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The Eat Blog

News and notes on food, fine dining, restaurants and eating in Arkansas. A daily digest of favorite flavors leavened with your comments. E-mail tips and feedback to InArkansas.com Associate Editor Lauren James here.
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Go-and-Do: Matthew Cooper Culinary Class at Dandelion

Image by Cache Restaurant

If you're interested in learning from one of the best chefs in Little Rock, you'll want to be at Dandelion on July 14. 

Matthew Cooper, who is co-owner of Dandelion, and executive chef and general manager at Cache, will be leading a culinary class to teach participants how to better use spices and herbs at home.

The class is set for 6-7 p.m. July 14. The cost is $20. Stop by Dandelion at 419 President Clinton Ave. to sign up.

Cooper graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu of Culinary Arts in Portland, Oregon and has worked at restaurants like AquarivaRheinlander and Gustav's. He's been the executive sous chef at Chenal Country Club and the executive chef at Lulav

For more on Dandelion, a medicinal and culinary herb, spice and tea shop in downtown Little Rock owned by Cooper and his wife, Priscilla Fincher, check out their website.

Your Fourth of July Grill Guide from LR Foodcast's Steve Shuler

When it comes to Independence Day, grilling is just as much a tradition as sparklers and watermelon. However, grilling correctly is crucial to making sure your guests have a great time at your Fourth of July party. Follow these guidelines and your grilled dishes will be just as memorable as the fireworks display at the end of the night.

Grilling basics

There are two basic grill types that are most common in American backyard: charcoal and gas. Gas grills are the easiest to work with. Attach the propane tank to the grill, open the release valve on the tank, turn up the gas and start the fire. Since you can control the heat on each burner with a turn of the dial, getting your grill to the right temperature is no problem. While it is easier, many grilling purists will tell you that gas gives an inferior flavor to charcoal.

Charcoal grills will require more work to get started. Ideally, you should use a chimney starter to light the coals. Pour charcoal briquettes into the top of the chimney, stuff some newspaper or paraffin in the bottom and use a lighter to start the fire at the bottom. The heat will rise and light the charcoal, which will be hot enough to spread in the grill in 10-20 minutes. You don’t want flames, just white-hot coals. Do not use lighter fluid if you can avoid it; the fluid will affect the flavor of the food. Never use gasoline, which is extremely combustible and can cause serious injury or death.

Please note, always grill outside away from any buildings or flammable material. Have a fire extinguisher on hand to deal with any emergencies. Use long tongs or a long spatula to ensure your hands stay away from the heat while cooking. Grill gloves can also keep your hands safe from the flames.

Grilling technique

Once you have your grill hot and ready, it’s time to cook! While the type of food you plan to cook matters, there are some simple tricks you can use regardless of what you are cooking.

  • Pre-heat your grill. Always bring your grill up to temperature before adding any food.
  • Make sure your grates are clean. Get your grill nice and hot, then use a grill brush to scrape away any buildup. This ensures your food won’t pick up a burned flavor from your previous grilling session.
  • Oil your food, not your grates. Before your meat or vegetables go on the grill, coat them with a light layer of olive oil. This will keep the food from sticking on the grates. Oiling the grates could lead to flare-ups while your hands are over the heat. Note that this isn’t as necessary for hamburgers, which typically have a high enough fat content to provide lubrication on their own.
  • Use extra seasoning. Salt and pepper are a must on just about all grilled food. Add more than you think is necessary; the grilling process will knock a good portion of the seasoning off the food.
  • Shut the lid. If your grill has a lid, keep it closed. This will increase the heat in the cooking area, leading to faster cooking times. Meat will dry out the longer it is on the grill, so the faster it cooks, the juicier it will be.
  • Only flip your meat once. This is the number one thing most grillers do wrong. Your food does not need to be constantly turned. Halfway through the cooking time, flip the meat and close the lid. Constantly turning the meat cools down the cooking area, doesn’t allow the meat to sear and can lead to food sticking to the grates. Turn it once and walk away.
  • Manage flare-ups. It’s virtually impossible to completely avoid flare-ups, which are caused by melted fat dripping onto the heat source. A little fire kissing the surface of the food is ok. A constant inferno surrounding the food is not. If flare-ups persist, move the meat to a cooler part of the grill until the flames die back down.
  • Use a digital thermometer. There is no way to be certain if your food is properly cooked unless you have a thermometer. Digital versions are more reliable than analog dial thermometers, which may not be properly calibrated.
  • Remember carry-over cooking. Your meat will continue to cook after pulling it off the grill, increasing its internal temperature by as much as five degrees. Be sure to account for this effect when preparing to pull meat off the grill.
  • Let your meat rest. After it comes off the grill, all meat needs at least 5-10 minutes to rest before cutting into it. Heat puts a lot of pressure on the juices in the meat, forcing them all into the center. This resting process lets the juices ease back into place so they don’t spill all over your cutting board. Ideally, let the meat rest uncovered; covering during the resting process could lead to steaming the meat and softening the seared crust.

