At this time of year, I probably use my gas grill more than my cooktop or oven to get dinner on the table.

I enjoy some fresh air in the early evening, I like to give some of my favorite foods a little smoky flavor, and I like to do so without dirtying any pots and pans.

I leave the ribs, briskets, and whole grill-roasted chickens to my husband, who likes a project more than I do.

My specialties are appetizers, salads, grilled breads, and desserts, none of which takes more than 10 minutes to cook outdoors. Some of my favorite quick and easy grill recipes follow.

Although gas is quicker and easier (just turn the knob and 10 minutes later you're ready to grill), there are folks who don't consider it grilling unless there's charcoal involved.

The best way to control the heat in a charcoal grill is to build a two-level fire: Light the coals, wait for the flames to die down and for the gray coals to glow red. Then arrange a third of the lit coals in a single layer over half of the grill and pile the remaining two-thirds of the coals over the other half.

This way, you'll have two cooking zones, giving you the flexibility to grill both clams (which require high heat) and flatbreads (which would burn on high but brown beautifully on medium) as well as larger, longer-cooking items such as steaks and chicken parts.

It was a long winter. Here's a refresher course in good grilling technique.

Clean your grill

Preheating the grill to high and then vigorously brushing the grate with a wire brush will remove residue from last night's dinner preventing sticking and off flavors. (You don't want your caramel-mango quesadillas to have a hint of shrimp, do you?)

Oil your grill

After you have cleaned your grill, it's a good idea to oil the grate, even if you are also brushing your food with oil. Fold a paper towel in half and soak it with some vegetable oil. Use a pair of long-handled tongs to brush the oiled towel over the grate. Take care not to push the paper towel through the grate, or it may catch on fire.

Plan an outdoor menu

As long as you are firing up the grill, you may as well use it to cook your entire meal. Littleneck clams, grilled for just a minute or two, whet the appetite for grilled salmon or swordfish. Grilled flatbreads can be baked and set aside to be served with a main course of grilled chicken kebabs or lamb chops. If you are serving a grilled shrimp salad as a main course, dessert quesadillas are a fun finish.

Pay attention

When cooking small or delicate items such as clams, shrimp, bread, or tortillas, there's no time to walk away from the grill to water your geraniums or refresh your drink. These items will cook through, and then overcook and burn, while your back is turned.

Have tongs and a wide spatula ready to lift your food from the grill as soon as you see that it is ready.

Barbecued Clams

Makes 4 appetizer servings

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2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

2 tablespoons barbecue sauce

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1. Preheat gas grill to high or light charcoal. While heating, clean and oil grate. Place clams directly on grill grate, cover, and cook for 2 minutes. (If using a 2-level charcoal fire, grill the clams on the hotter part of the grill.) Open grill and use tongs to remove clams that have opened, carefully transferring them to a platter so they don't lose too much of their juices. Close grill and continue to cook, checking every 30 seconds and removing clams as they open.

2. Spoon 1/4 teaspoon of barbecue sauce on top of each clam and serve immediately.

- From Newsday

 

Per serving: 93 calories, 1 gram protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, trace fat, no cholesterol, 703 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Grilled Flatbreads WIth Za'atar

Makes 4 servings

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1 pound frozen pizza dough, thawed and brought to room temperature, and divided into 4 balls

1/4 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons za'atar

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1. On a lightly floured work surface, stretch and press each dough ball into a 6-inch round. Drape with plastic wrap and let stand for 15 minutes.

2. Preheat gas grill to high or light charcoal. Brush dough rounds on both sides with olive oil. While grill is heating, clean and oil grate. Turn down heat to medium. Place dough rounds on grill. (If using a 2-level charcoal fire, place the dough rounds on the cooler part of the grill.) Sprinkle tops with za'atar, cover, and bake until breads are golden on bottoms, with darker grill marks, 4 to 5 minutes. Use tongs to transfer to a platter, and serve warm.

- From Newsday

 

Note: Look for za'atar in Middle Eastern or specialty markets. Or substitute a mixture of 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt.

Per serving: 656 calories, 7 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, 49 grams fat, no cholesterol, 838 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Grilled Sweet-Potato Salad

Makes 4 servings

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3 sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt

2 bunches scallions, washed and trimmed at both ends

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons lime juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

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1. Preheat gas grill to high or light charcoal. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, toss with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt. Do the same with scallions, keeping them in a loose bunch.

2. While grill heats, clean and oil grate. Turn down heat to medium. (If using a 2-level charcoal fire, cook on the cooler part of the grill.) Place scallions on grill in a bunch and cook, turning once, until they're softened and lightly charred in places, about 5 minutes total. Remove to baking sheet.

3. Place the sweet potatoes on the grill and cook, turning once, until they have nice grill marks on both sides and are cooked all the way through, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to baking sheet.

4. Coarsely chop scallions and place them in a bowl, along with hot potatoes. Add cilantro, butter, lime juice, and cumin and toss to coat. Season with salt if necessary and serve.

- From Newsday

 

Note: The trick here is to cut your sweet potatoes thin enough so they'll cook through quickly, but not so thin that they'll fall apart on the grill; 1/4-inch-thick slices are just right.

Per serving: 395 calories, 4 grams protein, 67 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 13 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 69 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Grilled Avocado, Corn, and Shrimp Salad

Makes 4 servings

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1/2 cup olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 small clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon finely chopped canned chipotle chilies in adobo

Salt

2 ears corn, shucked

2 ripe but firm avocados, halved, peeled, and pitted 1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

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1. Preheat gas grill to high or light charcoal. Whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chipotle chilies, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

2. Brush corn, cut sides of avocado halves, and shrimp with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. While grill heats, clean and oil grate. Turn heat down to medium-high. (If using a 2-level charcoal fire, cook the avocados and corn on the cooler part of the grill.) Grill avocados, cut sides down, and the corn, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and golden, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Turn the heat back to high. Grill shrimp, turning once, until pink and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes total. (If using a 2-level charcoal fire, cook the shrimp on the hotter part of the grill.)

