You’re invited to a barbecue

I first wrote about Canadian gastronomer Anita Stewart and her idea for a giant national barbecue in July, 2003. These are a few paragraphs about the Canadian culinary caper she dreamed up as described in my July 30th, 2003 Creative Cooking column in The Record, Waterloo Region’s newspaper.


It’s being billed as the World’s Longest Barbecue and you’re invited.

This Saturday, as the clock strikes 6 p.m. from time zone to time zone
across our country, Canadians are encouraged to sit down to enjoy a beef
barbecue in honour of our beef farmers and in support of their industry,
which has suffered dramatically after a single incidence of mad cow disease
was found in Alberta this spring.

Saturday’s national event is the brainchild of Elora cookbook author and
culinary maven Anita Stewart. Her dream is to “link Canada from coast to
coast to coast in one massive, delicious outdoor celebration of support for
Canadian agriculture.”

Fast forward five years and Anita is still passionate about celebrating our national and local cuisine and showing support for those who produce the food we are fortunate to be able to eat and enjoy.

Tomorrow, August 2, at 6 p.m. (your local time), you’re invited to celebrate the 2008 version of the World’s Longest Barbecue – Canada Day 2. There is still time to plan a barbecue, invite friends and family, then visit Anita’s website to post your menu plans. Your menu doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming to prepare. Just visit a local market or grocery store to see what’s fresh and produced close to home and you’ll be able to put together a delicious meal. If you want to find out what others will be grilling up that day, you can read menu ideas from fellow Canadians on her site.

My menu this year? Although we won’t be able to celebrate the WLB exactly on August 2, when we do fire up the barbecue in honour of this event, we’ll be serving some pretty standard summertime fare including devilled eggs, beef burgers with all the fixin’s, grilled portobellos (for my vegetarian friends), barbecued spare ribs, creamy potato salad, broccoli salad, corn on the cob with herbed butter, and bumbleberry crisp made with apples, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb, and served with homemade vanilla ice cream.

The latest book from Canadian culinary activitist Anita Stewart

The latest book from Canadian culinary activist Anita Stewart

Anita is also a prolific author. You’ll find a list of her cookbooks/books about Canadian foodways on her site. Her latest offering is Anita Stewart’s Canada: the food, the recipes, the stories (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd, 2008). Not only a great read, it will provide inspiration for your WLB menu and other Canadiana-style meals this weekend and beyond.

You can read about Anita’s recent book tour on her blog.

Grilled pizzas with pita bread crust

Grilled Pita Pizzas

Grilled pizza on the barbecue is one of our favourite ways to prepare pizza.

Although you can grill a pizza made with a homemade pizza dough, store-bought frozen pizza dough (thawed to room temperature, of course), flatbread or even tortillas, our preference is to use whole wheat pita bread for the crust.

For a variety of good reasons. Or so we like to think.

* A pita pizza cooks quickly.

* Depending on how hungry you are, one or two pita pizzas (or more if you’re a lumberjack!) make a perfect lunch – or served with a green salad, a filling supper.

* A pita pizza is a convenient size to cut into small wedges to serve as an appetizer.

* It’s also a perfect size for making individual pizzas to suit personal tastes. In fact, we often have grilled pizza on the menu when we’re entertaining during the summer. We put out the toppings and have our guests make their own pizzas. Sure, we might be shirking our hosting responsibilities by making our company prepare their own meal. But this way, no one can complain that they don’t like their pizza. Or if they do, no one can blame the irresponsible hosts!

To make a grilled pizza, start by heating the barbecue on High. Brush one side of the pita bread with olive oil. This will help crisp and flavour the crust. Then spread on the sauce of your choice – pizza sauce, pasta sauce, sun-dried tomato pesto, a flavoured olive oil, roasted red pepper dip, a combo of hoisin and barbecue sauce (very nice when you’re putting chicken on your pizza), or vegetable-flavoured cream cheese (goes well with a veggie pizza). Think outside the pizza box a little, and use whatever “sauce” you like!

Then add the toppings of your choice. Keep in mind that the cooking time for this pizza will be short, so it’s best to slightly pre-cook hard vegetables (e.g broccoli, asparagus, sweet peppers), or at least cut them into small pieces. Unless you want a crunchy pizza, that is. Hey, you’re the pizza chef! You can make this pizza however you prefer!

Once the pizza is loaded with ingredients and the barbecue has been preheated on High, turn the heat down to medium-low. Slip the pizza on to the grill, close the barbecue and heat until the toppings are warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 5 or 6 minutes.

Pizza is served!

My favourite new outdoor “cooking appliance”

What’s my favourite new piece of equipment for cooking outdoors?

Why, an “outdoor fire bowl”, as it’s so labelled on the box in which it was packaged. (There are pictures further down this post.)

When I was growing up, my family did lots of camping. I’ve roasted many a wiener and toasted many a marshmallow around many a camp fire in my day. But the fun came to a crashing halt when Murray and I made a trip to western Canada a few years after we were married. On our return, we stayed in a municipal campground in Edmonton for a night. As I recall, there were no other campgrounds in the area to choose from.

Campers were crammed onto the grounds like sardines. Our tent was pitched mere inches (okay, perhaps a couple feet) from the neighbouring campers’ fire. We could hear every word our neighbours said, and every breath they took, all night long.

This was not camping to Murray. He called it “alternative accommodations”. That night, he made a solemn vow never to camp again unless he was in a remote location, with none of the commercial accoutrements (like flush toilets, showers and other campers within too close proximity) that come with traditional camping. As I scanned his face that night (clearly visible from the glow of the flames licking at our tent), hoping he was just making a rash decision in the heat (!) of the moment, I knew he was serious. Although I was also not amused at spending the night wedged between a bonfire and another tent, I figured that never camping again was a rather drastic decision. Surely there had to be a happy medium somewhere in the camping world.