How to cook different foods

  • Steak – These cuts of beef can range in thickness and come with or without a bone in. Regardless, steak requires high heat on the grill to get that beautiful sear and grill marks.  Crank up your gas grill or use extra charcoal piled in the center to get the grill up to 500 degrees or hotter. For 1.5-inch thick steaks, cook on high heat for roughly four minutes a side for medium rare (adjust based on your thickness and preferred doneness). If cooking a bone-in steak, the meat nearest the bone will be slightly less done than the rest of the steak. Steak is perfectly safe to eat at virtually all cooking temperatures.
  • Burgers – The most popular summer grilling dish, burgers also make for some easy grilling. When forming the burger patty, make sure both sides are perfectly flat, then use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of the patty. During grilling, the burger will rise in the center, and the dimple makes sure your burger keeps its shape. Use an 85/15 blend for the best combination of flavor and flare-up prevention. Burgers need to cook to at least medium; the large surface area of ground beef is a breeding ground for bacteria. Rare or medium rare is acceptable if you grind your own meat. Cook burgers over high heat for roughly six minutes per side, depending on thickness and desired doneness.
  • Hot dogs – Technically, hot dogs are already cooked and ready to eat right out of the package. Grilling helps bring out a lot of their flavor, though, so let them cook over a cooler part of the grill, turning once, until they reach 140 degrees.
  • Chicken – Grilling chicken is a delicious and healthier alternative to frying. Chicken must be cooked to 165 degrees to be safe for eating. For thin and boneless cuts of chicken, grill over direct medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes per side, depending on thickness. For bone-in chicken, such as chicken quarters or a whole chicken, use indirect heat (for gas grills, shut off the burners on one side; for charcoal, push the coals to one side). Chicken benefits greatly from brining or marinating before grilling.
  • Pork – Tender cuts of pork are perfect for grilling (tougher cuts are better for smoking or braising). For pork chops, grill over high heat, turning once, for 5-6 minutes per side for medium, depending on thickness. For pork loin or tenderloin, grill over medium heat, turning once, for 8-10 minutes per side for medium, depending on thickness. Pork benefits greatly from brining before grilling.
  • Sausage – Grilled sausages and bratwursts are easy ways to mix up your Fourth of July menu. Grill all sausages over medium or indirect heat to avoid flare-ups. Grilling times will vary depending on thickness and consistency of the sausage. All raw sausages should be cooked to at least 160 degrees to avoid any food-borne illnesses.
  • Fish – Grilling fish is a delicate and tricky process that can vary widely depending on the type of fish you are cooking. For salmon, grill skin-side up over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, then turn and cook for 3-4 minutes. The skin will stick to the grates, allowing you to remove the fish and leave the skin behind. For flaky, white fish, use a fish basket or a flat surface, like a cedar plank, to avoid direct contact with the grates, which can cause the fish to stick. Fish can be eaten safely when cooked to medium.
  • Vegetables – Grilling is the perfect way to get some extra flavor and textures onto your favorite veggies. Since vegetables can be eaten raw, there are no temperature requirements. Slice your vegetables to get a flat surface and cook over medium or medium-high heat, turning once, until cooked to your desired doneness. Vegetables that lend themselves well to grilling include zucchini, onions, large mushrooms, bell peppers, bok choy and even heads of Romaine lettuce.

