Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kwahite!! Ahm huntin' Wabbits- & Chili makes it out of the house!!

I've been promising the Millwrights at work a sample of my Cincinnati Chili recipe  for months now.  I'd set a few dates that I'd bring it in, but was kept from my obligations by the installation of a new roof and emergency surgery on our dog Buddy.  I finally made some for them Monday night.   This time I was able to follow my own directions- not a soupy version this time 'round.  I bought a ton of cheese, brought in a bottle of Frank's Hot Sauce (I know I've espoused using Crystal, but I had it in the kitchen waiting to be used for buffalo wings and didn't want to let it sit forever.  Ever seen really old hot sauce?  It turns brown and really gross).   I made a shit-ton of spaghetti (I still have enough for lunch that day and then some).  At the store I could not find oyster crackers.  Oh well- can't replicate the entire experience.   I did make a mistake that I won't make again- I used 20% fat ground beef. Eeeeeeeeeeeewwwwww.  I pulled my hand out of the pot after breaking up the meat in the broth and water to find it covered in fat.   That was really nasty.  It might have been the store using a fattier cut than advertised, but I'm not taking that chance again- 15 or 7% from now on.   I ended up sopping up fat from the top of the chili a few hours after I moved it to Tupperware for transport that morning.  Most importantly, none of my test subjects tossed their cookies, complained of stomach cramps, ran to the John with diarrhea, or refused to touch the stuff.  Everyone ate at least one full plate.  Now, nobody came up to me and exclaimed, "Where has this stuff been all my life?  I've been wasting my stomach capacity on this crappy Hormel for way too long!!".   Depending upon the griping of one of the guys I may make it at least one more time (he was on vacation).  

Last night I tried making Russian Tea Biscuits.  There is a link to the recipe I used in an earlier posting (Nov. 30th).   I did not use the fruit pie filling suggested.  I left the insides dry- cinnamon, sugar, raisins, and I used chopped pecans instead of walnuts.  The pecans were left over from Heavenly Hash (see later this post).  It turned out pretty well.  The dough is really nice, but could be a little more dry.  Perhaps a few more minutes in the oven.  I would like to try to replicate the treats I've come to love from Davis Bakery in Cleveland.  The filling was close- it seems they may have some butter or something to keep the filling more moist.  My wife had a great suggestion- icing.  Icing like that found on cinnamon rolls.  That could be good.   Of course- all washed down with a tall ice cold glass of milk, 

Heavenly Hash  is a candy treat that pops up around Louisiana and other parts during the Lenten Season.  It is ridiculously simple, and ridiculously good. Melt chocolate.  Pour half the chocolate on a baking sheet covered with wax paper.  Dump chopped pecans and mini marshmallows onto the chocolate.  Cover with the remaining chocolate.  Allow to cool.  Cut into two-bite sized pieces. Eat.  The good folks at Elmer's Candy  out of Ponchatoula Louisiana distribute a commercial
version of the stuff.  

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Resurrection of The Puddin' Pop.

Puddin' Pops Rule.  But I've not been able to find them on the shelves of any grocery stores for a while.  Whilst in Kent visiting my brother and his family for Thanksgiving he told me how to make my own.  So freaking simple I should have figured it out myself.  Ready- make Jello Pudding.  Dump pudding into popsicle molds (or ice cube trays), add stick.  Freeze.  Remove pop from mold.  Enjoy.  Brilliant.  Genius.   

Made a nice steak dinner last night following several of the recipes from Tom Fitzmorris's book, Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food. Entree- Strip Steak Bordelaise (pg 155).  The recipe calls for a whole bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux to be reduced to a cup's worth of liquid.  I hated to see so much wine evaporate.  I may have to try this again as I don't think I quite followed the directions too well.  For those interested in the bottle of wine- Bogle Vineyards Cab. 2006.  This was quite good by itself.  Not too much tannin (not that I'm any sort of real wine connoisseur).  it was raining outside so I decided to purchase cast iron grill skillet with which to broil the steaks.  It worked really well.  As usual I need to pay more attention to cooking time- let's just say that they turned out WELL DONE.  Loved hearing the butter sizzling away in the skillet.  Sides- Mashed Potatoes and Broiled Asparagus Parmigiano (pg. 225).   Sonya tells me that my potatoes are a but too lumpy, but seasoned well.  The asparagus was wonderful.  I'd make this again in a heartbeat.  Growing up I hated asparagus.  I wouldn't touch the stuff.  Somehow a few years ago I decided to give it another try and I found that when well prepared it is good- especially when grilled or broiled.  For dessert I made Heavenly Hash- a treat found here in Louisiana during the Easter season-  Chocolate, nuts, and marshmallow in lumps all mushed together.  Tom has a recipe for this on page 292.  

Made tuna steaks under the broiler on Monday night.  Again- well done- past where I wanted them.  I will eventually learn this skill.  First time I've ever prepared them and even cooked as far as I did I feel that they turned out well.  

