TORONTO - Even though the warm weather is waning, there's no reason to put the barbecue away, says professional home economist Jennifer MacKenzie.
You can make life easier in the busy fall season, she says, by quickly grilling extra protein and vegetables for dinner that can be turned into lunch the next day.
MacKenzie suggests watching for specials at the grocery store and stocking up on favourite cuts. At home, place in a self-sealing plastic bag with your favourite marinade and pop it in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the fridge, cook it on the barbecue and you can have dinner ready in a flash.
MacKenzie's cut of choice is lean flank steak.
"I love that there's no waste. It does shrink somewhat, but it's boneless, you don't have to trim it ... it's so tender but much more economical than buying tenderloins or strip loins for the whole family," she said from her home at Buckhorn Lake near Peterborough, Ont.
She'll grill two flank steaks at a time. She and her husband will eat one at dinner, and she slices the other thinly across the grain for use the next day in sandwiches, wraps or salads.
"I always cook extra," says MacKenzie, who grills year-round. "I figure if you're turning on your grill you might as well cook up a few extra things and I'll even freeze the cooked meat too if it hasn't been frozen before and then that way on some nights you can pull out your grilled steak that's already cooked from the freezer and make fajitas real fast. You can have dinner in 15 minutes."
MacKenzie says meat that has been thawed and cooked can be refrozen, though she finds that practice doesn't do it any favours. "It can be dryer and not as tender if it's been frozen and thawed and you definitely don't want to freeze meat that's been thawed and not cooked."
Prior to cooking vegetables on the grill, brush them with a little oil to prevent sticking and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place potatoes in a foil pan and cover it with foil for the first few minutes of cooking, then uncover the pan to allow potatoes to roast.
If you have a grill that lets you have each side at a different temperature, cook steak at medium-high and roast squash, sweet potatoes, zucchini, eggplant or mushrooms at medium to medium-low. Ensure there is space between vegetables so they roast rather than steam.
Local tomatoes are at their height of freshness now and into the fall and charred tomatoes are scrumptious with steak, MacKenzie says.
All you need to round out the meal is a salad.
"It's really a very easy way to cook, especially if you're doing extra for wraps or salads the next day. And there are few dishes to clean up," she adds.
It's especially important to preheat the barbecue when grilling in fall and winter because you're starting with a colder grill. "You want to hear sizzle any time you put your meat, fish or poultry or anything on the grill," says MacKenzie.
Keep the grill lid down as much as possible to keep heat consistent.
She suggests buying smaller, thinner cuts such as steaks, burgers and boneless chicken breasts rather than larger roasts you would cook over indirect heat, which takes longer and uses more fuel.
"If you're doing a chicken breast or bone-in, skin-on chicken breast it will take about 40 minutes on the barbecue and a whole chicken can take a lot longer when it's cold outside, so I find I tend to use smaller boneless cuts because they're faster on the grill but you still get that grill flavour."
For variation, use a cedar plank that has been soaked for about an hour over indirect heat to achieve a smoky effect.
"Everybody thinks of it for salmon, but it works great for meat too," MacKenzie says.
For a special holiday dinner such as Thanksgiving, MacKenzie recommends cooking a marinated sirloin tip roast on the rotisserie or over indirect heat. "That also frees up your stove and oven to prepare other side dishes," she notes.
When temperatures drop, MacKenzie dons an older warm coat she reserves for grilling that doesn't have dangly sleeves; she likes the smoke flavour to permeate her food, not her clothing.