. They’ve been around forever. They have a lot of depth, a lot of selection, incredible beers, like any style that you could desire. My current favorite beer that I’m drinking is out of Dexter, Michigan, at Jolly Pumpkin. It’s a sour that they age in red wine casks that I think they call La Roja. To me it’s the best beer I’ve ever drank in my life.
Beer bottle or poured into a glass?
MS: Depends on the day. [Laughs] I drink it out of a can sometimes, too. It just depends where I am, you know. If I’m hanging out in the yard and barbecuing with my buddies, I’m drinking out of a bottle or a can — all day long. My wife is a sommelier, so, like, if we’re having a fancy dinner and if she’s pairing beers with different courses and stuff, you know, then I’ll go to the proper glassware.
The show also features some desserts. Do you have a favorite, one you like to enjoy at a barbecue?
MS: I don’t have a massive sweet tooth, so I always tend to go toward cobblers or crumbles. Whatever the seasonal fruit is, a nice crunchy topping …, a good scoop of ice cream on top; it’s perfect for me.
The other theme of the show is burgers. You’re known for your burger restaurants. For someone going to B Spot for the first time, what would you recommend?
MS: I still love the Fat Doug Burger. It’s kind of the burger that we built the whole concept around. It’s a naturally raised grass-fed beef, grilled, topped with a little bit of crispy pastrami, some coleslaw, some brown Cleveland mustard on those housemade buns. We have these awesome buns that have no high-fructose corn syrup, all the flour is stone-ground. It’s just a really simple, special, great burger.
Many people know that you and Bobby Flay are good friends. Since both of you have burger places, would you ever go up against him in a burger cook-off?
MS: Head-to-head like on television? Probably not. But we’ve both done the Burger Bash in South Beach for five years. I’ve won four of them. So I guess, yes, we have. [Laughs]
Would you say that yours is better than his?
MS: I would never say that. I let the people decide. [Laughs]
Quickfire (Name what comes to your mind first):
Beef: Rib eye
Butter: On everything
Ice cream: Can never get enough
Wine: Not as good as beer
Vegetables: When I have to
Watch Michael Symon on Burgers, Brew & ‘Que on Fridays at 10:30|9:30c.
Gelato vs. Ice Cream: What’s the Difference?
FN Dish – Food Network Blog
Gelato, that Italian dessert staple, is gaining U.S. fans, with sales hitting an estimated $214 million in 2014, an $11 million increase from 2009, and driving growth in the frozen dairy dessert market. But did you ever wonder what the difference is between ice cream and gelato — or if it’s just a matter of semantics and a higher price point?
In fact, gelato is really quite distinct from ice cream, NPR’s The Salt blog notes. Citing gelato expert and author Morgan Morano, writer Linda Poon sketches out a few key differences:
Creaminess: Gelato is creamier, smoother and silkier, as well as denser and more elastic and fluid, than American ice cream.
Ingredients: While both gelato and ice cream contain cream, milk and sugar, authentic gelato uses more milk and less cream than ice cream and generally doesn’t use egg yolks, which are a common ingredient in ice cream.
Butterfat, air and flavor: Ice cream contains at least 10 percent butterfat and usually has between 14 and 25 percent. Meanwhile, Italian gelato includes only about 4 to 9 percent fat. Yet gelato also contains less air than American ice cream — that helps keep it dense, fluid and creamy. And having less butterfat to coat your palate allows the flavors to emerge more, Morano tells The Salt.
Temperature: Another flavor enhancer: Italian gelato is served about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than American ice cream, at about 7 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, so your mouth is less numb and better able to taste it.
Serving style: Authentic Italian gelato isn’t scooped, it’s served with a spade. Dig it?
Gelato is easily made (and enjoyed!) at home. Try Giada De Laurentiis’ Citrus Gelato.
Photo courtesy of iStock