Other news-  Papa Johns just opened a location near the house.  Finally.  We've been stuck just far enough away from two other locations that we couldn't get delivery from either.  I usually find PJs pizza to be better than Domino's.  The crust is better and I like the sweeter sauce.  Great stuff.  Another pizza joint replaced the recently defunct Hogie and Deaux's.  I always thought the name as really clever.  Their pizza was decent.  This new place called Roma's has a New York style crust.  The kind of slice that flops down on itself and the only good way to eat it is by folding it in half.  Gave it a shot during the week too.  Not too bad.  I also ordered a Meatball Parmigiana hoagie.  The meat mix was a bit odd. Perhaps they had veal in there or something, I dunno.  Sonya enjoyed it.  When I dropped by there was only one guy working the entire place- prepping, cooking, taking orders, the works.  We'll see how long they last.  I wish the guy luck.   We'll give him another try.  Got to support the local guy.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

TGTO, Russian Biscuit Agression, And How to Read Instructions

TGTO. Thank Goodness Thanksgiving is Over.
I had a great time visiting my brother and his family. They cooked a 22 pound turkey and enough stuffing and mashed potatoes for an army. They cooked the turkey in a bag. I'd never done that before. Nice golden brown on the outside, juicy and delicious. I have no idea how they seasoned the bird, but it turned out really well. The stuffing was his wife's secret family recipe, cooked in the turkey- the horror!!- naw. I've never seen so much white bread turned into something good before.

Visiting the Cleveland area made it possible for me to enjoy baked delicacies that I've not had in quite some time: Coconut Bars and Russian Tea Biscuits from the Davis Bakery. You have to understand that these had been a staple of every visit to Cleveland I'd ever had whilst growing up. When I think of Cleveland these are the things I dream about. Either one of the delights and a cold glass of milk is heaven on earth. My brother mentioned that someone had found a recipe for the Tea Biscuits and had good success making their own. This is one of the few baked goods I would like to become proficient at making. The walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, sugar, and hard crumbly biscuit dissolve slowly in the mouth. The dough is wrapped around the filling much like a roulade Gawd- wonderful. The embedded link is a start. I've not tried this yet and I'm not so sure about the raspberry filling. While performing a quick search earlier (russian tea cakes- a different animal) I did run into a recipe that called for vodka in the dough. Always a nice thing. I do somehow think that there might be some vodka or alcohol in the filling. I'll think about this some more

Before I left for Thanksgiving I did turn out a batch of Cincy Style Chili. This batch had the right flavor; however, it was too soupy. Too much liquid left in the mix. I just realized why (duh). I misread the quantity of water- I read 2 quarts instead of 1. That would explain it. So- if I follow the recipe as directed things should turn out well enough. -um yeah.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Late in my chili, Thanksgiving

1- I'm behind in my chili making. I know. I have plans to rectify that this weekend. My plans to serve chili this last week to a captive audience at work fell through because my roofer had an opening Tuesday. This leads to-

2- Nobody hates Satsumas. My father-in-law gave us a large box-full of the citrus last weekend. I ate a good few before Tuesday when I gave most of the rest to the roofing crew. A goodwill gesture. They disappeared within minutes. I'm looking forward to more when we visit next month. If you've never eaten one you're missing out. Satsumas, or Mikans, are incredibly easy to peel by hand and to me they taste like tangerine lifesavers- except better and like real citrus. I could eat a bushel without stopping. We also ended up with ten grapefruits. Those also usually turn out really well. I have yet to try one, so we'll see.

3. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I'm not going to cook much at all this year, so my comments on T-day will have to be limited to tastings. The last 2 years I've used a Weber Grill recipe for BBQ turkey. The bird is brined first and I believe that step makes all the difference. Using the BBQ and some smoke from apple wood makes for an incredible flavor. It takes some time but it is well worth the effort.

I did once suggest to my parents that we try a Turducken or Tur-duck-hen. My folks used to catch a lot of flack from the family traditionalists who had nothing better to do than to critique the way everything was prepared and served. The idea was to throw the lot of them off guard. They wouldn't have a clue what it was supposed to taste like, how to cook it, how to serve it, or even how to properly eat it. Screw 'em. It worked to a degree. The item came stuffed with an awful green onion stuffing and the turducken came out dry. To my credit- no one gripped in the usual ways. My folks were spared from the needling that some of our stuffier kin would have heaped upon them.

Fried Turkey is something I'd like to try to make. I've had it a few times since moving to Louisiana and it has always been great. I'm really turned off by the Cajun Injector- think really large gauge syringe and horrible flavored marinade the color of burnt umber. From what I've heard the trick is to stab the Turkey like you're trying to kill Freddie Kruger- a thousand times over. Eeeww. No thanks. Please just season the fowl well and fry. The skin is really great. The investment in a decent burner and stand also serve well for boiling seafood- shrimp, crabs, and crawfish. Just a few months longer until crawfish season starts again.

Hopefully I'll have another post on chili this weekend or early next week.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Riced out.

I'm tired of rice. I made the mistake on Monday of making jambalaya and then Friday night I put together some dirty rice. I've been in this Louisiana food mood lately- all this boudin sausage at work, red beans and rice for lunch twice last week and then this week. This diet seems to be why so many of the "grocery" stores in small town Louisiana only really carry meats, canned goods, bread, and the Trinity of vegetables; onion/garlic, celery, and bell peppers. It would also explain why when we made pizza for dinner the other night I skipped pepperoni and sauteed some zucchini and squash for toppings. I had a real craving for something green.

The jambalaya turned out fairly well. We had some Manda (that's a brand) beef sausage that I threw into a skillet with a chicken breast. The trinity mentioned above, and some wild rice. I can't claim that it the seasoning was all my doing. As with most packaged wild rice products seasonings are included. They just happen to work out well with jambalaya. I have my father to thank for this trick. Something he picked up thirty years ago when he first made it to Louisiana.

