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Cooking With Gas


I used to believe that a grill is not a girlís best friend.

Thatís not a bad credo, but it had begun to more and more affect my quality of life, to say nothing about my standard of entertaining. I could no longer deny that itís gauche to invite friends to a dinner party and then expect them to cook their own food.

And while it may be OK to not know how to use somebody elseís power saw, as I discovered last week when I gave it a try, it is not OK not to know how to use your own backyard grill. I came to that realization slowly and only after I began asking totally inappropriate people to man my grill.

At first I just asked people I knew well and had fed well before. My friend Karenís husband, Brett had masterfully carved up the ducks I had roasted for Christmas dinner one year in the hopes of raising my familyís culinary appreciation to new heights. (That didnít happenóIíve since down-sized to split Cornish game hens and everybody is on their own with the boning.)

But the duck experience told me that Brett seemed fearless with poultry, so I didnít hesitate to ask him to grill the chicken one time when he and Karen were over for dinner. Besides, Iíve seen him at his own backyard grill, capably wielding tongs in one hand and a gourmet beer in the other.

My sister was around for the next couple of grill occasions. Though she exhibits no particular XY chromosomal habits, apart from being a vicious ping-pong player, sheís fearless about grilling. She even seems to enjoy it. If you go to dinner at her house, she will at some point disappear under the carport and return after a while bearing a platter laden with a menuís worth of grilled specialties: jerk chicken, spice-rubbed tuna steaks, chorizo with grilled peppers, eggplant and creamy mozzarella, turkey burgers flecked with fresh herbs, lamb kebabs, grilled corn, rosemary potatoes. You name it.

More recently, and to the chagrin of my daughter, I asked my daughterís boyfriend to grill for me. Let it be said that my daughterís boyfriend didnít have a clue about what he was doing, but he was too nice to say no. And with more will than skill, he pulled it off. But then things got worse.

I had invited an out-of-town guest to dinner. We had only met a couple of times, but I figured a home-cooked meal would make being away from home a little easier. And whatís homier than potato salad and strawberry shortcake and a nice, thick, grilled steak? I bribed my guest with bourbon and led him into the backyard. Soon he was out at the grill, tending to the steaks like an old pro while I, the hostess, cowered inside shaking up a vinaigrette.

I knew then that my Grill-O-Phobia had gotten out of hand.

I mean, why have I always thought of grilling as Ďa manís job?í I earn my living in a traditionally male profession, after all. And Iím otherwise competent in the kitchenógive me a banana to flambe, a steak to sear, a pepper to char and Iíll do just fine. So a couple of weeks ago, I resolved to grill.

I started small. CVS had a special on a portable charcoal grill. It was called a Grill-and-Go. This cunning little device is just about the size of a telephone book. It has fold-up metal legs that become handles so that you can carry the grill around with you in case you have a sudden hankering for a kebob. The Grill-and-Go even came with its own ready-to-ignite charcoal.

I made a little pyramid of charcoal and lit that, making sure to stand back. Soon it was hot enough that I could wedge three little turkeyburgers together over the hot spot and start cooking. The result was a blend of shoe leather and turkey tartare, but my daughters affirmed my efforts and ketchup covers a multitude of sins.

Then I graduated myself to the new gas grill. My old gas grill was a nightmare. Youíd flick the Ďigniteí switch to no avail, then get a match, stick it at armís length into the invisible cloud of propane and with an enormous whoosh fire would appear. (Though as Brett pointed out, after that initial whoosh, there was only about a 3Ē by 5Ē hot spot.) Cooking for a dinner party was a little tricky, unless you liked your steak au bleu.

Anyway, the new gas grill really is, as my guest chefs had assured me, user-friendly. And once I got over my fear of opening the tap on the propane tank, grilling commenced with ease. Iíve grilled every vegetable I can think of. Last night I grilled pizzas; Iíve got chicken marinating for tonightís cooking escapade.

So itís true: I have made the rite of passage into Grill-Land. All I need now is a good apron and a gourmet beer. I need no longer depend on the kindness of strangers.

óJo Page

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