Saturday, January 31, 2009

25 Culinary Things About Me

It seems that everyone this past week has been doing that 25 things about me on Facebook and their blogs. I did one on Facebook but while making french toast for the family this morning I thought that I should do one from a culinary standpoint. I have no idea how this will go but I'm going to give it a shot.

  1. My full knife set is Henckles but my favorite knife to use has become a Caphalon santako.
  2. I miss my wife working at Williams and Sonoma for the amazing discount that employees get. I can't afford to shop there much these days.
  3. I probably cook 3-4 meals a week on my Big Green Egg.
  4. I am disciplined in all the exercise that I do because I have zero discipline around heavy cream, bacon, and butter. I have a 21 BMI that I don't plan on going up.
  5. I like to wear my mp3 player and dance around while cooking.
  6. I have Kitchenaide and Cuisinart sets of pans and pots. However, my work horse is a pair of el cheapo industrial skillets from Sam's (Bakers and Chef's brand).
  7. I don't have a wooden cutting board.
  8. I love summer because of all the herbs that my wife grows in the front yard. There is something comforting about strolling your front yard for ingredients. Maybe it's because of being on my grandparents farm in North Carolina as a child and loving to pick dinner from their private stock garden.
  9. God knew what he was doing when he made artichokes.
  10. He kind of blew it on brussels sprouts though.
  11. I'm a carnivore, I rarely have a meal without meat. I've been known to have meat as a side dish to meat;)
  12. Cooking is theraputic for me. It is my way of relieving stress.
  13. I have catered three events. That was NOT theraputic and did NOT relieve stress.
  14. My mother is my inspiration for learning to cook although I took a different path and we rarely cook the same.
  15. I'm not real experienced at cooking Fried Chicken of all things. I just don't like dealing with all the oil. I'd rather just spatchcock the bird and throw in on the smoker.
  16. Fire! Fire! I'm Beavis and Butthead when it comes to cooking. I'd flambe ice cream if it were possible.
  17. Sometimes I can't eat what I've cooked until the next day, especially when it's been a several hour long cook. Everyone can be wolfing it down and saying how good it is, but something just makes me loose my appetite. The next day, it's delicious.
  18. I will cry if I ever have to give up my gas oven & range.
  19. I always have a tea towel over my right shoulder while cooking.
  20. I have absolutely zero culinary training other than Food Network and before that PBS.
  21. If I won the lottery, I'd immediately enroll in the CIA or similar school.
  22. My wife is my sous chef.
  23. I miss Emeril Lagasse. Not the caricature from Emeril Live. I'm talking about the dude that he was in his first show. He was great then.
  24. I have a man crush on Alton Brown. Brandi actually stood in line for hours to get him to sign a copy of his most recent book, for me.
  25. I'm a firm believer that if a recipe calls for milk, they meant half and half. If it calls for half and half, they meant heavy cream :)
Wow, that was harder than I thought. I dare you to give it a shot if you have a food blog.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Roasted Veggies

Last night I made one of my favorite easy side dishes, Roasted Potatoes with Garlic & Rosemary. I found this at the BigOven (I'm a big fan...or I guess a BigFan) recipe site two or three years ago and for me, the potatoes come out perfectly crisp on the outside but tender on the inside.

Ingredients

1/4 cup Olive oil
4 cloves Garlic pressed or minced
1 Tbl. Fresh rosemary chopped
2 lbs. potatoes, red skinned cut into large chunks
to taste Coarse sea salt
to taste Ground black pepper

Instructions
Prehead oven to 450 degrees F with the oven rack in the lower third. Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. On the stovetop, in a large baking sheet with sides, heat the oil, garlic, and rosemary. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in the water for 1 minute. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and place them on the baking sheet. Stir to coat with oil. Roast the potatoes, on the baking sheet, on the lower oven rack. Roast for 20 minutes and then carefully toss with a spatula. Roast another 10 minutes or until cooked through, brown, and crisp. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.


I also had a bag of baby carrots and thought that this same method should work with them as well. I boiled them for 3-5 minutes and put them on a separate 1/4 sheet pan, tossing them with olive oil and about 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon. I roasted them the same as the potatoes, adding 1/4 cup of brown sugar during the last 10 minutes. The flavor was rich but not too strong.

While they were roasting, I threw two ribeyes on the Big Green Egg at a roaring 650f fire.
I using Kevin Rathburn's tried and true method, I ran them 2 minutes, flipped, 2 minutes, flipped and shut down both vents letting them roast for 2 more minutes (6 minute total cook time). I took them out and let them rest for 10 minutes. Normally this gets them perfect medium rare but these were what I'd consider medium or at least medium-ish.