The dirty rice was a cop out. A Zatarain's box of rice and seasonings with ground beef. I added onion, some bell pepper and the left over squash/zucchini mix from the pizza the night before. Not so shabby until lunch today when I decided to spice it up and added way too much red pepper. You'll have that.

I might make a batch of chili this weekend for the guys at work. They've heard me talk about this odd stuff for long enough that it is time that I subject them to the stuff. Kewl thing is that if I do make this for work I could expense the whole thing... Hmmm.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The continuing quest to satisfy my craving

Only after the second batch do I think I have a respectable recipe. I modified the last recipe after reading a blog authored by "Grumpy Beer Geek". In his notes on the 13th batch he mentions a note from a Mr. X. who talks about the importance of Swanson's Beef Broth instead of much of the water he'd been using and cider vinegar to replace white vinegar. Mr. X talks about simmering for 12 hours and adding torula yeast. I looked into torula yeast. Apparently it is used as a flavorant in human and pet foods. The stuff is made as a byproduct of paper production. I dunno about you, but I'm not too keen to eat that. I have to admit that I did deviate from the idea of the second recipe whilst I made it. I managed to leave the water and beef broth on the stove as I went to the store. That was a nasty mess. With only a can of broth left I turned to a beef bullion cube. I'll have to prove out the beef broth without the bullion the next time round. My wife also mentioned that she believed that this recipe was a little spicier than the last time. Perhaps I'll cut back on the red pepper as well. Another thing I learned was that lean ground beef is easier to work with. The first recipe required the chili to be refrigerated overnight so that fat could be skimmed off the top. Using 10 percent or leaner ground beef eliminates this step and leaves the tongue cleaner. This last time I skimped and used 80/20. I was disappointed with the fat and was unable to remove it from the chili even after chilling overnight. I still recommend chilling overnight to allow the flavors to better meld- just as you would with regular chilis or stews. You just can't beat anything like this the second night. Here is the recipe I plan to follow:

1 qt. water
2 cups Swanson's Beef Broth
2 lbs. ground beef- 90% lean or more.
2 med. onions, finely chopped
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
5 whole allspice or 1/2 tsp. ground
5 whole cloves
1 tsp. red pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
3.5 tbsp. chili powder
1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp. Cider Vinegar
1 whole bay leaf
1.5 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

Add ground beef to water. Stir until beef separates to a fine texture (Update- mash it by hand until it breaks up into fine bits- it's not for the feint of heart or those who do not like squishy textures, but it guarantees that the beef is properly broken up) and simmer for 30 minutes. Add all other ingredients. Stir to blend and simmer uncovered for about 3 hours. Pot may be covered the last hour after desired consistency is reached. Chill overnight.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well pickled, well seasoned, not as well cooked. Chili and Steak.

My wife was enjoying a ladies weekend out with a friend as a sort of bachelorette party. I was left to rule the roost. I am so saturated by football and beer now that I'm good for another few weekends at least. Beer has always been a favorite topic of mine. I love beer. Hooray Beer. Friday evening I went to the closest local market and spent the obligatory 5 minutes contemplating my choices from the beer cooler. I can't just pick one before hand- you never know what strange and wondrous beverage they have in stock that you've never seen before. That night it was clear- a standard Budweiser and new to the market Budweiser Lager. I'd never seen the lager before (Sunday afternoon during the Saints game I did see a first commercial for the stuff) and I had to try it. Nice, reminded me of Killian's. Before I go much further I have to thank Joe P. for corrupting another young incorrigible mind before the date he became of legal drinking age. Joe introduced me to Guinness, Harp, Murphy's Pub on Clifton Avenue (I really miss being able to walk to a nice Irish pub for a pint- two of my apartments in college were strategically placed in relation to Murphy's), Patsy Cline, Bootsy Collins (J Erik Landrum may have had a hand in that as well) and steak rub. A fairly substantial bit of manhood there if you ask me. Beer in hand I proceeded to walk past the beef. I found a pair of lovely steaks, already seasoned (the steaks, not me), calling out to me. I posted earlier that I wanted to find thicker steaks for grilling, I found 2" thick steaks. Just right. I was set.

