- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I love my George Foreman grill. Yes, I know it’s not generally thought of as the cooking tool of sophisticates. (That would be the Microplane lemon zester, whichcosts $20.) But it gets me through the week,andI know I’m not alone.

I’ve been thinking about this because of a letter to the editor in the July issue of Gourmet magazine. In reaction to a June story, it said: “Your inability to fathom the popularity of the George Foreman grill is due to the fact that you have overlooked the obvious. Most evenings, like millions of Americans, we don’t dine — we simply eat. When both parents work, the issue is getting food on the table in a timely fashion, not experiencing the pinnacle of gustatory excellence. This grill saves time, and that makes it a very useful tool.”

I and millions of other Americans feel the same way. There are many different kinds of cooking, and it’s nearly as silly to criticize one as to canonize another (unless we’re talking awesome cheesecake-making skills). Still, I find that George helps me make meals that are pretty interesting and faster and easier than picking up carry-out.

I first met George at a friend’s house. After inviting us to dinner on the spur of the moment, this working mother set out a few commercially made side dishes and was — with wine glass in hand — quietly grilling lamb chops on her George Foreman. While the children raced around the house yelling, she calmly cooked the little chops, covering them with foil so they stayed warm until serving. When she was done, we retired to the table, toasted the chef and dug in. After a bite or two, we toasted George. The chops were delicious, and I was a convert.

Since then, I have cooked all kinds of things, and I can tell you that George does not make sense for a crowd. (Too many batches make an outdoor grill more sensible.) He does not work with thin fish fillets.

He does not offer the smoky flavor of barbecue. He smokes and burns sauces that are sugary. He doesn’t do a great job of cooking burgers evenly when more than one is on the grill. (A frying pan works better for that.) And chicken on the bone does not cook through.

Still, he’s perfect for lots of other dishes. Among the dinners prepared in less than 30 minutes, sometimes with 5 or 10 minutes of prep work before I leave for work and morning car-pool duty, are:

• Grilled boned chicken breast topped with pesto and served with farfalle (bow tie) pasta and salad.

• Salmon glazed with soy paste or hoisin after it is grilled. It is best if heated in the microwave for a few seconds after glazing. This can be served with ramen noodles and a vegetable.

• Whitefish steaks topped with olive-caper relish made by combining halved cherry tomatoes with Kalamata olives, capers and a sprinkling of dried oregano, olive oil and red-wine vinegar. I make the relish in a couple of brain-dead moments before work. This goes well with rice and a steamed vegetable.

• Pre-cooked sausage split, grilled and served with commercially made honey mustard, buttered penne pasta and a vegetable.

• Chicken breasts for chicken Caesar salad. Chicken breasts topped (after grilling) with barbecue sauce. Chicken breasts for topping chicken pizza.

• Grilled vegetables served with rotisserie chicken.

Like a lot of things that are sort of Zen, George is complex in its simplicity, but it is not for people who believe microwave ovens are below respect. It is, like the Gourmet letter writer said, for people who just want something healthful on the table with a minimum of fuss. Still, it may be a while before we get up the courage to stand up for George, even though in our hearts, we love him.

A New York lawyer I know who does not want her real name used admits to not being much of a cook. Her specialty is dining out in fine restaurants and expensing the tab. She’s also pretty good at picking up carryout. After receiving George as a birthday gift, she began grilling chicken and vegetables, and all kinds of things she never envisioned began appearing on her counter.

She said she was surprised that when she attended a party a few weeks ago in the fancy Long Island area called the Hamptons, everyone was talking about George.

It’s fast

Forget fancy recipes. They are the anti-George. If this grill is currently sitting on your countertop, you probably aren’t preparing an elaborate dinner party. You are probably weak with hunger and nursing a strong urge to loudly tell children, spouse or both to quit complaining about how long dinner is taking.

It makes a cheap gift

I just gave my friend Barbara the $16.99 model from Target, only to find it the next week on sale for $14.99. So I bought one for my friend Jean’s upcoming birthday. (Don’t tell her.) For one or two people or a small family, the most basic George is fine.

Remember that cooking two batches or more of food allows you time to set the table and maybe even grab a quick glass of wine. (Keep the cooked batches warm under foil.)

Although I love the colorful good looks of the bun-warmer version, the small one works fine for us, and I seldom have buns to warm. In fact, a friend, Rima, who bought the double-size model for her family of four, gave it up because she found she was only cooking on half of it and thought it took up too much counter space. She purchased the small version and leaves it on the counter so she doesn’t waste the precious 35 seconds it takes to fetch it.

It’s pretty healthful

As long as I don’t cook beef every night (fat), stay away from having tuna more than once a month (mercury) and avoid serving farm-raised salmon too often (PCBs), it’s actually pretty healthful. (Who says living in the 21st century is easy?) I never oil the pan, and I tend to serve a little more protein these days. This is making both my husband and my teenage son happy. Happy is supposed to be good for our health, too.

Cooks with slow, even heat

This means that the food doesn’t get crusty. (If I want a crust, I use a saute pan.) And I don’t have to flip it over, which means I can set it and forget it. Actually, I believe that phrase refers to another product, but you know what I mean.