Served it all up with some Texas Toast and everyone was Happy Happy!
I really have to work on my plating / food styling but damn, by the time I get to this point, I am so ready to eat it's not funny!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grilling spray lubricants

I like the convenience of using spray lubricants when grilling. I know it's not that hard to use tongs to rub an oil dampened cloth or paper towel on the grill grate. I just prefer the ease of use and I always have a can of spray in my gear box. I like to give the grate a spritz just a few seconds before throwing the food on.

I've used Weber's Grill'n Spray for about the last two years. It's grate (mispelling intended) because I can spray it directly onto my grill grate over a rocket hot fire without creating a fireball that singes off my eyebrows.

Recently, we ran out of Weber's and the store we get it from was closed. Alexis brought me two new (to me anyway) products from Pam, Pam High Heat and Pam Grilling. I thought I'd give it a shot since Pam is synonymous with spray oil.
They worked okay, but both offerings from Pam do flame up when you spray them over a direct flame. So you should take the grate off of direct heat in order to spray it. Not a big deal, but I'd rather handle a hot grate as few times as possible, so I still prefer Weber's product.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Atomic Buffalo Turds and CSI: Ribs

One of the best things about smoking meats that take hours and hours is making something BBQ enthusiasts call Atomic Buffalo Turds or ABT's for short, as an appetizer. Everyone has their own version but they are basically a cheese stuffed jalapeno wrapped with bacon and smoked. They are spicy hot but not like you would think. I don't care for the heat of jalapenos but I think these are great.I halve jalapenos and then scrape the inside of them with a teaspoon to get out all of the seeds and veins to make a little jalapeno canoe. I put a "fat match stick sized" piece of andouille sausage in each "canoe". Then I stuff each with a 50/50 mixture of cream cheese & shredded cheese, today using colby/jack. The cheese will expand so I try not to overstuff them. I wrap each with a slice of bacon then sprinkle it with BBQ rub and turbinado sugar. Smoking them at 225f will take somewhere between 60-90 minutes, until the bacon is as crisp as you want.

Ok, now an admission. My first ribs of 2009 sucked. They were horrible, almost as bad as ribs from a restaurant. They were so bad it needed a Crime Scene Investigation. Here is a summary of where things went bad.
  • Meat: The spare ribs were very poor quality. I couldn't believe how bad they were as I was trimming them St. Louis style. One end of each rack of spares was ok, but the other end was scrawny, skinny. Must have been a dieting pig.
  • Rub: I experimented with a rub that had too much salt. Flavor was ok, but using a lot of salt in a rub on ribs makes them start to cure like a ham during the cooking process.
  • Fire management: I wasn't paying attention while the Big Green Egg was warming up and my temp shot up to 450f before I knew it. I struggled to get it back down to 225-250f but it ended up staying around 300f all afternoon.
  • No drip pan: I just put foil on the plate setter because I was out of 1/2 steam pans. So instead of the rendered fat falling into a drip pan with liquid, the grease fell onto the hot foil. That grease smoldered a bit, adding a funky flavor to the rib meat.
I've been so happy with my cooking for the past few months, so I'm not all that upset over a bad cook. Disappointed, sure. But I'll be back on my game next time.

Roasted Stuffed Jalapenos

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cajun Pit Beef Sandwiches

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

This sandwich is based on our Cajun Roast Beef recipe (click for full recipe). The short version is that you rub a beef eye of round with the following dry rub.

2 tablespoon Paprika
2 teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoon Onion powder
2 teaspoon Garlic powder (granulated garlic works great too)
2 teaspoon Cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoon White pepper
1/2 teaspoon Black pepper
1 teaspoon Dried thyme
1 teaspoon Oregano

Then you sear it and cook it at 275f in an indirect heat set up on a roasting rack over a 1/2 steam pan filled with a cup or two of beef broth like this.I like to actually apply the rub on the beef while it's over the broth, so the extra rub falls into the broth. That and the drippings during the cook make the best au jus I've ever had.

Yesterday, I double wrapped the cooked roast in foil and tossed it in the fridge for a few hours. That makes it so much easier to slice on the meat slicer. Here is the roast after it has rested for a few hours and I cut it to get a flat edge to start on the meat slicer. (Double click for a larger pic and you can see how juicy it still is. There's also a light smoke ring from the apple wood smoke that I used in the BGE yesterday.)
Next, I made my "roux jus". I made a roux whisking 2 Tablespoons flour into 2 Tablespoons of butter in a saute pan. Just as the roux started to turn golden, I added the au jus from the drip pan (it was only about 1/2 cup left), continuing to whisk until smooth.