Saturday was spent watching Big 10 and SEC football. I found myself with a craving about midday. I was jonesing for Skyline Chili. Cincinnati style chili is like no other. This is not a Texas chili. It is not anywhere near the beans or no beans debate. Cincy Chili should technically be called a sauce. It is a topping for spaghetti or used on coneys. Originally created by Greek immigrants, the stuff has caught on in such a way that if one were to perform impromptu surgery upon anyone of means or sense living in the vicinity of the Queen City, one would find traces of chocolate, cinnamon, and oyster crackers in the subject's blood stream. No lie. I needed to fix my fix. To Google. To A recipe that sounded close enough. Clove? Allspice? I knew about the other odd flavorants, but not these. Could it be? To SuperTarget. I needed pet food too. No jonesing there- my boys were low on kibble. Once back at the house I began. 1 quart of water and 2 lbs of beef. The texture made sense. Remember- sauce. The beef isn't browned first, it's boiled. If you have qualms about this- look away. Don't click on the link below. Scroll on to the next entry. Too bad. I love it. My wife even loves it- do you think I'd marry someone who didn't? Heckie Naw. The recipe calls out for a half hour of boiling. O.K. The recipe then calls out for the rest of the ingredients and 3 hours of boiling. Huh? Wha? Not nearly enough liquid to handle that. The bottom of the pot began to burn my precious Cincy Chili Crack. I added 12 ounces more- beer bottle's worth. I added another 12 ounces. I turned down the heat. Nomenclature and specificity folks are the issues here. The recipe calls out for 4 cloves of garlic. Fine- how do you want that prepared? I lopped them in half and let them cook down- don't do that- mince finely. Drop in 5 whole cloves, 5 whole allspice? Don't. Get one of those fancy cloth baggies to hold those whole spices along with the bay leaf for easier retrieval. You don't want your guests choking on a whole clove later on. Bad form. 8 ounce cans of tomato paste? Never seen them. How about 6 ounce cans? Whats four ounces between friends? The Missus and I gave it a shot Sunday evening for dinner. The recipe calls out for chilling overnight to make it easier to skim off fat. Besides chili is always better left for a day so the flavors have time to meld properly. I used 7% fat ground beef so that wasn't an issue. If you are completely unfamiliar with Cincinnati Style Chili please look at Skyline's website for serving suggestions. Use an incredibly generous portion of freshly shredded Cheddar cheese (don't use store bought pre-shredded- the texture is all wrong thanks to the anti-caking agents) Do use finely minced onion between the chili and cheese- do use drained beans. DO NOT USE Tabasco. This is one of only two times you'll see me insist that you don't. Use Frank's or Crystal, they are the closest I've found to what is served in any of the finer chili parlors. Franks, by the way, is also key to good chicken wings. There are other chili parlors out there that are just a nice but perhaps not as well known as Skyline. You'll find good chili at Gold Star, Empress Chili Parlor (the disputed origin), the classic Camp Washington Chili, Chili Time, and others. According to another Blogspot blog Cincinnati has more chili parlors per capita than any other city in the U.S. The final verdict: Close but not quite. It seems too thick somehow, perhaps too much chocolate. I've heard that cocoa powder is the way to go. I'm not throwing it away, in fact I plan on bringing it to lunch tomorrow. The recipe needs tweaking. I'll keep you posted as to my progress on this very important culinary front.

The steaks: Pre-seasoned. I know sacrilege. Consider though, that steaks I purchased from the previous tenant of the market were seasoned and cooked quite well. I grilled them over direct heat on both sides to sear. I placed them off to the side for medium heat to cook through. In the final stages I used a thermometer to check temps. I cooked to well done. Argh. I forgot what temperature medium rare is (140 F and I cooked to 160- way past done). They were still tasty and delicious. I enjoyed every freakin bite. Next time I will have my perfect steak. Potato- Waved a medium potato for a few minutes (don't forget to stab with a fork to help release steam). Buttered and seasoned with steak rub. Wrapped with foil and grilled. Can't beat that. Didn't even need sour cream or chives. Perhaps I was pickled enough that it didn't matter...

A helluva weekend. Beat that! oddball recipe. not tried. let me know what you think.,1926,158181-246204,00.html recipe I tried. Needs work, but a good start.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wind, Beans, and Headcheese

Well, I sit here at work late this evening contemplating several things.

Hurricane food: Gustav and Ike passed through earlier this month. For a number of days we were without power so cooking became a little more exciting. I went through a ton of PB&J crackers. Not exactly gourmet, but easy and no worries about refrigeration. Two nights before Gustav I found a piece of what I thought was a large pork loin in the freezer. Once defrosted I liberally applied my BBQ rub and left it in the oven for about six hours at 280 F. I shredded it like butt or shoulder and put it into the fridge- then ice chest. It came out rather well. My wife was impressed with it. I can only imagine that if I had taken the time and effort to smoke it, that it would have been that much improved. I was surprised that I didn't do more grilling during our power outage. We prepared a decent amount of food before hand easing our work load.

Work food: As I write this I'm eating a ham sandwich. (I just realized that almost everything I write about has something to do with pork) Crackers, an apple, soda. Basic easy work food. I'm fortunate to be able to use a refrigerator here. I can store several items like condiments, bread, soda, lunch meat and cheese so that I can make a sandwich here instead of getting up earlier to pack a lunch. It seems to me that the more a man works with his hands on the job, the more likely it is that his wife has set aside left overs for his lunch the next day. I've noticed that a lot of the engineers I've worked with tend to bring frozen dinners, eat popcorn, or have a vendor buy them lunch as often as possible. We've been making more meals at work recently as well. Being the designated Yankee, am am being educated as to the ways of Southern Men and cooking. Lately it's been about dry beans and sausage:

1 bag of red beans
2 Onions
4 large links of green onion sausage, andouille
Tony Chachere's
in a decent sized slow cooker- over night
Rice- cooked separately.
Serve the beans and sausage on rice.
One of the guys in for the start-up from Alabama made a "stew":

1 head cabbage
1 16 oz bag of carrots
2 lbs of hard sausage like used above
1 Onion
4 Potatoes
Water to barely cover
Simmered until potatoes, cabbage, and carrots have softened.

Headcheese: We've also been into headcheese. I was first introduced to headcheese 7 years ago in Chalmette. Sliced thin served on a saltine cracker. The guys mentioned it last week. I made an attempt to hit a small hole in the wall place just north of town. No dice. I make a wrong turn and I didn't want to fight traffic more than I had to. That weekend I found headcheese made by Veron's at the grocery near the house. Hot and regular. Brought that along with some saltines. Not bad. One of the guys brought some in from a small town closer to the plant along with Tiger Sauce. Not bad combination. Tiger Sauce and captain's wafers isn't too bad either. Headcheese was supposed to have been originally made with muscle and organ meat from the hog's head. Gelatin would help hold it all together. Today it is more likely scraps. I'm not sure what legislation was passed, but supposedly it is illegal to make headcheese the old way anymore. As they say- they used to use everything but the oink. Now- is it good? If you let yourself forget exactly what it was made of and you don't mind the texture- not too bad. It can be seasoned differnent ways, so it will depend of course upon where it came from.