Helps sell vegetables

Grilled eggplant, zucchini, sweet onion, even asparagus — but skip the bell pepper. Serve it roasted or raw.

Easy to clean

It’s much easier, in fact, than either my fancy indoor stove-bound grill or the big grill outside. The nonstick coating and lack of grate do, in fact, make cleanup faster. Even when it’s really a mess (see my orange chicken with salad and nuts recipe below.), George cleans up pretty quickly with water, a paper towel and a nonstick scraper. Sometimes I even leave it for the next morning before work, and it cleans up fine.

Grill when it’s raining

The same would be true of snowing, even though that’s not a problem where I live. It’s perfect for all weather. It even works during Phoenix summers — my parents, who live there, got one, too — when no one sane thinks of grilling outdoors.

If you don’t believe me on any of this, try it for yourself. I suspect you’ll learn to love George the way I do.

Grilled asparagus or other veggies

1 pound asparagus or other vegetables of choice (I particularly like sweet onion and Asian eggplant.)

1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Rotisserie chicken

Steam asparagus in microwave oven for 2 to 3 minutes. (Use shorter amount of time if asparagus is thin.) Or drop asparagus into boiling water, count to 60 and immediately remove from water.

For grilling most other sliced vegetables, including sweet onion and Asian eggplant, there’s no need to microwave first. Just slice into bite-sized chunks, place vegetables on grill in single layer and grill for 3 to 5 minutes or until just beginning to brown.

Transfer asparagus or other vegetables to serving bowl, sprinkle with enough vinegar and oil to moisten, and season to taste with salt.

If working on small grill, three or more batches will be required to accommodate 1 pound. Loosely cover first batch with foil while others grill. Then stir subsequent batches into first so that they can absorb vinegar and oil. Makes 2 to 4 servings as a side dish or first course along with commercially made rotisserie chicken.

Orange chicken with salad and nuts

I usually toss chicken with marinade before work in the morning and refrigerate all day. It’s ready to grill at dinnertime.

1 12-ounce can orange juice concentrate, defrosted

1 teaspoon cinnamon

teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons corn oil or canola oil

Salt, white pepper

8 chicken-breast tenders

8 ounces (about 10 cups) mixed salad greens

Orange ginger dressing (recipe follows) or commercially made Oriental dressing

Generous handful of nuts of choice (I like peanuts)

Crusty bread

Combine orange juice concentrate, cinnamon, cloves, oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken and marinate for 2 to 8 hours. Discard marinade.

Grill chicken 2 to 3 minutes per batch or until cooked through but not dry. (If overcooked, it will burn because the orange juice in the marinade contains sugar.) Cover cooked chicken with foil to keep warm until serving.

While chicken is cooking, place salad greens in large serving bowl and combine ingredients for Orange ginger dressing, if using.

Just before serving, slice chicken, toss salad with dressing to taste, sprinkle with nuts and arrange chicken on top. Serve with chunks of crusty bread. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

ORANGE GINGER DRESSING:

2 teaspoons fresh ginger root

1 scallion

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar

3 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate, defrosted

⅓ cup corn oil or canola oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Salt

In food processor or blender, mince ginger root and scallion. Then add soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar, orange juice concentrate, corn oil or canola oil, sesame oil and salt to taste. Makes about 1 cup. Leftover orange ginger dressing can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Whisk before using.

Salmon with cucumber mint salad

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons chili powder

teaspoon salt

4 skinless salmon fillets (about 1 pound)

Cucumber mint salad (recipe follows) or commercially made coleslaw in vinegar-and-oil dressing

Combine cumin, coriander, chili powder and salt in resealable plastic bag. Add salmon fillets and gently shake. Grill immediately or refrigerate for up to several hours. Grill for 6 to 10 minutes or until no longer pink in center. (Length of time depends on thickness of fillet.) Serve with cucumber mint salad or coleslaw. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

CUCUMBER MINT SALAD:

3 tablespoons corn or canola oil

3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt, white pepper

1 English cucumber, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

small red onion, thinly sliced into rings (about cup)

2 tablespoons chopped mint

In serving bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, sugar and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add cucumber, onion and mint; stir to combine. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes or refrigerate for several hours until serving.

Makes about 3 cups.

Steak au cafe

2 teaspoons ground coffee (not instant)

2 teaspoons chili powder

teaspoon garlic salt

teaspoon black pepper

1 pound beef loin, flank or skirt steak

Corn on the cob or another cooked vegetable

Steamed rice

1 lime, quartered

Combine coffee, chili powder, garlic salt and black pepper in heavy-duty resealable bag. Shake to mix. Add steak and shake again to coat. Refrigerate 2 to 8 hours.

Cut in pieces, if necessary, to fit on grill and grill 5 to 8 minutes for medium, depending upon thickness of meat, or until steak is cooked as desired. (Repeat with remaining steak pieces.) Slice and serve with corn or another cooked vegetable, rice and lime wedges to squeeze over.

Makes 4 servings.

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