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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grilling tips: Creative and healthy options for the grill

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Grilling today goes way beyond just hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks. Backyard chefs are firing up their grills for vegetables, fruits, pizzas and even desserts. Just about anything goes. Here are some tips for creating tasty, healthy dishes on the grill.

Main entree alternative: Pizza anyone?

Make your next meal a grilled meatless pizza:

1. Cut up an assortment of favorite vegetables for the topping. Coat the vegetables lightly with olive oil. Roast the vegetables on the grill using a special grill pan or a metal colander, or grill them directly on the grates if they're large enough. Set the vegetables aside.
2. Use ready-made pizza crusts or make your own. Because of the high direct heat of a grill, start with a thin crust. Thick crusts tend to burn on the outside before the inside is cooked through. If the crust is pre-baked, this isn't a concern. Lightly brush one side of the crust with olive oil. Then place the crust directly on the grill oiled-side down. Oil keeps the dough from sticking to the grate. If you prefer, place the oiled crust on a perforated pizza pan before adding it to the grill.
3. Over medium-hot coals, grill the pizza crust for one to two minutes, watching it carefully so that it doesn't burn. Lift the crust off the grill with tongs and place it on a cookie sheet, grilled side up. Spread 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup pizza sauce or low-fat Alfredo sauce on the crust.
4. Place the vegetables on top of the sauce and move it from the cookie sheet back onto the grill to allow the other side to cook for two to three minutes. Sprinkle on a small amount of part-skim mozzarella or low-fat cheese and cook for another minute to allow the cheese to melt.
5. Keep checking the pizza to prevent burning.

Side dishes: Try fruits and vegetables

Eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, bell peppers, sweet onions, small tomatoes, mushrooms, pears, pineapple and peaches all cook well on the grill. Be sure to put fruits and vegetables on a liberally oiled grate to avoid sticking.

Grill the fruits or vegetables until they're lightly browned. You want them to be tender but not mushy when gently pierced with a sharp knife. The key to grilling fruits and vegetables is to use low heat. Coals are ready when you can hold your hand safely about 5 inches above the heat for about five seconds.

Slice fruit in half and remove pits and cores, if any. Grill with pulp side down to start, then turn over. Sprinkle a small amount of brown sugar after grilling if you want a little extra sweetness.

Fruits generally take three to five minutes to cook. Thinly sliced fruit may take less time. Thicker pieces of fruit, such as halved peaches or pears, may require a little more time. Keep in mind that fruit can burn easily because of its sugar content, so watch it closely.

Here are some ideas for grilling fruits:

* Cut fruit, such as apples, pears and peaches, into chunks, brush lightly with canola oil, and place on skewers or wrap in foil before grilling. A sprinkle of cinnamon before grilling adds a flavorful touch.
* Slice bananas with their peels lengthwise and brush the cut side with canola oil. Place cut-side down on the grill and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes. Turn and grill until the bananas begin to pull away from the peel, about two to four minutes more.
* Sprinkle brown sugar onto 1/2-inch-thick pineapple slices. Grill the slices, turning a few times, until browned, about five minutes.
* Brush pear wedges with lemon juice and grill, turning a few times, until they begin to brown, about two to four minutes. Add to a mixed green salad.

Cut vegetables into 1/2-inch slices or large chunks and baste with a light salad dressing, or brush them with canola or olive oil. Grill until tender, turning only once.

Fast-grilling vegetables take about five to seven minutes to cook. These include asparagus, broccoli, baby carrots, eggplant, okra, onion slices, pepper chunks, strips of summer squash and tomato wedges. Root vegetables, such as beets, winter squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes, take about 20 to 45 minutes to cook, depending on whether they're whole, halved or cut in slices. Wrap these types of vegetables in foil with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of spices and herbs.

Try these ideas for cooking vegetables on the grill:

* Marinate a large portobello mushroom in French or Italian dressing — or make your own dressing with 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, a clove of minced garlic, salt and pepper — and grill it like a burger. Serve on a bun or alone.
* Soak ears of corn in water for 30 minutes then grill in the husk for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the silk before grilling.
* Cut vegetables such as squash, peppers, onions and mushrooms into equal-sized pieces. Place on a skewer with shrimp or chunks of turkey breast. Brush with fresh fruit juice or broth and grill. These can also be wrapped in aluminum foil before grilling.
* Cut tomatoes in half crosswise, brush with canola or olive oil, and add salt, pepper and your favorite spices. Wrap in foil and grill sliced side up for six to eight minutes.
* Cut a head of radicchio into quarters and brush with a mixture of orange juice, olive oil and orange zest. Grill until tender, about eight to 10 minutes.

Finally: Don't forget dessert

Try grilled fruit instead of fat-laden ice cream or cake. The dry heat of grilling intensifies and caramelizes the natural sugars in fruit. Favorite desserts include halves or slices of apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines. For something different, try sliced apples, figs and pears. A banana cooked slowly in its peel results in a custard-like delicacy — perfect for the end of a meal.

Here are some other ideas for grilled desserts:

* Grill slices of angel food cake for one to three minutes or until golden brown on both sides. Top with chilled strawberries, blueberries or raspberries.
* Make cantaloupe kebabs. Brush with a mixture of honey, butter and chopped mint. Cook three to four minutes, turning the fruit to grill each side.
* Fill peach halves with blueberries and sprinkle with brown sugar and lemon juice. Wrap in aluminum foil and grill for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once.

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April 14, 2006

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