Enough for now. I have to decide if I'm going to stick around the plant until 3 AM or not.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hoover's 3rd Annual BBQ Competition

It's taken me a while to recover from last weekend. Hoover's Third Annual Barbecue Contest was another success. The number of entrants and people attending increased and the weather co-operated fantastically. There were something like 9 people up for Ribs and about as many for the "Anything But" category.

I packed up the Weber two coolers of beer, cokes, ribs, and melons and set up shop in the side yard late Saturday morning. Three guys who compete on the BBQ circuit were already cooking on some really impressive smokers. My cooking method was very much similar to the one I've tried in the past. This time the big change was that I added about 1/8 cup Cattleman's sauce to the cider and rub before placing the marinade on the grill to warm it up. This turned out pretty nicely. The taste of the ribs turned out quite well. The problem was the texture. My ribs were chewy. Eaten individually I think they would have stood up to the competition much better. However, the rules state that the ribs must be served in pairs. They were not easily separated.

My presentation was unique. I mentioned the melons earlier. I also used a bunch of cilantro to add some green. I don't believe that it survived transportation very well, nor was it as appetizing as I had hoped. I was really impressed by the presentations I saw from the guys on the circuit- pillowy billowing lettuce gently held the ribs in place. Really nice stuff.

The dogs have come out winners in all of this of course. They have been taking care of the bones. I still have four ribs left to finish off. I think those will be lunch tomorrow. I really am happy with the way they taste. Next year with a little more practice I should perform even better.

I learned that I placed second from last. A step up from last year when I turned in ribs that needed to finish cooking. Ew. I was relatively pleased with the outcome. The competition was more sophisticated and practiced. I am sure that next year will be even more difficult. I am looking forward to it.

Thanks Hoover- great job. You and your wife hosted a heck of a party.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Heat Transfer 101, Prepping for Hoover's Contest

Cooked that rack this evening. I came straight home instead of hitting the office for my expenses, mail, and Nomex uniform drop. I'll do that Tuesday when I stay in town that morning for my OSHA and Site Specific refresher CBT. I had ribs to cook!

I had a brilliant realization this afternoon. Last weekend when I poured the liquid into the foil packet the liquid was at ambient temperature. A lot of energy from the grill's heat had to go into warming up the liquid instead of further cooking the ribs. That is why it took so long to finish them off that way. This time 'round I warmed 7-Up and apple cider on the stove before adding it to the foil packet. I also tried dumping a fair bit of rub into the liquid. Perhaps that would help impart more flavor.

Here is the routine:

-Massaged rub into the ribs and let them sit and warm up for about an hour and a half.
-Placed the rack over the coals membrane side down (again I left the membrane on the ribs for expediency- more on this later) for 6 minutes. Smoke was applied at this point.
-Flipped the rack over and placed the meat side down for 6 minutes.
-I didn't feel like bothering with the rib rack for one rack of ribs so I moved the rack over the water bath to smoke. I only added hickory to the fire a few times during the next 2 and a half hours. Temperature started out high in the first steps 400 to 350 F.
-Maintained at least 250 F for the two and a half hours.
-Wrapped the ribs in the aforementioned foil packet and poured in the warmed braising fluid.
-Stoked the coals to 300 F and let them die down over the next half hour. I also opened the bottom vent to allow more air into the grill to keep the coals burning hotter.
-Temperature in the meat was high the few places I stabbed at it; about 179 F. Way past done.

The ribs had a little more flavor than before, seemed a little sweeter. The meat came more cleanly off the bone. A light brushing of bbq sauce would be plenty enough.

I don't believe I mentioned this earlier, these are baby back pork ribs - not beef.

I may leave the membrane on tomorrow for the competition. I didn't seem to be bothered by it when eating the last few times. Besides, it can be a real pain to remove. Sharp Chef's knife, slippery ribs, stretchy membrane... no fun.

I have to put a little thought into presentation. Leafy lettuce is a given. I'll skip the star fruit this time. I have this idea for using a honeydew. That could be interesting. Sliced honeydew does kinda look like a rib in it's cross-section. The honeydew is easily turned into a vessel for sauce. I may have something. We'll see.

Now I just have to begin organizing coolers, tents, chairs, and the rest of it for tomorrow morning. That will be interesting too. I've got to get up early to get an inspection sticker for the truck and take two cats to the vet for a booster vaccine before going to Hoover's for the contest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Genesis 2.21 through 24 Basted and Smoked

It's rib time. For the last 2 years now I've participated in a friend's rib cook off. Each year the field becomes more difficult and the contest more sophisticated. Last year I bowled over the judges with my presentation- nice leafy greens, sauce in a green pepper in the center of the take-out container, and slices of star fruit. However, I turned in ribs that weren't quite done yet. No dice there. Eww. I am working on reducing the cook time so that I can be more certain that the ribs will be thoroughly cooked when presented for judging.

Sunday afternoon I gave two cooking methods a shot. The first was to "brine" the a rack of ribs in 7-Up with a small quantity of salt prior to application of my rub. The second was a plain method- just rub. I did not remove the membrane on the backside of either rack of ribs. I skipped this just to keep it simple for the trial run.

