I am fond of Sunday night supper. It is a comfort meal, the last blast of weekend pleasure before the weekday grind of work and school begins. The trick is to make the meal soothing for the cook. This is especially important when, as often happens during warm weather months, I fire up the backyard grill, and am nominally in charge of getting the Sunday night supper on the table.
Last Sunday, for instance, grilled hamburgers were the entree. I wanted to jazz up the meal a bit and briefly looked at a recipe that called for tossing tarragon, parsley, shallots and Scotch -- yes, Scotch -- in the burgers.
This recipe made me uncomfortable for several reasons. First, it seemed a waste of good whisky. Scotch is too expensive to toss into hamburgers. Secondly, the crowd I was cooking for, my family, would not take kindly to finding chopped herbs -- "little green stuff" -- in their hamburgers.
So instead of juicing up the ground beef, I chose to cook basic burgers over charcoal flavored with wet chips of hickory wood. To add excitement, I also grilled an onion and several strips of bacon. They taste great atop burgers.
Then I played hamburger bun roulette. This game, familiar to many backyard cooks, consists of trying to grill the hamburger buns without burning them. You shoot for crispy brown, not charred black. I was successful in seven out of eight buns.
To add even more drama to the proceedings, I grilled slices of bread and apples. These were tossed into a salad.
In our household, it is OK to experiment with the salad because it is pretty much an adults-only dish. The kids, teen-age boys, sometimes make a swipe or two at their salad plates. But on the whole, they devote their attention to entrees and side dishes.
I had most of the important ingredients the salad recipe called for: Granny Smith apples; good, crusty bread; and blue cheese. I didn't have arugula, so I substituted Romaine lettuce.
The salad turned out to have pleasing, crisp flavors. Moreover, when I grilled the apples and the bread slices, I did not burn one of them. That felt good.
A nice warm glow washed over me. It reminded me of the kind of feeling you get when you toss some Scotch in yourself, not in a pound of ground beef. As the Sunday night meal wound to a close, comfort reigned.
Grilled Apples and Bread Salad
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and halved
3 slices good, crusty bread
1 bunch arugula, washed, torn in pieces
1 cup seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
Place apples, cut side down, over medium-hot part of fire and cook until well browned, about 5-7 minutes.
At the same time, place the bread around the edges of fire, where heat is low, and toast until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove apples and bread as soon as they are done.
When bread is cool enough to handle, cut it into chunks and place in a large bowl. Cut the apples into thin slices, toss them with bread.
Add arugula, grapes, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, toss well. Just before serving, sprinkle on cheese.
-- From "License To Grill" (Morrow, 1997) by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby