It is a sure sign of summer when my family requests grilled items for dinner.
We like everything grilled from meats and vegetables to pizza and pineapple, so you can imagine how excited we all were when our new Solaire grill, one of the prizes from the Cook of the Week Challenge, was recently installed.
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With my new grill and its infrared cooking system begging to be used, I decided I would challenge myself to grill a complete meal, from entree to dessert.
The protein portion of my grilled meal was an easy selection, rotisserie chicken, something my family loves. The new grill has a rotisserie feature that would make this an easy option. I started with two similar sized whole chickens and made an herb butter by combining softened butter with chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and garlic. I gently loosened the skin near the breast with my fingers and rubbed the butter between the meat and skin. I finished by rubbing a little of the butter all over the chicken skin and seasoning it with salt and pepper. I then loaded up the rotisserie and cooked the chicken according to the grill instructions.
Grilled vegetables are the perfect accompaniment for us. Red and green bell peppers, asparagus, onions, whole garlic cloves and sliced carrots were all included in our vegetable mixture. Cutting the vegetables proved to be the most labor intensive part of this family favorite. I keep it simple by placing all the cut vegetables in a large bowl and tossing them with balsamic vinaigrette to coat. Everything goes into a perforated grill pan and gets grilled over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes until the veggies are cooked through. I roast diced potatoes separately after drizzling them with olive oil and giving them a sprinkle of salt and pepper. These cooked in about 30 minutes with occasional stirring.
Dessert would prove to be where I needed to stretch my imagination the most. Traditional summer desserts like brownies and ice cream were not an option, but what about grilled fruit?
In my first round of the Cook of the Week Challenge plums were one of the "mystery ingredients," which I tossed in honey-infused vinaigrette, grilled and served on a bed of baby greens with goat cheese. The plums proved to be sturdy enough for the grill and tasted delicious, which started me thinking about other stone fruit as grilling options.
With this in mind I headed to the grocery store to discover several varieties of plums, as well as peaches and nectarines, all on sale. My decision was made.
I selected ripe, but firm, fruit and washed each piece well. Next, I pitted the fruit and cut them into quarters or sixths, depending on the size wanting to make sure each piece was small enough to have maximum grill exposure, but not fall through the grill grates. Some sources recommend placing the fruit on skewers, but I simply brushed the fruit with a little honey and placed it directly on the grill over medium heat for about 5 minutes per side in order to warm through and caramelize a bit.
In the end, I couldn't resist adding a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of my bowl of warm grilled fruit, which added a cool contrast to the warmth of the fruit, as well as a delicious vanilla sauce as the ice cream melted. It was the perfect way to end our grilled dinner.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the Daily Herald's 2011 Cook of the Week Challenge.