My grill set up is pretty simple and hasn't changed at all for bbq cooking. I cook with a 22" Weber kettle. No "El Cheapo Brinkman", no fabo 55 Gallon drum set up. I use an aluminum roasting pan to hold steaming fluid for the meat, to catch drippings, and help regulate heat. The pan sits under the meat and takes up about 2/3rds of the coal grate. I had used foil or part of another roasting pan to help hold coals in place on the other 1/3rd of the coal grate. There are fancy methods to do this including the BBQ Baffle (not an endorsement from me- a nice site and interesting product that I cannot vouch for). The "How it Works" link on the site has a fairly accurate depiction of my standard set up. I clip a candy thermometer in the vent on the cover, leaving the vent completely open. I hold the vent at the bottom of the grill just barely open to regulate air flow into the grill. I'll have to take some photos the next time I do this.

I had been placing the racks in a rib holder with the membrane side facing the coals for a long time, several hours. I'd spritz cider vinegar and apple cider on the ribs every so often to "baste" them. Flip places of the racks and flop them 180 so that the membrane faced away from the coals and continue to spritz. Last year I used this method until the last hour of cooking when I'd wrap each rack in aluminum foil (from now on I'm using element symbols instead of full names) and place a cup of beer in each packet of foil. I believe my mistake is that so much of the heat that hits the packet goes into warming the cup of fluid that none really went into cooking the ribs. That is how I ended up blowing so much time and came out with undercooked meat.

This time around I placed each rack directly over the coals for about 10 minutes a side before placing them in the rack. Only when the ribs were placed in the rack did I place Hickory on the fire for smoke. The last hour or so of cooking I went to the foil packet method. I used more 7-Up with O.J. (I didn't have cider on hand at the time) and some cider vinegar as the steaming fluid. (I only just came to the conclusion that the packet method wasted time and energy). I had to leave the rib on longer than I anticipated to bring them to 160F.

Each rack turned out quite nicely. The meat had chew to it, not fall of the bone, some work had to be done to get to the protein. I like that. It can be impressive when the meat just slides off the rib, but I like texture, something in my mouth that feels like meat. I do not believe there was enough of a smoke ring on either rack. I will have to place the Hickory on the fire earlier. So there is more work to be done.

Next time my goal is to have the Hickory on on the fire as I "sear" off each rack and then to work towards a better smoke ring. I will warm the steaming fluid in grill prior to placing the racks into packets, and will further evaluate the whole 7-Up vs. Cider Vinegar idea. I may also try two fires- the first for smoking and the second without the Al roasting pan and more coals in the center of the grill to improve the braising? step.

7-Up vs. Cider Vinegar:
Cider vinegar is acidic, acetic acid, which helps to break down the protein. This is the same thing that goes on in a ceviche. If left too long the acid will "cook" the meat. I was also hoping that it would help impart an apple cider flavor to the meat. 7-Up is also acidic and has a lot of sugar to help sweeten up the meat. Somehow I have in my mind that because it is carbonated that it would better penetrate the meat. I've not looked this up or tried to prove or disprove that it works. I had heard about boiling ribs in 7-Up before grilling, for many of the same reasons.

I have another rack in the fridge and was hoping to have tried this earlier this evening, but other duties called. I had to mow the front yard. We'll try Friday as the cook off is Saturday. Cutting it close!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Chipotle Chicken

Knocked out a simple chicken breast for dinner that can't be beat for simplicity.

Chicken Boobs
Tabasco Chipotle Sauce
Citrus Juice (orange, lime...)
Olive Oil

Slather on the Tabasco to coat. You'll have to be the judge of how much juice to spritz the chicken with. I use a fair amount, sometimes say, a 1/3 of a cup of O.J. for each breast, when using lime I'll use a lot less. Oil to coat.

Allow the chicken to marinate. I don't allow more than a half hour. More time means the acid in the juice will turn more of your chicken into bird ceviche. Grill on medium heat, pan fry or any other method that meets your fancy.

Tabasco has the inspiration for this on their web page- 1-step Chipolte Grilled Chicken

I plan on getting my rib game back on again this weekend. We'll see how that turns out. I need the practice. The last 2 Labor Day Weekend's a buddy of mine has had a rib cook-off at his house. He does the whole thing top to bottom- blind judging, take out containers for service... Judged on taste, sauce, presentation and so on. Last year I knocked presentation out of the park with a half a green pepper used as a sort of ramekin for the sauce and star fruit for garnish. I'll work on that again this year, but more importantly I need to get the ribs right. Practice makes perfect. Now- don't think I'll give my secrets away here... you'll have to bribe me with a few beers before I spill on my rub.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Burritos As Big As Seth Rogen's Head

Tacos are wonderful food. Burritos are even better. Wrapped properly they are one of the most perfect ways to eat anything. Made burritos for dinner last night.