Earlier I had made this cajun horseradish sauce that I found on Big Oven. I thought it was a great horseradish sauce for any roast beef or prime rib dish, although it doesn't really scream "cajun" to me. But I will definitely use it again, I just might cut the sugar a bit. My wife will probably fight me on that one, because she liked the "heat and sweet" as is.

So the final assembly is simple an onion roll, with thin sliced cajun roast beef, "roux jus", and topped with the onion roll top, slathered with the horseradish sauce.
This one is a definte keeper. It would be a great dish for Superbowl parties. You could make a tray of these sandwiches quartered and toothpicked.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Comfort Food: Monte Cristo Sandwiches

A frigid blitzkrieg of cold arctic weather has smashed into East Tennessee. You can hear it in the crunch under your feet if you walk on soil. The inhospitable weather bites into you the second you step out of the door. So what better night of the year is there for some great comfort food, like Monte Cristo sandwiches and tomato-basil soup?

Steve's Tomato & Basil Soup is one I found on BigOven about a year and a half ago. You haven't had tomato soup until you've made it at home. For my tastes, I like to run the food processor/blender a little longer for smoother consistency. That way, I didn't need to use a coarse sieve to strain the soup as the instructions list as an option.

Monte Cristo sandwiches
Is there a more perfect comfort food? I mean, it's a freaking ham and swiss sandwich cooked like french toast! It's not the prettiest thing by any means but it more than makes up for that in the flavor department.

Like I said earlier, it was cold as [enter your colorful simile here], so I used what I had on hand to avoid going out in the bitter "find every draft/gap in your clothing" cold.

Ingredients
4 slices white bread, crusts removed
2 t prepared mustard (the yellow stuff)
6 ea slices black forest ham
2 ea slices swiss cheese
2 ea eggs
1/4 c milk or half and half......*%($ it, use cream
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper, ground

Instructions
Slather the mustard on one side of each piece of bread. Place two pieces of bread mustard side up. Layer ham and swiss on top of those two pieces (I wouldn't hate you if you snuck in a piece of bacon or two, also).

Place the remaining two pieces of bread on top of the stacks, mustard side down (duh?). Cut the two sandwiches in half, diagonally (Does the word "diagonally" always remind you of the 1970's/80's game Score Four?).

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt & pepper.

Melt 1 tb of butter in a heated saute pan (Yes, you're right, I didn't list that in the ingredients but apparently, it's easier for me to write this sentence than to go back and list it).

Dip the sandwich triangles in the egg mixture on both sides. Place them in the hot saute pan and cook for about 1-2 minutes per side, until browned.

Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar and serve with rasperry jelly/preserves/whateveryoucanfind on the side.

These were perfect for dinner on a cold night like tonight!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Easy Mexican Rice & Steak Fajitas

I wanted to make dinner without having to go to the store tonight, so I decided to make simple fajitas and Mexican rice.

Easy Mexican Rice

Ingredients

1 cup Rice long grain, uncooked
1 cup Water
1 cup Chicken broth
1/2 ea Onion diced
1 ea Tomato diced
1 tablespoon Garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1 tablespoon Tomato bullion
1 tablespoon Sugar ( turbinado )
2 tablespoon Butter divided


Instructions
Saute onion in 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat until translucent.

Add remaining butter and as soon as melted add rice. Saute rice like a pilaf until it starts to brown. Add spices and tomato and saute for another minute. Add broth, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

NOTE: Feel free to add corn, cilantro, and/or black beans with the tomato and spices. If the tomato is juicy, it may take longer than 20 minutes to evaporate the liquid.

Yields: 4 Servings

Based off of Best Mexican Rice on Cook.com


We added a few saffron threads to the liquids and I liked the difference it made. We also added some cilantro and a handful of white corn. Next time, I'd like to char the corn on the cob on the grill first.

For the fajitas, I marinaded a flat iron steak and some pepper & onion our favorite fajita marinade. We like it with chicken or beef.

2 tablespoon Oil
3 tablespoon Lime Juice
1-2 clove Garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoon Season salt
1 1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon Red pepper ground
1 tablespoon Cilantro chopped

After a few hours in the marinade, I put the steak on the Big Green Egg, which was set up for direct heat at 600 f. Yeah, it was running rather hot!I shut the lid and left it alone for 4 minutes. Then I flipped it and let it go for another 4 minutes. I pulled it off of the Egg at that point. The steak was at an internal temp of 130f before letting it rest.

