Labor Day may have passed, but I'm not ready to put the grill away.
Tailgaters will be cooking over charcoal at least until Thanksgiving, and the unpredictability of northeast Ohio weather means there will be some perfect grilling days as the leaves are falling and even after the first snowfall.
Here are a couple of ideas to jazz up those grill staples - brats and burgers.
For this beer bratwurst recipe, the sausages simmer in a stock that includes beer, onion, garlic, ginger, caraway seeds, bay leaves and cloves. The beer bratwurst is topped with smoky beer cheese and peppers and onions and served with a grilled sweet potato and scallion salad (the recipe can be found at www.foodnetwork.com).
Because brats are thicker than hotdogs and not precooked, I usually boil them on the stove first so they can cook completely on the grill without getting too black (a little black is good). And I'll usually pour a bottle of beer in with the boiling water, as long as I have something in the house that wasn't too expensive (Yuengling, not Great Lakes).
But a recent issue of Food Network magazine (and online at www.foodnetwork.com) had a recipe for Beer Bratwurst that was more involved than I usually try.
With beer, onions, garlic, ginger, caraway seeds, bay leaves and cloves, making this simmering liquid is like making a stock.
This is one of those recipes that's more like a suggestion than something that needs to be rigidly followed. Don't have caraway seeds? It's not worth a special trip to the grocery store. Leave 'em out or substitute something else.
Is it worth the extra effort? Maybe. I was using bratwurst from Miller Livestock in Kinsman, made with pork from Berkshire piggies. These brats would taste good blackened to a crisp on a too-hot grill.
But the recipe convinced me to experiment in the future, throwing different ingredients into the pot and seeing what happens.
The brats story also listed suggested accompaniments, and one was a recipe for smoky beer cheese.
This one is a keeper. The ingredients are cheese, garlic, beer and hot sauce. What's not to like? The hot sauce gives it a hint of zing without being too overpowering for anyone and not overwhelming the other ingredients.
I liked it on the brats, but where it really shined was was on a hamburger. The creaminess of the spread contrasts well with the texture of the meat.
Quality beef and proper cooking technique are important, but the toppings are what really can make a burger special.
The smoky beer cheese and caramelized onions - sweet onions cooked low and slow with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and some garlic beer vinegar from Greenhouse Tavern - made for one of the best burgers I've ever cooked.
The beer cheese also would make a great pretzel dip.