It was impossible to come up with an inkling of an idea for dinner. I needed inspiration so I made two stops on the way home. First I dropped off at the new little neighborhood market across the street from the subdivision. This was the first time since the place re-opened that I'd been in. The store has a ton of space. They turned it into a little grocery store- amazing. The aisles were filled with small quantities of all the normal grocery store items. My amazement requires some explanation. In it's two previous lives this store front was more of a South Louisiana specialty meats store with beer and a lunch/dinner counter that had really good steak (they would put signs out on the road a few nights a week- Steak Nite or Crawfish Thursday. These poster board and Crayola signs. Not much effort went into the signs, but the food was pretty darned good) and another store like that but not as well executed. I used to drop in the last place to pickup really great deer, pork, or beef "hot sticks" (slim jims with identifiable meat pieces) or jerky to bring to the plant as goodies for the engineers and millwrights. That is typical salesman stuff here, boudin balls, headcheese and crackers, biscuits, boudin links, doughnuts, ice cream. You pharma reps know exactly what I'm talking about- pens, calendars, post-it pads, and Starbucks for the docs. I do hats, calendars, pocket protectors, and 6" scales or rulers- hot items those are. This store in the oldest version I'm aware of was also directly associated with an industrial sized ice maker and distributor behind the place. Those folks were incredibly generous prior to Katrina as they stayed open the night before landfall to make sure that people had ice. I'll never forget the insane rush for ice and propane that night. The second stop on the way home was at the grocery store a little further down the road. The place I mentioned earlier that had the shallots. Nothing extra-ordinary there, except that the cashier, a girl who appeared to be in high school, told me that I look like Seth Rogen (after some discussion on the topic her exact words were "Seth Rogen on fire". I'm a redhead) I do have the Jew-fro, wear glasses, I've packed on a few pounds, and my face is roundy... so sure, why not. She'd seen the Thursday midnight showing of Pineapple Express.

Back to burritos. I love burritos. I love La Bamba's burritos. I miss them terribly. We used to make fanatical late night runs to the nearest La Bambas. When I was at Bradley my fraternity brothers would drive an hour to Bloomington Normal for a fix. When I was going to Cincinnati I'd drag my friends and roommates to Oxford to the restaurant at Miami of Ohio. La Bambas is good drunk food. I was first introduced to La Bambas while visiting colleges my senior year of high school. My father and I visited Illinois at Urbana Champaign (which turns out to be the first storefront) and Purdue (which happens to be the second) and ate at both. We were amazed by the burritos as big as our heads. There is a substitute here called Izzo's that is quite good. They wrap the burrito in foil the exact same way. One must hold the burrito on it's end and unwrap the foil as one munches his way down. Otherwise you'll end up with burrito on your shirt and in your lap. I saw the tortillas and ground beef and thought of the typical toppings that I knew we had in the fridge. I was set. beware- cheesey site with 64K synth music

Monday, August 4, 2008

Leftovers- 1 of a never ending series

Leftovers are always a challenge. What to do? What to do?

The salmon refuses to go away. We've not eaten very much at all. I needed to use it.

Pasta sauce to the rescue.

3/4 lbs of salmon, cooked
1/2 avg. green pepper
1/3 commercially available roasted red pepper
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
1 tomato
1 glass of white wine
1 good sized pat of butter (not a knob)
Olive Oil
Parmesan, Romano, your favorite Italian hard cheese (Pecorino Romano is what I had on hand from that same Whole Foods run last week.)

Skillet on medium heat. Olive oil to coat. Shallot and garlic cooked till clear. Drop in the rest of the veg and get the juices going. The water from the peppers and tomato will start the sauce. Break the salmon apart and put into the pan. Drop in the glass of wine, reduce by 1/3rd. Drop in the butter, salt and pepper.

Plate pasta, drop on the sauce and grate cheese to your liking. Other veggies might be great additions like squash or zucchini especially to add some color. Cherry tomatoes would be nice too.

Pick out the bones. Jeez, those pin bones are a pain. I thought I had them all and found a few in my portion. Twig helped to clean my plate. He's always good for that.

Ba Ba Burger

Off to a real start now. Uploaded a new photo of the grill and today's Lamb Burgers to lie behind the title. Walking through Whole Foods the other day I picked up a pound and a half of ground lamb. It was something like 40 cents more a pound than the ground sirloin.

Dried Oregano
Zest of 1 Lemon
1/3 Onion finely diced
1.5 lbs ground lamb
Other seasonings per your taste
Olive Oil to coat the burgers

I used some of my favorite commercial steak rub. Mint and a pinch of cinnamon might be a great addition to this if you skip the oregano.

Cooked the burgers over direct high heat for about 5 minutes a side. Toasted the buns. More like blackened a few buns. I was distracted while taking photos. Either way they turned out pretty well. Tried my burger press for the first time today too. It worked, of course, but the burgers blew up a little bit, not nearly as badly as when I hand shape them. You know how it can be- Softballs. I have tried dimpling one side as so many grilling cookbooks advise without luck. We each ate one and have three in reserve for later in the week. The salmon is still in the fridge too. I'll have to find a way to get that somewhere other than the cat's stomachs. I treated Stumpy to a bite as her was served dinner a lot later than usual.

I have to admit that my grilling technique could use some improvement. I have to find a thick enough steak to really try to make it red and cool in the center. Most of the steaks I've purchased are so stinking thin that it takes no time for them to cook through. Or, I suppose I could be a little faster with the tongs.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What am I, chicken?

When my brother was in high school he had a job at a local sub shop that fashioned itself after sub shops in New Jersey. This was not a place to get grinders or regionally generic footlong sandwiches assembled by "artists" (Jamie Kennedy, Trey Pearce-holla) or sandwiches toasted on conveyor belts. I have nothing against those stores, some of my friends have worked with pride in them, hell, I eat at them. A New Jersey submarine sandwich is first and foremost put together on a french baguette like bread that has a wonderfully hard crust. This is the kind of crust your orthodontist warned you about. We're talking no chipotle mayonnaise or garlic pesto sauces, no lo fat lo cal, no wheat bread, no sissy salads. Just submarine sandwiches. Great submarine sandwiches that brought me back to the old neighborhood in Jersey lo those many years ago.