I sauteed the veggies for a few minutes, shredded some colby jack cheese that I had smoked, and tossed it all on some flour tortillas.Not bad for a quickie.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gyro and Falafel

I'm not sure whether that title sounds more like the name of a law firm or a Cartoon Network show. But it's actually what I made for dinner tonight.

Falafel
I found this recipe on BigOven, the cooking software/food networking that I prefer.

Ingredients

4 cups Garbanzo Beans - 2 cans
4 cloves Garlic - minced
2 teaspoons Cumin
1 teaspoon Turmeric
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Onion - finely minced
1/4 cup Parsley Minced
1/4 cup Water
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 dash Cayenne
1/3 cup Flour


Instructions
Rinse the garbanzos and drain them well. If they were canned, just drain them.

Combine all ingredients (except flour) in a food processor or a medium sized bowl and process or mash until batter is uniform. Add flour and stir/process until thoroughly combined. The batter can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for several days.

Preheat oven to 400?. Get a baking pan, cookie sheet, pie tin--whatever. Spray it with non-stick spray for best results and form the batter with a spoon into a flattened ball. It should not be much bigger than your spoon. For a falafel in a small pita bread, make 2-3 felafel patties. For a larger one, 4-5 will do. Bake them for about 20-25 minutes. You might flip them over halfway through baking. Theyre finished when they are golden brown. The aroma will fill your kitchen! Serve these in pita bread with sliced bell peppers, onions, tomatoes--whatever you'd like


My notes: This was a little bit too much for my food processor. Next time I'd split it into two smaller batches and then blend them by hand in a large mixing bowl.

The spices were a touch too strong, next time scale cumin back to 1.5 t. We liked them better flattened out as patties brushed with lemon juice and topped with some of the tzatziki. The flavor was good but the texture seems like it should be more crispy on the outside, cake like on the inside. Maybe they'd be better fried?

Not bad, but definitely needs tweaking. Hit me with your falafel suggestions.

Gyro's with Tzatziki
I used the recipe and technique that Alton Brown used (click the link for full recipe & instructions)in his Good Eats show. We've made it twice before and like it.

Ingredients
I rolled the mixture tight in saran wrap and rested it in the fridge for 4 hours to firm it up. I decided to cook it on the Big Green Egg like a fatty, which is sort of like Alton's rotisserie method.
I cooked it indirect at 300f with a drip pan underneath to catch drippings. My target temp was 350f, but I was low on lump charcoal and I needed to clean out around the fire box. It took approximately 90 minutes to reach 170f internal.
I let it rest for 10 minutes and then this is one area where I deviated. When you see gyro meat being cut normally, they are slicing from the top to the bottom, shaving it off. The crust is the best part so I wanted it to be more evenly distributed for every serving piece. So I sliced the gyro fatty in half lengthwise and then sliced that thinly. This is just 1/2 of the sliced meat.We ate them in pita pockets with thinly sliced red onion, tzatziki sauce, and chopped tomatoes. The flavor was brilliant, it made my mouth water biting into that first bite. Excellent! Given the amount it made this way, I will keep this in mind for buffet platters for parties or events.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Comfort Food: Italian Sausage Skillet Slop

When I left my workout this morning, the cold rain that has soaked East Tennessee chilled me to the bone as I hurried to the warmth of my car. I drove towards home under the wintery gray sky and knew that today was a day for comfort food. Hmmmm but what, chili? Spaghetti? Nope, I was thinking about Italian Sausage Skillet Slop.


I thought about it because I had some left over roasted tomatoes the day before, using the temps/times from this recipe. I used the oven and they were good, but next time I'd fire roast them with some cherry wood in the Big Green Egg.


I sliced about 4 of them and added them to the rest of the ingredients

Ingredients
1 pound Italian sausage
1 onion chopped
1 bell pepper chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
1 can Italian seasoned tomatoes
1 pound Rigatoni
2 teaspoons Dry basil
1/4 cup parsley chopped
3/4 cup parmesan, cheese shaved or shredded
1/2 cup olive oil

Instructions
Crumble the sausage into a skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring often until meat begins to brown. Add onions and bell pepper. Continue to cook until the onion is soft, but not brown. Pour off excess fat.

Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes (break up with a spoon). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until thickened.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. In a bowl, combine parsley, basil, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Add rigatoni and mix.

Pour in the mixture from the skillet and stir. Serve with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.


