A Chef Celebrates Freedom From Cooking

When chef Elizabeth Karmel of New York's Hill Country restaurant entertains, she likes to mingle, not mix.

So she plotted her break for freedom — from her kitchen. When we asked her to come up with a special July 4 party menu for Chef on a Shoestring, she created dishes that could be made in advance.

Even more remarkably, with this menu she feeds eight people for just $80 (a little more if you add alcohol).

A North Carolina native, Karmel is well-respected by her male peers as a grillmaster. In fact, she's considered so knowledgeable that she was selected to hold the reins at Hill Country, perhaps New York's most authentic barbecue joint.

Hill Country strives to honor the food, flavors, and live music of Hill Country, Texas. The meats are cooked slowly over Texas post oak. They are served on butcher paper, counter-style, and sold by the pound with traditional trimmings. The restaurant also boasts two full bars and a great stage for live music that adds to the down-home feel of the place.

In 2005, Karmel came out with a cookbook,"Taming the Flame: Hot and Quick Grilling and Low and Slow BBQ." The book features quick meals that can be made on the grill to accommodate a modern fast-paced lifestyle as well as more traditional recipes that require more of a time commitment.

Karmel maintains that just about anything can be cooked on the grill (she only uses her oven to bake and her stove to boil water). Her mantra is, "If you can eat it, you can grill it!"

STRAIGHT-UP DEVILED EGGS
(Makes 24 servings)

1 dozen large eggs
1/3 cup Hellmann's mayonnaise
1/4 cup strong Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of garlic powder
2-4 shakes Tabasco
Sea salt to taste
Smoked Paprika or minced fresh chives for garnish

1. Place the eggs in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and turn off the heat. Let sit 20 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until eggs are cool to the touch. Let sit another ten minutes.

2. Peel eggs carefully, keeping whites intact. Cut in half lengthwise and remove yolks. Set whites aside on a platter or egg plate. Break yolks up and mash with a fork until all large pieces are broken up and smooth.

3. Add mayonnaise, mustard, butter, lemon zest and juice, garlic powder and Tabasco. Stir well. Taste and season with sea salt.

4. Place in a pastry bag or use a small spoon to fill egg white "boats" with "deviled" egg yolk mixture. Sprinkle with smoked paprika for classic eggs, chives for a fancier-looking version.

Tip: You may need to cut a thin sliver off the bottom of the egg whites to make sure that they "sit" level.

GRILLED VEGETABLE ANTIPASTO PLATTER WITH SOPRANO SAUCE
(Makes 6 to 8 Servings)

Soprano Sauce
6 anchovy fillets, drained and finely minced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon capers
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Tuscan Grains of Paradise seasoning or white pepper

Vegetable Antipasto
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into long ½" wedges
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 bulb fennel, cut in quarters
4 medium zucchini, each cut into 4 long slices
2 small radicchio, cut into quarters
1 large eggplant, cut into ½" rounds
4 small bunches green onions, trimmed
2 pints small, ripe, cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt

Procedure for the sauce:

1. Combine the anchovies, garlic, and capers in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and seasoning. Set aside.

Then the vegetables:

2. Build a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Lightly coat the vegetables with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

3. Lay the vegetables one by one (except for the tomatoes) on the cooking grate over direct medium heat. If your grill is small, you may do this in batches to reduce crowding. Cover and grill 5 to 9 minutes, turning once halfway through the grilling time.

4. As soon as each vegetable is done, remove it from the grill and transfer it to a platter. The zucchini, radicchio, and green onions should be the first to cook through; followed by the eggplant and then the fennel and sweet potatoes.

5. While they are still hot, brush the vegetables liberally with the sauce so it is absorbed.

6. After all of the vegetable are done, place the tomatoes on the cooking grate to mark and warm them through; about 2 minutes. Place them on the platter and brush with the soparano sauce. Serve at room temperature with extra sauce on the side.

SMOKED SAUSAGES WITH APPLE-FENNEL "SAUERKRAUT"

1 large fennel bulb
1-tablespoon olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
Kosher salt
5 Granny Smith apples, grated
½ lemon, juiced
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup hard cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
Freshly ground pepper
8 fully cooked smoked sausages
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 poppy seed hot dog buns or French rolls
Spicy brown or Dijon mustard

Procedure:

1. Clean and cut the fennel bulb in long strips (julienne) and trim the tops. Finely chop the top part of the fennel (that resembles dill) and reserve for later. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and several pinches of salt. Cook until the onion begins to brown. Add fennel strips, stir and cook, covered for about 5 minutes or until it begins to wilt. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

2. Build a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill.

3. Meanwhile, mix the grated apple with the lemon juice and add it to the pan. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add the butter, mixing well. Add the cider, reserved fennel tops, and caraway seeds. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, uncovered or until the mixture is soft and cooked down. It will look like sauerkraut. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Remove from the heat and set aside to allow the flavors to mingle. The sauerkraut can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. Just before serving, re-warm the sauerkraut.

5. Place the sausages on the cooking grate over direct medium-low heat, cover, and grill for 6 to 8 minutes, turning occasionally to mark all sides of the sausage. Meanwhile, split the buns and brush a little butter on the insides. Toast until lightly browned by placing them cut-side down on the cooking grate over direct heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until marked.

6. When ready to serve, place 1 sausage and a generous amount of sauerkraut on each bun and serve with mustard on the side.

For the Grilled Banana Split and Honeydew Lemonade recipes, go to Page 2


GRILLED BANANA SPLIT
(Makes 4 Servings, or Double to Serve 8)
4 bananas, unpeeled
1 tablespoon honey
8 small scoops vanilla ice cream
1 cup jarred chocolate fudge sauce or chocolate ganache, heated
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Whipped cream (optional)
Maraschino cherries (optional)

Procedure:

1. Build a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill.

2. Slice the bananas, in their skins, in half crosswise and then lengthwise so each banana yields 4 pieces. Place bananas on a platter. Drizzle the honey on the cut sides of the bananas. Let them sit for 5 minutes.

3. Place the bananas, cut-side down, on the center of a clean cooking grate over direct medium-low heat and cover. Grill for 2 minutes or until grill marks appear. Using a pair of long-handled tongs, turn them over and cook 5 more minutes, or until the skin pulls away from the banana.

4. Let the bananas cool slightly, and then remove the skins. Arrange 2 banana halves on each serving plate or bowl. Top each serving with 2 scoops of ice cream. Ladle 1/4 cup of hot fudge over each sundae. Sprinkle with chopped nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.

HONEYDEW LEMONADE
(Makes 6 servings)

1 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
2 lemons, zested
1 small honeydew melon (about 3 pounds) peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" cubes to yield 6 cups
2 cups cold still water
1-1/2 cups best quality iced vodka, optional
Thin lemon slices

Procedure:

1. Combine the lemon juice, sugar, and zest in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Strain and cool.

2. Puree the melon in a blender. In a pitcher, combine the melon puree and the cooled syrup and mix well. Chill, covered in the refrigerator, for at least one hour or until ready to use.

3. Just before serving, add the water and vodka, if using, and serve over crushed ice. Garnish with lemon slices. Serve in a highball or iced-tea glass.

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