While he worked there he learned how to make an incredible tuna salad. He shared the secret of the salad with me- black pepper, plenty of black pepper. So when I make a tuna or chicken salad as I did yesterday I make sure to lay on a good layer of pepper. I mean a good thick layer, what almost looks like too much on the salad. Sometimes I've been known to add mustard for a little tang as well. A good crunch is a nice addition to tuna or chicken salad- celery is a classic of course, but grapes are an interesting option. I think I'd leave the mustard out when trying grapes. I'll have to give that a shot some time. I also tend to mix mayo and salad spread- Miracle Whip. I grew up with the spread and my wife grew up with mayo. So I compromise. Again, I enjoy the tang from the spread.

I've been thinking about recipes lately and how I'll handle listing amounts of ingredients in the blog. I hate to say it but I never measure anything. I season by taste and by eye. Perhaps that is why I have no interest in baking. So unless I'm talking about a rub chances are slim that I'll have measurements. We'll see how that works.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Two-fer: Pork instead of Venison and Salmon

I didn't cook Tuesday night. During my commute home Sonya called and had the suggestion that I drop by Whole Foods to pick up two of their fabulous sandwiches. Going to Whole Foods is not something you ask me to do without thinking about the checking account. I'll drop in expecting to spend twenty bucks on a few items and come out having dropped a hundred on a few more (yes the qualifiers used previously were on purpose- you've all been there and done that at that store especially). I got the sandwiches and while I thought about the traffic and the impending rain outside, I thought about spending a little more time in this slice of supermarket heaven. So I picked up some reasonably priced fruit, a bag of recycled hardwood lump charcoal, two flavors of Izze (gawd that is great stuff), two knobs of cheese I knew Sonya would like, the sandwiches, a side of grilled asparagus salad, a gallon of milk, a pound and a half of salmon fillet, and the same of ground lamb.

Wednesday I was home at a decent hour so there was time to grill. No beer, but I had the bug and would have to make do. I had a pork tenderloin in the fridge that I needed to use and decided to knock the salmon out for tomorrow night or the weekend as well.

Pork Tenderloin-
The tenderloin I'd tried last week with some success. I prepared the pork in a pan instead of on the grill and used the goodies left over in the pan along with some of the resting juices to make a sauce. The recipe called for blueberries and I had frozen raspberries. I ran with it. I was surprised earlier that night to find that the locally owned market down the road had shallots, so that worked out well. The sauce turned out with pronounced garlic and shallot flavor- not too good, but I can see the potential even with raspberries. This time around I did not fool with the sauce. Same basic recipe, with many more juniper berries ( either they are old, having sat on Target's shelf too long- I got them severely discounted, or our juniper is much more delicate flavor than I expected), dried thyme instead of fresh, and fresh rosemary. Grilled it over high heat on all sides to sear and brown the meat, then tossed it on the side to cook through. I picked up the recipe from Jamie Oliver's show on Food Network several weekends ago.

Pretty simple. Salt, pepper, olive oil to coat, sliced citrus (about 10mm thick). Grill on high heat, then move off to medium for the remainder. All I did was slop the seasoning on, then the olive oil, and wallpapered the fillet with sliced grapefruit. I've used orange with great results before. Can't go too wrong there. That now sits in ice box for later. Sure, the skin/scales burnt to a crisp, but I gave that to the dogs for their help.

While grilling my old college roommate Dan H. and I had a great time catching up. It seems that the apple of his eye is learning to walk five steps at a time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I've been thinking about a blog for some time. What interesting topic could I possibly post about?

Earlier this spring my wife and I took a real vacation. Not visiting family, not a three day extended weekend, nothing too close, a real honest to g-d vacation. We did it right. I mean, really right. This was the first time since I began working that I stopped thinking about work. I enjoyed every minute away from my everyday life and had to drag myself back into it. We went to Europe for 17 days visiting five countries on a cruise, spending three of those days on our own in Rome. Amazing. We took some incredible photos, we ate some wonderful food, and we visited places the both of us had always wanted to see. The two of us had an incredible time together. I am really happy that we were able to do this. I can't wait until the next time we have the chance to do something like this again.

The experience I had eating in Europe, even on the cruise-ship, was different than any that I've had here at home. Food was fresher, flavors more pronounced. I appreciated the way that restaurants were operated. Everything seemed to be centered around the food and the chance to enjoy it. Now I've always enjoyed food. I've always enjoyed preparing food and I've even had thoughts of going to culinary school. I'm no chef. It is not my aspiration to cook day in and day out for several hundred or even several tens of people. I enjoy cooking for my wife and myself. I enjoy cooking for my friends and family on occasion. I really enjoy spending time in the kitchen, then in the back yard drinking a beer while playing with our dogs as something sizzles away on the grill.

Because of that experience I've decided to share what I prepare and how I prepare it in a blog. The plan is to also post photos of the finished product and even some pictures of the food in progress. I cannot guarantee that everything will turn out right. In fact, I hope things don't always go as planned. It's been my experience that I learn more and faster from mistakes than from my successes. This is an opportunity to learn new skills, new flavors combinations (flavor palate- thanks Top Chef for the lingo), and grow as a cook.