Extra flavor additions

  • Seasonings – Salt and pepper are essential seasonings for any grilled food. Make sure you season liberally as some will fall off during the grilling process. Other spices can add depth to your food, like garlic salt on burgers, paprika on chicken or chili powder on pork. Extra seasonings can bring your grilled food to the next level.
  • Marinating – Marinating is the process of submerging raw meat in an acidic solution to infuse flavor before cooking. It works best with tougher cuts of meat, like a London broil. Depending on the thickness of the meat, most marinades should not last longer than a few hours; too long and the surface of the meat begins to break down and get mushy. Tender cuts of meat, like steaks and chops, are not ideal for marinating.
  • Brining – Brining is a chemical process that forces flavor deep into the meat via osmosis. To brine, boil a gallon of water with a cup and a half of salt until it is dissolved. Let cool and add other flavor enhancers, like herbs, garlic or unground spices. Submerge the meat in the brine for a few hours before cooking. This forces water out of the meat until the brine and the meat have the same density. At that point, the water and the seasoning can flow freely into the meat, resulting in a thoroughly flavored and juicy product. Pat dry before grilling. Tender cuts, like steak, chops and chicken, are ideal candidates for brining.

Grilling temperatures

  • Rare – 125 degrees
  • Medium-rare – 135 degrees
  • Medium – 145 degrees
  • Medium-well – 155 degrees
  • Well – 165 degrees

About food safety

Foodborne illnesses are responsible for tens of thousands of illness in the United States every year. Be sure to keep raw meat away from other foods. Store raw meat in the lowest part of your refrigerator to prevent dripping onto other foods. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw meat. Bacteria and other disease-causing organisms live and breed on the surface of the meat. Because of this, eating a rare steak is safe because the surface has been seared. Burgers, on the other hand, are made of ground beef and have massive amounts of surface area. Make sure to grill burgers to at least medium unless you have ground the meat yourself. Bacteria live in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees. Be sure to store meat below 40 degrees or above 140 to avoid any dangerous illnesses.

Steve Shuler is the host and editor of LRFoodcast.com. Catch more of his work at his site or follow him on Twitter @LRFoodcast.

The Pie Hole Will Be At Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday

Image by The Pie Hole Facebook

Remember back in May when we told you that The Pie Hole was coming to the capital city? Well, the food truck is ready to start serving!

The Pie Hole announced Thursday it would be at the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday! 

The food truck comes to Little Rock from Fayetteville. It's known for serving a wide variety of cakes, cookies and pies, of course, that range from coconut cream, oatmeal cream and fruit to German chocolate, Boston cream and lemon icebox. And that's not all!

For those of you that don't frequent the Hillcrest Farmers Market, don't worry. Owner Lauren French told Soirée in May she planned to set up all over Little Rock and the surrounding areas!

Go-and-Do: SoMa's Chef Series Begins Tonight with Georgia Pellegrini

Image by Waynette Traub

There is no way to miss South on Main in SoMa.

The South on Main chef series you have been waiting on starts tonight (Thursday) with Georgia Pellegrini.

The chef, author and TV personality will sign copies of her book, "Modern Pioneering: More than 150 Recipes, Projects, and Skills for a Self-Sufficient Life," and demonstrate how to make a watermelon keg for your summer parties.

The event is free, but all are asked to RSVP. If you would like to reserve a copy of Pellegrini's book, the cost is $24.72 and can be completed here. The book reservation will also get you a gift bag filled with goodies like a Western silicone baking mat, items from Riceland and a treat from SoMa.

South on Main will also be offering a "Modern Pioneering" dinner tasting menu this evening.

The chef series was announced by SoMa earlier this month. It's hoped to bring chefs from around the country to Little Rock.

For more on Pellegrini, check out this video preview of her book.

