Diane Morgan’s Grill Every Day (2008) isn’t technically a thrift store cookbook, at least not for me. I’m fuzzy on the exact time and place, but I bought my copy from Ms. Morgan herself. She did some sort of cooking demonstration, maybe at a work-related event, and offered signed copies of her book afterwards. I paid full retail for Grill Every Day and have a personalized, signed copy to prove it.
The title of the book pretty much tells you what you’re getting into: grilling isn’t just for weekends or lazy summer days. Grill Every Day is a compilation of recipes that can be thrown together and grilled on a busy weeknight. It’s not your typical easy weeknight meal click-bait with canned foods and Minute Rice. This is straight from scratch cooking with simple, fresh ingredients. No tricks, just simple dry rubs and marinades and sauces and salsas made by mixing herbs and vegetables.
The real challenge is prepping the grill, which takes more effort (and cleanup) than warming an oven or working a cooktop. The introductions walks through different kinds of grills and the pros and cons of each. Unlike most grilling cookbooks there’s not a preference for charcoal over gas, or for a particular style of grill. Gas is clearly more convenient – quicker to prep and quicker to clean, but a charcoal grill can be up and running in less than 30 minutes with the right gear. The author’s opinion basically boils down to “cook with fire whenever you can”. I’m personally a charcoal snob, but I appreciate the egalitarian approach.
As might be expected a third of the hundred and twenty-odd recipes are devoted to meat, with an emphasis on cuts that require little preparation and cook quickly. This includes a quick primer on properly cooking steak (salt, pepper, never more than medium rare) and simple rubs and marinades for chicken and pork tenderloin. There’s also an extended complement of lamb recipes, a meat that’s not quite exotic but maybe overlooked on many Amercian tables. The author apparently found lamb more digestible while she was pregnant and hasn’t looked back since – these are some of the best recipes in the book.
With the constraint of easy prep grilling meals a little bit of sameness sets in. In the opening pages the author introduces a half dozen rubs and sauces (some of which are excellent) and a fair amount of the recipes are simply mixing and matching them with different proteins. These bits seem like filler, padding out the page count between what’s otherwise a thoughtful and diverse selection of recipes.
Where Grill Every Day shines is the sides and veggies. There’s no shame in serving a perfect steak or spicy, charred jerk chicken with a green vegetable and starch, but if you’ve already gone to the trouble to fire up the grill on a weeknight make the most of it. Grill a stack of sweet onions or put a quick char on a pint of cherry tomatoes to tie the side back to the main. Or, if you’re a vegetarian, grill up a hearty slab of tofu or eggplant as your main. I’m as carnivore as they come, but the grilled tofu and bok choy is as good as it gets. Stupid simple, a little bit of salt and pepper and drizzled with thai chili sauce – I’m not going to serve it on Christmas in place of prime rib, but it’s an elegant illustration of how to do a meatless meal right.
My favorite recipe in Grill Every Day isn’t a recipe at all: it’s an off-handed comment in the liner notes for a grilled fig salad. Grilling a fresh fig is one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas – it’s got enough substance to survive a quick sear, plenty of sugar for caramelizing, and rich enough to take a little bit of char and smoke without losing the fruit. The salad pairs the figs with grilled green beans and a walnut vinaigrette, but the author casually mentions that grilled figs pair well with Manchego and a drizzle of honey. And good heavens is she right.
I’ve taken that idea and taken it from charcuterie side to a light dessert, the line between the two being admittedly blurry. I’ve substituted mascarpone for the Manchego, stolen the walnuts from the author’s salad, and added some smoke to the honey. In writing this I can think of a dozen other variations – using a rich port reduction instead of the honey and a good quality smoked bleu cheese, or with a smudge of cream cheese on a thin rice cracker and flaked sea salt. Once you taste the grilled figs the wheels in your head will probably start turning, too. Have fun.
Grill Every Day is still in publication, and can be purchased via my Amazon Affiliate Link here: https://amzn.to/3qR88EQ
For grilling the figs:
For the final assembly
- Prepare your grill for direct grilling over medium heat. Hold temperature for 5-10 minutes before grilling to ensure that the grate is as hot as the fire.
- Brush the figs all over with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Grill flat side down for 1-2 minutes - you want visible grill marks without cooking the whole underside. Turn the figs over, cover the grill and cook for another minute. Remove the figs from the grill and let cool for 10 minutes.
- When ready to serve, put a thin layer of mascarpone on individual, chilled serving plates. Place the figs flat-side down in the mascarpone and add an equal number of walnut halves. Drizzle with smoked honey and top with a pinch of crushed red pepper.
Smoked honey can often be found at fancy grocery stores – Bee Local brand seems to be popular in the Pacific Northwest.
If you’re feeling adventuresome you can smoke your own honey. If you’re comfortable with the basics of smoking meat then this recipe at Vindulge can walk you through the basics. If you’re not no need to be intimidated – it’s not a brisket and doesn’t require much technique or even fancy gear. The important part is to make some smoke and keep the honey in contact with said smoke for several hours. A cheap option is a ‘smoking tube‘ or a ‘smoking snail’ which are stainless steel mesh trays that hold a couple of hours of fuel (usually wood pellets or sawdust). You place them in a cold charcoal grill or gas grill along with whatever you’re trying to smoke and shut the lid. They’re a little bit finicky and the smoke is uneven, but – again – it’s not a brisket. You’re just trying to get a little bit of smokiness into your honey, and it’s hardly an exact science.
My weapon of choice is the Breville Smoking Food Gun. It’s basically a miniature hairdryer with a tiny smoking tray and a long, rubber tube but it’s amazing. The ads will tell you that you can use it to make ribs or smoky burgers or whatever, and in a million years that might be true, but this thing is purposebuilt for cold smoking. Cheese, oil, honey, smoky cocktails – that sort of thing. It comes with small jars of hickory and applewood chips that seem like they’ll last forever.
Step-by-step instructions for smoking honey with the Breville Gun can be found here.