Make a fuss when planning for your summer BBQ

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Feeling a tad self-conscious about squeezing into your swimsuit this Fourth of July? Chef Jeremy Grandon of J-Bird Smoked Meats in Keego Harbor has good news: Hard fat is bad. Soft fat is good.

Soft fat is good? Well, good when it comes to smoking brisket.

Kevin Miller of Twigs & Branches in Rochester Hill mixes white hydrangeas, blue thistle, red carnations and more to create a patriotic floral arrangements as part of Wednesday's Dish & Design in Southfield.

Grandon, former executive chef of Jeremy Restaurant, made a massive brisket as part of Wednesday's Dish & Design installment, where the theme was Red, White & BBQ. Grandon was one of several speakers who offered tips for making your summer BBQ sparkle and shine.

He trimmed the hard fat from the brisket before applying a rub and said the key to a brilliant brisket is keeping the temperature consistent, between 200 and 250 degrees, and patience.

After smoking it for two to three hours, "it'll develop a black crust after you've smoked it for awhile," said Grandon. Cook it for another six to eight hours after that. You'll know it's done when you're able to lift it up and it's firm.

"See how it isn't bending?" said Grandon.

More than 120 readers turned out at the Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield, nibbling on appetizers by Chef Reva Bell-Constantine. Presenters offered tips on everything from putting together festive red, white and blue floral arrangements to ice cream sandwiches.

Mary Liz Curtin, owner of lifestyle store Leon & Lulu in downtown Clawson, said guests often will say they don't want you to make a fuss when it comes to entertaining, "but I want you to make a fuss," she said.

Curtin said it isn't difficult to create a great centerpiece. Use things around your house that you love (she brought a children's police car that could double as a bar), she said. And don't be afraid to use the good china.

"Why does anyone think this is a good idea?" Curtin said as she held up a white paper plate. "If you have china, when is the last time you used it?"

If you are nervous about using your beloved good dishes, Curtin has a suggestion: go to garage sales and stock up on pieces so if they break, it isn't a big deal. Another fun idea the next time you entertain: Use a dish towel as a parting gift or napkin for each guest, said Curtin.

"As you're setting your table, have a good time with it," she said.

Kevin Miller of Twigs & Branches in Rochester Hills, a floral design and event planning business, meanwhile, created a rustic, organic-looking arrangement that popped with patriotic colors. He used white hydrangeas, red carnations and blue delphinium. 

To give the arrangement even more texture, he added silver dollar eucalyptus and blue thistle. 

"You'll see blue thistle on the side of a highway," Miller said.

Miller said rustic, organic floral looks are in these days.

"It doesn't need to be perfect," said Miller, who noted that he loves working with hydrangeas this time of year, whether they come from a florist or a backyard.

Lauren Roumayah of the Detroit Cookie Company in Ferndale, meanwhile, whipped up a summer-themed dessert perfect for any BBQ: a S'Mores Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich. 

After creating a basic chocolate chip cookie dough with a mixer, Roumayah added a package of slightly crushed graham crackers, freeze-dried mini marshmallows and mini semi-sweet chocolate chips.

She said freeze-dried marshmallows hold up better. Make sure to let the dough freeze for an hour to three hours before baking, she said. 

And "don't over-mix the dough," she said. "It'll make a hard, flat cookie."

As far as a tasty summer cocktail, bar manager Ben Senseney of Detroit's Two James Distillery didn't mess around with the light stuff: he whipped up a Manhattan using Two James' Grass Widow Bourbon, Punt E Mes (an Italian vermouth) and bitters. 

"Bitters tone down the intensity of the acidity," he said.

In the end, he stirred, rather than shook, the liquor in ice. Shaking is done with a cocktail that uses syrups. With a "spirit-forward" cocktail like a Manhattan, "you just stir," said Senseney.

And what's another fun summer cocktail if a Manhattan isn't your thing? Senseney says he loves a whiskey sour. His secret old-school ingredient: an egg white.

"Egg whites give it a lot of body," he said.