Last Day to Vote for Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Ham Independence Contest

Image by Hillcrest Artisan Meats

We told you last week that Hillcrest Artisan Meats would be defending its crown in the La Quercia Ham Independence contest

Fan voting opened Saturday and closes today (Tuesday). As of 9:25 a.m., H.A.M. is in first place with 6,531 votes, roughly 41 percent. The Cheese Shop of Des Moines, which has 6,162 votes, or about 39 percent of the vote, is the closest competitor.

The winner of the contest, which pits participating shops from across the country in a fight for the most creative and revolutionary display, gets a whole Acorn Edition Prosciutto leg.

The ginormous piece of pork is aged 24-36 months and weighs between 15-30 lbs. The meat comes from a pig fed a 60 percent acorn diet for at least three months.

The contest is all part of Ham Independence Week, a week-long festival, put on by La Quercia Cured Meats of Iowa, that celebrates the artisan cured ham and all its glory.

To vote for Hillcrest Artisan Meats, click here.

Ray's More than Mex Family Dining Now Open in West LR

Image by RaysMoreThanMex.com

There's a new Mexican restaurant in west Little Rock to try out!

Ray's More than Mex Family Dining recently opened at 10815 Colonel Glenn and it has quite the offering! The restaurant, big enough to seat a couple hundred in addition to about 50 on the patio, is family-owned and named for Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer and former Arkansas Razorback Ray Hamilton.

James Long, the manager and chef who is better known as Chef Jimmi, says the restaurant should not be confused with Tex-Mex.

Ray's offers several appetizers, including queso, salsa, guacamole, pork fritters and a smoked and fried pork skins dish dubbed "Razorback Back." There also plenty of salads, including caesar and mix field greens.

You'll be sure to get your taco fix as well with offerings like pulled pork, carnitas, shrimp and chicken, just to name a few. Other dishes include quesadillas, tamales and burritos. Ray's also offers some tasty-looking and sounding sandwiches. There's the Cuban Sandwich, complete with roasted pork loin, shaved ham and swiss cheese, the Kansas City Pig, which includes roasted pork butt and the chef's own BBQ sauce, and the Buenos Aires Dip, featuring slow-roasted prime rib. 

And we can't forget about the Woo Pig Sooie that boasts fried pork tenderloin with BBQ pulled pork, black pepper bacon, swiss cheese and fried egg!

Want an added bonus? Ray's has empanadas and they are made fresh daily!

The bar is still being developed, according to Long, but there are frozen, regular and flavored margaritas now available, in addition to beer and wine. Right now, Long said there are also a few rums available and within the next few weeks, whiskeys and vodkas should be ready to order.

The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, check out their website.

Bruno's to Close for Vacation Sunday, Reopen July 8

Image by Bruno's Little Italy

We recommend you stop by Bruno's in the next few days, because it is scheduled to close for a little R&R.

Bruno's Little Italy announced yesterday on its Facebook page that it will close Sunday through July 7 for vacation. It's set to reopen July 8.

The Italian restaurant is located at 310 Main St., Suite 101 and is open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Be sure and stop by this week!

The Pantry to Close July 1-10 for Remodel

Tomas Bohm, owner of the Pantry, has an extensive Czech culinary background.

If you cannot stand the possibility of going more than 10 days without eating at The Pantry, you may want to stop by the Rodney Parham location soon!

The Pantry announced on its Facebook page that it will be closed from July 1-10 to renovate and reorganize its kitchen ahead of the anticipated opening of The Pantry Crest. 

Tomas Bohm has previously said he expects the second location in Hillcrest, at 722 N. Palm St., to open in August.

Because of the closure, the restaurant will be open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. to give its faithful customers another opportunity to enjoy the food.

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What’s new in shopping, the arts, music, travel, fun parties and delicious food in Arkansas? Let Lauren James of InArkansas.com be your guide. An avid shopper, traveler and lover of everything-arts-related, she will show you the best of what Arkansas has to offer. Make InArkansas.com your go-to spot every day to learn the latest in entertainment, dining, attractions, activities and more.
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