Empty-nesting opens new doors. I’ve come to appreciate a mostly empty fridge — no pressure to cook. Grocery shopping takes less time, especially with an expanded budget. The menu contains new additions — all quick-cooking and much of it indulgent. What has not changed is the preferred cooking method: the grill.
BK (before kids), my husband and I toted our hibachi grill on driving vacations. We’d pull into a picnic grove, fire up the coals and sear a steak or two while sipping wine and tossing a salad. Once in a while, freshly caught fish graced the grates. As the family grew, we traded in the hibachi for a large, covered kettle grill. Our deck houses a huge gas grill complete with side burner and electronic ignition.
An evening in Japan fueled with chuhai (shochu and soda) rekindled my affection for the hibachi. My brother ignited small piles of binchotan (Japanese charcoal) in the bottom of his hibachi in short order. Then, we spent the evening leisurely grilling yakitori — skewers of tender beef and asparagus. The hot coals made quick work of browning the beef into memorable goodness.
Now, we employ a small, open grill for dinner for two on weeknights. Our hibachi takes center stage for grilled appetizers for friends before a night on the town. I even fire it up for the occasional meal for one.
Small grills, uncovered grills and makeshift fire pits are perfectly suited for quick-cooking foods that embrace the golden flavors rendered by high-heat cooking. Without a lid, open-grilling adds char and browning. Fast. More airflow encourages a hotter fire. Therefore, the foods best-suited to uncovered grilling include tender steaks, thin boneless cuts, delicate vegetables and seafood.
Lobster tails — an indulgent treat — take less than 10 minutes when butterflied open. I serve them with a pat of herbed butter. A local Asian grocery market sells thin sheets of beef short ribs — they’re stunning with a spicy marinade and a brief grill over hot embers.
Skewers of tender beef steak and asparagus now make our go-to list of appetizers. For ease, I use bottled teriyaki sauce laced with garlic and sesame seeds. Chilled chuhai or sake transport me back to the party back in Japan. Especially when it’s a party of two.
GRILLED LOBSTER TAILS WITH HERB BUTTER
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 8 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
3 to 4 tablespoons herb butter, recipe follows, at room temperature
2 to 4 small lobster tails, about 5 ounces each
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh chopped chives or parsley or a combination
1. Prepare a charcoal grill; let coals burn until they are covered with gray ash. Or, heat a gas grill until hot.
2. Use a very sharp knife to butterfly the lobster in half by cutting through the shell but not completely through the underside. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil.
3. Place lobsters over hot coals, flesh side down. Grill, uncovered, 4 minutes. Turn and cook until nearly opaque, another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Top each with a quarter of the herb butter. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 186 calories, 18 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 99 mg cholesterol, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 7 g protein, 314 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Herb butter: Mix 3 tablespoons softened salted butter with 1 to 2 tablespoons of a mixture of finely sliced fresh herbs such as basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, thyme and mint. Use at room temperature.
TERIYAKI BEEF AND ASPARAGUS SKEWERS
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 4 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
1 boneless beef or bison rib-eye steak, about 8 ounces, 1 inch thick
4 medium-thick asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
2 green onions, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce with sesame seeds
1. Prepare a charcoal grill, and let coals burn until they are covered with gray ash. Or, preheat a gas grill until hot. Meanwhile, soak 4 bamboo skewers in water to cover at least 20 minutes. Drain.
2. Use a very sharp knife to slice the steak across the grain into 1/4-inch wide slices. Thread, alternating, the beef slices, asparagus and onions on the skewers.
3. Place the skewers directly over the hot coals. Brush with some of the teriyaki sauce. Grill until lightly charred, about 2 minutes. Gently flip the skewers and baste the other side with the sauce.
4. Cook until steak is medium-rare, about 1 minute more. Remove from the grill, and drizzle with the remaining teriyaki sauce. Serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 266 calories, 13 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar, 28 g protein, 1,433 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
GRILLED KOREAN BEEF SHORT RIBS
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 4 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
To save time, I buy super thin slices of beef short ribs at my local Asian supermarket. Start cooking the rice after you light the grill, but before you cook the beef. You can also cook the beef on a very hot griddle or grill pan coated with nonstick vegetable spray. I like to thinly slice the cooked beef and serve it in warm flour tortillas with hot sauce and shredded napa cabbage.
Half of an Asian pear, cored, cut into chunks, about 1 cup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 green onion, trimmed, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dark Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon gochujang Korean chile paste or red pepper hot sauce
12 to 16 ounces boneless beef short ribs
Chopped fresh cilantro or green onions
1. Put pear, soy sauce, onion, sugar, garlic, sesame oil and chile paste into a blender. Process until smooth. Pour half of the mixture into a shallow dish. Reserve the other half for another use; refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
2. Use a very sharp knife to butterfly the short ribs into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Use a meat mallet to pound the pieces until uniformly about 1/8-inch thick.
3. Add the meat to the dish with the marinade. Let stand at room temperature while the grill heats.
4. Prepare a charcoal grill; let coals burn until they are covered with gray ash and glowing red embers. Or, heat a gas grill until hot. Use tongs to add the meat to the grill in a single layer with space around the meat. Grill until meat is lightly charred and it releases from grates, about 2 minutes. Flip and grill the other side until charred, 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Transfer meat to a plate. Sprinkle with cilantro and sesame seeds. Serve right away with the rice.
Nutrition information per serving: 545 calories, 41 g fat, 18 g saturated fat, 167 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 43 g protein, 223 mg sodium, 0 g fiber