It’s been over 20 years since that fateful night. Although Murray has since done some “true camping” on fishing trips in northern Manitoba when we lived in Norway House and Cranberry Portage, Manitoba, the two of us haven’t camped together since.

One of the joys of camping I’ve really missed is the smell and sound of a campfire, and being able to roast and toast things over an open fire. Barbecues, fondues and flambes have their place, but they don’t quite provide the same ambiance or end result!

We’ve been talking about building an outdoor fire pit in our back yard for a few years now, but we’ve held off doing so for a couple reasons. For starters, we fancy ourselves to be law-abiding citizens and city bylaws haven’t allowed open fires until recently. Secondly, we want to extend our deck and figured we’d wait to put in the fire pit until that was done. Other home reno projects have somehow taken priority each summer.

This weekend we finally got tired of waiting for the deck to be redesigned. We decided to invest in an inexpensive outdoor fire bowl. Yippee! Find some matches and get out the wieners!! At long last!!!

We plunked the fire bowl in the middle of the yard on four sidewalk blocks we happened to have around. Aesthetically, the set up has left a bit to be desired. But the thought of sitting around a crackling fire quickly erased nearly all concerns about how things looked.

As luck would have it, the night the fire bowl was unveiled, we found wieners, cheese sausages and hot dog buns in the freezer, and chocolate in the cupboard. A quick trip to the store netted some graham wafers and marshmallows. We had plenty of fire wood as neighbour Dave had bequeathed a stash of it to us a while back since, sadly, he’ll be moving in a couple weeks. Neighbours Bryn and Judy were willing to help initiate the fire bowl.

Being a true camper(!), Murray knew how to make a fire. Once we had flames, the pressure was on to see if we remembered how to roast wieners and marshmallows so they actually were edible. Like riding a bike, apparently it’s a useful skill you learn for life (although admittedly, I will need a little more practice and a few more test samples before I can turn out a perfectly roasted wiener and marshmallow).

And so that night, with the sometimes ear-splitting, always rapid-fire sound of firecrackers being detonated by neighbours celebrating Canada Day ringing in my ears, I enjoyed a perfect fire and the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten (or at least in about 20 years!), followed by more than my share of gooey, sticky s’mores. (For non-campers or those without fireplaces or outdoor fire bowls – a s’more is a roasted marshmallow stuffed with a piece of chocolate and sandwiched between two graham wafers.)

We’ll be doing this again very soon!

Murray builds a fire.

Murray builds a roaring fire. (OK, it became a roaring fire soon after this picture was taken!)

Grilling cheese sausages with the rotisserie attachment for our barbecue. Note to self: buy or whittle a few more sticks for roasting wieners. This gadget more closely resembles a dangerous weapon than a cooking utensil!

There's nothing like an ooey, gooey, sticky, chocolatey s'more

Photography by Bryn Donaldson.

Putting a spin on chicken

Rotisserie Chicken

You can buy rotisserie-barbecued chicken in most grocery stores, but there’s nothing quite like it doing it yourself. Peeking at the bird occasionally, and watching it rotate slowly around the spit, dripping with basting juices, is rather mesmerizing. And the heavenly aroma that wafts from the barbecue can have a trance-like effect.

Basted with a simple concoction of melted butter (you can use oil instead if you prefer) and simple seasonings and slowly rotated gives the finished bird a crispy skin and a tender, evenly cooked texture. Not bad considering the minimal amount of attention required by you, the BBQ chef, once you’ve prepped the chicken and affixed it to the rotisserie.

If your barbecue doesn’t come with a rotisserie, you can likely buy one as an attachment. The key to successfully using it is trussing the chicken with kitchen twine so that the bird’s appendages are secured, then positioning the chicken in an evenly balanced position so the rod spins smoothly. For a great lesson on trussing a chicken for the rotisserie, check’s Barbecuing and Grilling information

You will want to place a pan underneath the chicken to catch the juices and avoid drips that will cause firey flare-ups and blinding smoke! The pan should be filled with some water or water and wine, beer, juice or broth. Toss in some fresh herbs and sliced onions or garlic, if desired. In the photo above (which I took just before the chicken came off the barbecue), I removed the drip pan to take a clearer picture of the chicken.

The recipe we used last weekend was pretty basic, but the bird turned out moist and delicious with a crispy, flavourful skin. If desired, to add flavour to the meat, place apple, lemon or onion wedges, or peeled garlic cloves in the cavity of the chicken. A recipe search of rotisserie chicken recipes on the internet will yield other interesting basting possibilities.

Rotisserie Chicken
(Makes 6 servings)

3 to 4 lb (1.5 to 2 kg) whole chicken
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted
1 tablespoon (15 mL) paprika or smoked paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) salt
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground pepper

Preheat grill on high heat (about 400F/200C). Season inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Truss chicken with skewers and/or string, tying legs together and folding wings under the bird so the appendages don’t flop about as the bird rotates on the rotisserie. Place chicken on rotisserie rod.

Fill a drip pan (a foil pan or old cake pan will work well) half full of water. Place pan underneath where chicken will be. Position rotisserie rod with chicken on barbecue. Close lid of barbecue and cook for 10 minutes on high heat.

Meanwhile, combine butter, paprika, salt and pepper.

After 10 minutes, turn grill to medium heat (about 350F/175C). Baste chicken with butter mixture. Close lid of barbecue and cook for about 1-1/2 hours, basting occasionally, until skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted in the thigh reaches 180F (85C).

Remove chicken from rotisserie and place on a plate or baking pan. Cover with foil and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into pieces and serving.