We have been making this recipe for about 15 years and love it. It's easy, full of flavor, and warms you up on a frigid, wet nasty day.

For a printable version, click here:
Italian Sausage Skillet Slop

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You have to see this....

to believe it!


Blue Swine Pie as found on the Egg forum. Click on the link for step by step photos and the full forum post.

Kind of makes a turducken look like a Lean Cuisine meal, doesn't it?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pineapple Upside Down Pig

This isn't really a recipe as much as it is what I made for dinner tonight. We called it Pineapple Upside Down Pig because the cherry was in the rub, under the pineapple. But next time to keep it closer to "pineapple upside down cake", I'd add some brown sugar to the dry rub.

Ingredients
6-7 lb ham (pre smoked, spiral sliced)
1 T Billy Bones XXX Cherry rub
2 T Billy Bones Original rub
1/2 C Billy Bones Original Sauce (or other commercial BBQ sauce)
1/2 C cherry preserves
1 can pineapple slices
Instructions
Coat the ham with the rub. Place on indirect heat (plate setter legs up on a BGE) at 250f with some cherry wood smoke. After 30 minutes, mix the BBQ sauce and cherry preserves and brush the ham with it. Place pineapple slices around ham, using toothpicks to secure them. Brush again with the baste.Start raising the temperature towards 300-325f. This is right about when it started raining. Fortunately, the BGE is very tolerant of poor weather conditions!Cook until the ham is warmed through. Since it is precooked, it should be ready to eat anyway. For a quick throw me together dinner, it was a mouth watering main dish!
I meant to get a plated shot, but we were all so hungry by the time it was ready....ah, you understand.

Friday, January 2, 2009

European Street Style Beer Cheese Soup

In high school, Andy and Margaret Z's parents owned a cool deli in the Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville, FL. It was called Mr. Dunderbaks. Later, it became European Street cafe but it still had the old world styling, the canned German music, import foods, and an expansive line of high quality brews that filled the length of a wall. If you drank one of each kind (tracked on a card), you won a free beer a week for a year (or something like that). The hard part was, this wasn't a bar. You were limited to 4 beers a visit.

My friend, Carson, worked there for a while. Sometimes I'd hang out with him while he closed up. My wife and I also love to sit in the "outdoor cafe" part which was really the store front opening into the mall traffic. We'd eat, have a few beers, and people watch. Ahhhh what great fun.

They had great sandwiches and decadent desserts (Snickers pie, reese's peanut pie, etc) but our favorite was their beer cheese soup. So when we moved from Jacksonville and I couldn't get it anymore, I experimented with a few beer cheese soup recipes but none of them were what I was looking for. I stole from this one, borrowed from that one, added a thing or two and this is what I ended up with. This probably isn't a clone, it's more of a clone of how I remember it.

European Street Style Beer Cheese Soup Ingredients,

1 cup onion chopped
1/2 cup carrot finely diced
1/3 cup celery finely diced
1/2 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
12 ounces beer
3 cups chicken broth up to 5 cups if desired.
4 cups cheddar cheese shredded
2 cups half and half
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 cup Flour
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Instructions

Saute carrots, onions, and celery in butter until the onions are translucent

Stir in flour and cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes, whisking constrantly, making sure it does not burn.

Stir in beer (must be first to cook off the alcohol), paprika, mustard, worchestershire, and broth. Use wire whisk to smooth. Add cheese, slowly bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Feel free to mix up the cheese or a use a blend of cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, sharp cheddar and colby-jack, or whatever. Tonights blend was some of the smoked cheeses that I cold smoked last week, including mild cheddar, white cheddar, and fontina.


Remove from heat and fold in half and half (or heavy cream if you want to get that first heart attack out of the way tonight). Add tabasco. Serve w/ extra tabasco on the side and fresh popcorn as garnish.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Standard Product Review Disclaimer

I write this blog for my personal enjoyment. From time to time I may give my opinion on a product or service. It is just my opinion, I'm not an expert in the field and other people's opinions may differ (I can't help it if they are wrong, ha ha).

To keep my reviews independent and free of conflicts of interest, my personal policies for reviews are:
  1. This blog receives no payment or other compensation for advertising.
  2. This blog receives no payment or other compensation for reviews of products or services.
  3. If I did not pay full retail price for a product being reviewed, I will explicitly state that in the review.
  4. Unless explicitly stated, I have no affiliation or relationship with the supplier of a product being reviewed.
  5. Acceptance of a free sample does not guarantee a review. I follow a "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" rule of thumb. If I like a product, I'll review it. If not, I'm not going to embarrass a supplier.