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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Grilling season is here

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | May 20, 2015 8:18 AM
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What to look for on Smart Talk Wednesday, May 20, 2015:

With warm weather here to stay and Memorial Day this weekend, it's time to dust off your grills for the barbecue season.

On Wednesday's Smart Talk, get some great grilling tips and recipes from Chef Donna Marie Desfor, host of the WITF Cooks TV show, and owner of There's a Chef in My Kitchen.

Chef Desfor discusses how to improve your grilling by paying close attention to factors such as how hot to cook your food, whether or not to use the rotisserie, or to smoke or not to smoke your meats.

She'll also reveal how the expensive grill is not always the best by showing off some simple tools and gadgets that can improve the performance of the grill you already have.

Of course, as always, Chef Desfor will share some great recipes that you may find tasty, from different types of sauces to soak your beef, chicken, or pork in, to fruits and cakes for dessert.

As always, we'd like to hear from you too. If you have a recipe that you would like to share, call 1-800-729-7532 during the show or describe it in the comments section below.

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Chef Donna Marie Desfor

Chef Desfor's recipe for Classic Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread:

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Classic Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread

This quick bread gets its moist and delicious texture from the polenta-grind cornmeal and buttermilk.  Combined with a bit of sweetness, the corn kernels and added bacon makes this the perfect match to any grilled foods.  It is an adaptation of Peter Reinhart's Corn Bread recipe from his quintessential work, The Bread Baker's Apprentice (Ten Speed Press, 2001).  You can cook your skillet corn bread on your grill for the ultimate outdoor experience.  Set your grill up for indirect heat, and adjust the temperature to medium or medium-low, about 350°F, no higher.


1 cup polenta (coarse grind corn meal)*

2 cups buttermilk

About 6 to 8 slices hickory or hardwood smoked bacon, cooked slowly to render out fat, drained on paper towels, then chopped; reserve bacon fat.

1 3/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons butter, melted

3 eggs, lightly beaten

Generous 1 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)

* not instant polenta


Combine the polenta and buttermilk in a large bowl; over and leave at room temperature at least 6 hours, or up to 12.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl; stir in the granulated sugar and brown sugar.  In a small bowl combine the honey and melted butter, then quickly stir the warm honey-butter mixture into the eggs.  Add the egg mixture to the polenta mixture and stir to combine.  Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and fold with a large spoon or spatula all the batter is blended and smooth.  Stir in the corn kernels until evenly distributed.

Rub a 10-inch cast iron skillet with some reserved bacon fat.  Place the pan in the oven for about 5 until pan and fat are very hot.  Carefully remove the hot pan and pour in the batter, spreading it evenly.  Sprinkle the chopped bacon pieces evenly over the top and gently press into the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the corn bread is firm and springy, the top a golden brown, and the bread tests clean on a toothpick.  Allow the bread to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing it.  

Chef's Notes: 

As with all quick breads, this batter can be used to make muffins. Fill greased muffin cups to the top and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, or until the center of a muffin is springy and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

The addition of corn and bacon should be left to your own taste.  I achieve delicious results using less than 2 cups of corn, and about 6 ounces of the crumbled bacon. 

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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-05-20 09:15

    Gale Tweets,

    "@Scott_LaMar @witfnews This is my favorite show of the year! Thank you, Scott and Donna! #inspired #grilling #summer #fun"

  • Noel Vera img 2015-05-20 09:36

    Filipino grilling: my wife does head-on shrimp or prawn marinated in oil, soy sauce, minced garlic, black pepper, calamansi (a Filipino lime) juice and a bit of sugar, throw on the grill and a few minutes it's done.

    Best part is sucking out that head with the marinade and shrimp fat inside. Very good over steamed rice.

    Then there's Filipino style 'barbecue': pork shoulder, cut into thin strips, marinated in soy sauce, minced garlic, calamansi, black pepper, a bit of flour to help the marinade stick, and 7-Up. Stick strips with wooden skewers, grill a few minutes, serve with steamed rice.

    Dessert would be pineapple spears oiled and grilled, then served with a sauce of honey and lime.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-05-20 09:39

    Pat Emails,

    "Are regular polenta (non instant) and cornmeal the same thing? In other words, can you substitute cornmeal for polenta in a recipe?"

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-05-20 09:44

    Michael Emails,

    "Scott, pick up an old school Weber kettle and a chimney (charcoal starter). You won't use your gas grill ever again. Can start cooking within 3-5 minutes. BTW- that kingsford shit ain't charcoal. Buy the plain old plain wood type."

  • Lisa img 2015-05-20 09:44

    We have an old house with no air conditioning. I'll freely admit to using a gas grill in the summer simply because it keeps my kitchen from heating up!

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-05-20 09:45

    Deb Emails,

    I would like some advice. I've been trying to replicate a grilled veggie kabob from a local chain restaurant and every time we grill them they take on an off flavors from the grill like starter fluid.

    We start by marinating zucchini, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and onion wedges in olive oil and garlic and salt and pepper we didn't skewer them and grill them off. We found that reducing grill time helped, but didn't eliminate the problem. I would love any advice or input

    Thank you

    • Chef Donna img 2015-05-20 13:57

      Deb, another thought. Check the oil you use in your marinade. If it is old and has an off smell, or its an oil that burns at a high temperature, that might also give the off "taste". Good luck!

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-05-20 09:54

    Jeffrey from Lancaster emails,

    What do you think of traeger/wood pellet grills


  • Captain Patty img 2015-05-20 10:12

    I recently heard (on NPR)a couple that wrote a cookbook about meat. They said that for the best moist meat, cook it at a low temperature initially and then sear at the end. Interesting.

    • Chef Donna img 2015-05-20 14:03

      I've seen/heard that too, and know a few people that swear by the method. It is similar to the sous vide method popularized by a lot of those TV Chef cooking competitions: proteins are cooked at a low temperature in a water bath to keep them super tend (and they are usually cooked with some flavoring agents) and then right before service the chef sears them to get a nice color and caramelization on the outside. In either case the sugars in the natural juices at the surface will caramelize, and at least in theory, lock those juices in (so a good 5 minutes rest is always a good idea). Personally, I just think it's easier to go from high heat to low, rather than the other way around. Try both and see which you prefer! Those are the best kinds of experiments to do!

  • chris img 2015-05-20 10:16

    Any suggestions on avoiding sodium in the grilling process while still adding flavor?
    My spouse has kidney failure but still enjoys grilled foods. Vegetarian and limited seafood

    Thanks for an informative show!

    • Chef Donna img 2015-05-20 14:10

      Chris, this is an excellent question! Presuming that the healthier salts are out of the questions (like, mineral and sea salts) my next suggestion is to try a combination of garlic granules or powder and onion powder; onion sugar with a little bit of ground ginger mixed in, or even ground or fresh ginger and lemongrass mixed together make delicious seasoning options without adding salt. You can even try basting a little bit of a sweet balasamic vinaigrette over your food just off the grill. There are also a whole host of salt free seasoning blends available and ethnic blends (did you ever try the ethiopian blend Berbere? Spicy and delicious, but an excellent all purpose seasoning!). Look for any blend that say its an "all purpose" seasoning that is salt free.

  • Noel Vera img 2015-05-20 17:55

    Thanks for the mention! Love what Chef Desfors added afterwards.

    For head on shrimp and that's a truly great delicacy try Latino or Asian groceries. Chances are the shrimp will be cheaper than in WalMart.