The other day, during that period that cookbooks loosely refer NTC to as "meal preparation time," I was busy screwing up my courage.
I was trying to get brave enough to cook asparagus on my grill. I was "a-scared," as the kids used to say, that those notoriously free-roaming stalks of asparagus would roll away from me.
Not everyone shared my fear. "Where is your sense of adventure?" one adult asked me.
L Most of it, I replied, is at the bottom of my kettle cooker.
That is where many of my adventures in cooking end up. They roll through the grate, take a dive into the charcoal, then take up residence in the ashes.
To build up my confidence, I called members of the Barnard family. I talked with Melanie Barnard, author of "Low-Fat Grilling" (HarperPerennial, $10) in her New Canaan, Conn., home. Then, on her suggestion, I called up the youngest of her three sons, Matt, who lives and grills in Baltimore.
Both Barnards told me grilling asparagus was not difficult. The key, they both said, was to keep the stalks of asparagus and the slats of the grill at opposing angles. They also agreed that putting the vegetables on one of those screens sold in barbecue specialty shops was cheating.
If your grill is facing north-south, you should keep the asparagus facing east-west, Mrs. Barnard told me.
"I grilled pork chops and asparagus Sunday night," she said. "I didn't lose a single stalk."
Her son said he puts the stalks on the grill at about a 45-degree angle. This, he said, is a technique he learned four years ago when, in between his freshman and sophomore years at Loyola College, he spent a summer working in a restaurant in County Cork, Ireland. Now he works as a paper broker for Graphic Communications in Towson.
He said he regularly fixes dinner by firing up the grill that sits behind the Baltimore City abode he shares with roommates. The grill, he said, was a gift from his mother.
Mrs. Barnard encouraged me to venture beyond grilled asparagus. She said grilling carrots and broccoli was also possible. You can blanch them first, she said, dunking the vegetables in salted, boiling water until they are fork tender, then rubbing them with oil and finish cooking them on the grill.
She told me cooking potato chips on the grill was a snap. You slice raw potatoes lengthwise about 1/4 -inch thick, she said. Then you rub the potatoes with oil and grill them until they are crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, a process that takes from 10 to 13 minutes, she said.
It sounded intriguing. But I decided to journey into the world of grilled vegetables, one vegetable at a time. And I was going to start with "A," for asparagus. This is from Mrs. Barnard's "Low-Fat Grilling":
Grilled Asparagus With Gremolata Vinaigrette Serves 6
1 large lemon
1 pound asparagus
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
6 slices whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups watercress sprigs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Prepare a medium fire in the barbecue, oiling the grill rack or coating it with nonstick vegetable spray.
Grate lemon to get 1 teaspoon of the zest. Cut lemon in half and squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice from one of the lemon halves. Thinly slice the other one.
Trim asparagus either with vegetable peeler or by snapping off its woody parts. Combine oil and garlic. Brush asparagus and lemon slices with half of flavored oil.
Set asparagus crosswise on rack and grill, turning occasionally with tongs, until softened and lightly charred, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Grill lemon slices, turning once or twice until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Grill bread about 30 seconds per side, until lightly toasted. Cut toast into quarters.
Make vinaigrette by whisking remaining garlic oil with lemon juice, broth, salt and pepper. Arrange watercress on platter. Place grilled asparagus and lemon slices on watercress.
Drizzle with vinaigrette, sprinkle with parsley, and garnish with toast quarters.