Ask Martha: What vegetables to plant now, how to grill meat evenly and more.
Q: What can I plant in my garden now. I’m getting a late start this year. — Ed Piper, Hamden, Connecticut
A: There’s still plenty of time to grow your own produce. Cool-season veggies like Swiss chard, beets and carrots are all good options, since they do best in end-of-summer temperatures. Many can also survive a frost, so even if the first one hits in October — as it does in your area — you won’t need to worry. The heartiest choices have edible roots and leaves rather than flowers, which can be more sensitive to the climate.
Q: What’s the secret to evenly grilled meat? — Bob White, Summit, New Jersey
A: Temperature control — and a good thermometer. On a gas grill, setting an area to a specific intensity will produce the same heat each time. A charcoal grill is less consistent: Check your grill’s built-in gauge, or place an oven thermometer on a rack above the grates in an indirect heat zone. For indirect heat in a gas grill, preheat over high, then reduce one area to medium-low or off; on a charcoal grill, leave one side free of coals. Begin cooking larger cuts over direct heat; move to indirect if the outside is charring before the meat is cooked through.
MEAT TEMPERATURES 101
To tell when meat has hit the right temperature, stick a thermometer into the thickest part of the flesh, avoiding bones. Match the reading to our guidelines below, then let rest (off heat) 10 minutes.
Beef: Medium-rare 130, medium 140, well-done 160
Ground Beef: Medium 160
Pork: Medium 140, well-done 160
Ground Pork: Medium 160
Poultry: Medium 165
For some cuts, the USDA recommends higher temperatures, especially when you’re cooking for pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems. For details, go to usda.gov.
Q: What’s the best way to set up an outdoor buffet? — Jordan Parker, Columbia, Missouri
A: Thoughtful placement will keep the food fresh and your guests well-fed. Set the table close to the house, but not so near that people can’t easily move around it. Have everyone start at one end, letting them serve themselves from both sides. Position platters where they can be refilled easily: grilled foods close to the grill, and cold salads near the door to the house. A separate drink station avoids spills on the buffet.
Q: Can I make homemade ice cream even if I don’t own an ice-cream maker? — Hanna Ciechanowski, Walpole, Massachusetts
A: Absolutely! No-churn ice cream doesn’t require any special equipment. Try this mint-chip recipe (below), or substitute other flavors, like vanilla extract and bourbon, or almond extract and Frangelico with crushed cookies.
NO-CHURN MINT-CHIP ICE CREAM
In a large bowl, stir together a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, 2 teaspoons peppermint extract and 1 tablespoon crème de menthe. In another bowl, beat 2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream with a pinch of coarse salt until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into milk mixture, in two batches, until no streaks are left. Fold in 1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao). Transfer to a loaf pan; freeze for at least 6 hours and up to 1 month.
Q: How do I know when a melon is ready to eat? — Christine Fulgieri, New York City
A: There isn’t one universal rule; it depends on the kind you’re buying. Some of the signs to look for:
Pick it up: It will feel heavy for its size.
Tap it: The fruit should sound hollow.
Look at it: You want a dull, pale-yellow exterior.
Sniff it: The fruit should smell fragrant.
Press it: The bottom should feel soft but not mushy.
Sniff it: A ripe one will have a sweet scent.
Q: What’s the best way to clean my windows? — Brianna Steinitz, Nashville, Tennessee
A: CHOOSE a time of day when your window isn’t hit with direct sunlight. (It can cause cleaning liquid to dry too quickly, creating streaks.)
RUB away dirt using a sponge dampened with equal parts white vinegar and hot water — dishwashing liquid can leave residue.
WIPE with a squeegee, wetting the rubber edge first so it doesn’t skip. Use downward, overlapping strokes, then pull across the bottom.
(Questions may be sent by email to: email@example.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number.
(Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com.)