This time of year I find myself daydreaming about someplace warm. Hawaiian tradewinds, Bermuda beaches and Mexican coastal sunsets all play a starring role as I stare out my window onto the frozen winter landscape.
Of course, food is prominently featured in my daydreams. And that means warm-weather food — light, refreshing fare that wakes up the palate. For me, that often means something grilled.
It will be weeks, if not months, before my family uncovers the deck furniture and dusts off the grill, but we don’t have to wait that long to start grilling. An indoor grill pan can make any day a beach day. There are endless options for indoor grilling equipment (such as the George Foreman Grill), but I like my well-worn and well-seasoned cast-iron grill pan. It covers two burners on my stove, which makes it possible for me to grill enough of whatever I’m making to feed my entire family. The opposite, flat side of the pan is perfect for Sunday morning pancakes.
If the mood of the meal is the Tropics, what goes on the grill pan is just as important as the pan itself. One of my favorite meats to cook on my indoor grill is the much maligned chicken breast. I feel like I have a little more control over the heat on my indoor grill than its outdoor charcoal counterpart, which makes it easier to get it just right and end up with a juicy, just-cooked-through result. I try to keep prep simple because sauces, marinades and rubs can create enough smoke to set off my fire alarm.
While a plain grilled chicken breast may not sound like vacation food, it’s the perfect platform for some fun embellishments, in this case a small dollop of chipotle- and orange-flavored butter and a healthy helping of an easy orange and avocado salsa. I like to use compound butters, such as this one, to create a sauce for grilled meat. Because fat is such an effective carrier of whatever flavors it’s paired with, you don’t need much to have a big impact on a dish. Just a dab will do. Really.
So fire up the grill, put on a pair of flip-flops, and crank up the Jimmy Buffett. While it’s not beach weather outside, it’s time for a little winter break inside.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at meredith@ meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.