3. Slice avocados, remove corn kernels from cobs, and chop shrimp into 1/2-inch pieces. Add to bowl and toss with dressing. Season with salt and serve.

- From Newsday

 

Per serving: 492 calories, 15 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 43 grams fat, 111 milligrams cholesterol, 147 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.

Grilled Cheese

Makes 2 servings

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4 slices country bread, 1/3-inch thick

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 teaspoons basil pesto

1 small ripe tomato, cored and thinly sliced

4 ounces shredded mozzarella

Sea salt

Ground black pepper

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1. Brush one side of each slice of bread with some olive oil. Place 2 bread slices, oiled sides down, on a cutting board. Spread each with a teaspoon of pesto. Arrange tomatoes on 2 slices and sprinkle with the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with remaining slices of bread, oiled sides up.

2. Preheat gas grill to high or light charcoal. As it heats, clean and oil grate. Turn heat down to medium. Place sandwiches on grill, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. (If using a 2-level charcoal fire, cook sandwiches on cooler part of grill.) Turn sandwiches, pressing firmly on them with a wide spatula to flatten. Cook uncovered for additional 2 to 3 minutes until undersides are golden brown and cheese is melted. Cut sandwiches in half and serve immediately.

- From Newsday

 

Per serving: 394 calories, 18 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 30 grams fat, 34 milligrams cholesterol, 514 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Dessert Quesadillas

Makes 4 servings

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1/2 cup dulce de leche or caramel sauce

4 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1 small mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup strawberry ice cream or raspberry sorbet

1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

1/4 cup toasted coconut

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1. Spread dulce de leche over half of each tortilla. Arrange mango on top of dulce de leche. Fold tortilla in half to cover filling.

2. Preheat gas grill to high or light charcoal. While heating, clean and oil grate. Turn heat down to medium. Brush both sides of quesadillas with melted butter, then grill until they are light golden with grill marks, 1 to 2 minutes. (If using a 2-level charcoal fire, cook the quesadilla on the cooler part of the grill.) Carefully flip them and grill a minute longer.

3. Cut each quesadilla into thirds and arrange on a dessert plate. Top with a scoop of ice cream, sprinkle with nuts and coconut, and serve immediately.

- From Newsday

 

Per serving: 364 calories, 5 grams protein, 57 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 32 milligrams cholesterol, 226 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Pan-Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower With Toasted Hazelnuts

Makes 8-10 servings

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1 small head cauliflower, about 11/2 pounds

1 large bunch (or 2 small bunches) broccoli, about 1 1/2 pounds

Salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup blanched (skinless) hazelnuts, lightly crushed

Pepper

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1. Remove and discard leaves from cauliflower and trim the end of the stem by about an inch. Cut head in half and then break it down by pulling apart the florets. Cut each floret in half crosswise, "flower" and stem. (The stems are as flavorful as the flowers.)

2. Trim the stem of the broccoli, then cut off the top 1 1/2 inches of the florets. Now cut the stalk into bite-size pieces. If the broccoli is not extremely fresh, use a vegetable peeler to peel the stalk.

3. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add at least 2 tablespoons salt. Add cauliflower and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. With a spider or large slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower to a large bowl of ice water and soak, changing the water, until the cauliflower is cold. Drain, pat dry, and set aside. Using the same pot, repeat boiling, chilling, and draining with broccoli. Store blanched vegetables in resealable plastic bags. Bring them to room temperature before proceeding with recipe.

4. Place oil and butter in a 14-inch skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted, add nuts and saute until you begin to smell them and they just begin to turn golden. Add vegetables and turn heat to high. Do not stir continuously; letting vegetables remain in contact with the pan for a few minutes at a time will help them brown. Cook until vegetables are hot and have begun to pick up a little color. Season with pepper.

- From Newsday

Per serving (based on 10): 108 calories, 4 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 6 milligrams cholesterol, 59 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Lemon-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Makes 8 servings

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1 lemon

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

4 tablespoons butter, divided

3 pounds sweet potatoes

Thyme leaves or chopped parsley for garnish, optional

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1. With a fine grater, remove zest from lemon. Set aside. Cut lemon in half and squeeze out juice. You should have 3 to 4 tablespoons.

2. In a small saucepan, combine sugar and salt with 3/4 cup water. Simmer until sugar dissolves, remove from heat, and stir in lemon juice, pepper, nutmeg and 2 tablespoons butter.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel potatoes and cut into slices 1/8 to 1/2 inch thick. Use 1 remaining tablespoon of butter to grease a 10-inch round (or 8-by-10-inch rectangular) casserole. Place sweet potato slices, overlapping, in casserole. They should be in one layer, but because they will shrink when they cook, pack them tightly. Cover with the syrup mixture and then with bits of remaining butter. Cover tightly with foil and bake until tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

4. Turn oven to 450, uncover, and bake until most of liquid has evaporated and sweet potatoes begin to brown on top, 10 to 25 minutes depending on the moisture content of sweet potatoes. Sprinkle surface with some of the grated lemon peel and, if desired, thyme leaves or parsley.

- From Newsday, inspired by a recipe from The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock (Knopf)

 

Per serving: 290 calories, 3 grams protein, 58 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 6 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 350 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber.