Friday, October 30, 2009

Smoked Chicken part Deux and 1/2

I was recently waterboarded...errr....I mean interviewed by Lea Ann over at Mangos, Chilis, and Z. She's got a new bit named "Just Grilled" where she puts a food blogger on the hot seat. Hop over there and check it out, she's got a great blog.

Smoked Chicken
The first real BBQ that ever hit my mouth was when I was a kid spending summers on my grandparent's tobacco farm near Elizabethtown, NC. It was pulled pork that just blew me away. My taste buds were rocked to life by the local volunteer fire department's fund raising Q. To this day, I remember that first bite.

That experience was what would lead me to buy my first smoker 25 years later. A funny thing happened on the way to making perfect pulled pork. I learned to make some kick ass smoked chicken, ( if I do say so myself, which I do).

I've posted my recipe and techniques for smoking chicken before, so I'll just re-link them here (smoked chicken) and here (spatchcock chicken).

I smoked the chicken using the rubs and mops in the links but here is tonight's cooking log. Using a cooking log like this let's you learn from your mistakes and successes.

The initial rub and subsequent mops, build a layer of flavors, seasoning, and color.

I pulled the chix when the remote probe in the thigh hit 180f for an internal temp. This gives you a temp in the breast of 160f. Then you let the bird rest for about 10-15 minutes.

The wings make the perfect "chef's treat". I sliced these off and Alexis and I picked these two wings clean before we even touched the rest of the bird.

Then, I commenced "pulling" the chicken (aka shredding) to be used in dishes later this weekend. Look how juicy this bird comes out even after 3 hours in the smoker.

The leq quarters were just as gorgeous as the breasts. (Just in case you're a 'thigh man')

The skin was impeccably crisped, so I had to chop some up to go into the pulled chicken.

Chicken. It tastes just like chicken. Only really good chicken!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chickamauga Chicken and Spanish Rice

I was asked to host Guess Who's Coming To Dinner over at Welcome to Our KrAzy KiTcHeN this week. It was fun getting to vandalize...errr...deface....errr...POST on someone else's blog.

I chose to go with a recipe that Trevor and I made up two years ago, Chickamauga Chicken. It's basically a grilled chicken breast topped with fried corn tortilla strips, black olives, green onion, cheese, and a bbq/ranch sauce. Go over there to see the full details.

But I needed a good side to go with the Chickamauga Chicken and decided to make a Spanish Rice. I decided to go with South Texas Spanish Rice by Carey Starzinger.

South Texas Spanish Rice
posted to the BBQ List by Carey Starzinger on Aug 5, 1996


1 1/2 cups long grain rice

1 ea onion, medium, chopped fine
1 ea jalapeno, chopped fine
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup tomato sauce

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 cup frozen sweet peas

3 tablespoons vegetable oil


Brown rice in oil until just starting to brown. Add onion and jalapeno and brown 1 minute more. Add all remaining ingredients and stir only the top (not the rice!) boil 20 seconds, cover and reduce heat to med low for 20 minutes (do not remove lid). Leave covered for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better). Fluff with fork.

I gathered up the ingredients, except the frozen peas, as I had none. I ended up subbing some corn, made sense to me.

Three tablespoons of oil sounded excessive, so I figured if I was going to be excessive, then I was going to be excessively excessive! French have the mirepoix. Cajuns have the trinity. I went with the menage-a-fat. One tablespoon each of bacon fat, butter, and canola oil.

This seems just like a pilaf so far....

It turned out great!

Trevor ate three helpings (he did just come home from football practice) and everyone else loved it too. For such an easy dish, this one is a keeper!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sportin' Wood

Cherry wood that is.

I scored some free cherry wood on Craigslist. It is one of my favorite woods for smoking because it's fruity, not obnoxious, and versatile.
I finally got my chainsaw back from my brother-in-law this weekend and the first thing I did was the kind of things you do when you get borrowed tools back from your brother-in-law. I disassembled it, cleaned it, and replaced the chain. Yeah, thanks dude.

I sawed the 6 feet long pieces down to 4-6 inch long pieces. Then I started splitting the small pieces into chunks for smoking food. Man this is a lot of work.

If only I had a readily available source of cheap labor. Hmmmmmmm.......light bulb!

Actually Trevor loves splitting wood, it's like a game to him. I taught him how to "read" the wood so you can tell how it's going to split the easiest. You look at the rings and look for fissures pointing towards the center. Sometimes they are obvious "cracks" but other times, it is subtle changes of texture. My father taught me this when I was Trev's age and my grandfather (mother's side) taught him.

We split about 40 lbs into chunks. It's still a little wet so I'll have to let this season for another 6 months before I can start using it for cooking.

We have about another 40 lbs to split. Anyone local have some apple wood to trade for some cherry?

One of the most common questions from people new to smoking or bbq is "what wood goes with what meat"? Here is a pretty comprehensive list*.

*Although they DON'T include pimiento wood, which is the wood used for true jerk chicken, but I'll let that slide :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Black Beans and Rice

As ugly and dreary as yesterday was, today was just glorious. Blue skies, autumn colors, and moderate temperatures meant my butt was grilling today!

What? No, I wasn't grilling a pork butt, you SMOKE a pork butt. I meant that my rear end would be outside cooking.

The black beans and rice were a side dish to a couple of ribeyes that I had introduced to my cajun beef rub.

Then said ribeyes made the acquaintance of a certain Big Green Egg who was running along at about 550f degrees.

TIP: It's important to let your steaks "rest" after cooking. I don't just let mine rest, I give them the day spa treatment. Drizzle some Worcestershire sauce, olive oil and fresh herbs on the plate on which they will be resting.

See? It makes them happy.

Ok, on to the Black Beans and Rice. The thing I like about our quickie version is that it bypasses hours of soaking dried beans, simmering them with ham hocks, etc but still results in a reasonable facsimile of real black beans and rice. One of the tricks is using bacon grease/pork fat to saute the veggies. This lets you get away with only about a 20 minute cooking time.

Chris' Quick Black Beans and Rice

1 can black beans rinsed
1/2 cup onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 ea Jalapeno peppers seeded, finely diced
1 tablespoon Pork fat (substitute butter if don't keep your bacon grease?)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
2 teaspoons Cilantro chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt to taste
2 cups rice cooked

Heat pork fat (bacon grease) in a saute pan. Once it comes to temp add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes.

As the onion starts to become soft and translucent, add the garlic and pepper (very finely diced & seeds removed). Saute for another 3 minutes.

Add the cumin, cilantro, salt, pepper, Tabasco, and black beans. Either add 1/4 cup of chicken broth or swirl 1/4 cup of water in the black bean can to get out the leftover "goodies" and add to the pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until thickened.

Serve the beans over a timbale of rice and garnish with bacon, cilantro, sour cream, or whatever sounds good.

Here's a trick I came up with during cooking tonight. One of those aha moments. It may have been done before but it was new to me.

TIP: The "reverse timbale". A timbale is just using a small bowl to shape a mound of rice, grits, mashed potatoes, or whatever. Instead of pouring my beans over a timbale, I thought WHAT IF...

I put an inverted sauce cup in the small bowl first...

Filled the small bowl with rice and inverted it onto a plate like a normal timbale...

Removed the bowl and cup to form a "tim-bowl"....

And filled it with the black beans!

I know that it's almost impossible to be truly original in cooking anymore. No matter what you come up with, someone else already did it. But dammit, I was proud of coming up with it on my own*. ***

*Interestingly enough, that's the same thing that Gottfriend Leibniz said to Sir Isaac Newton**.

**Yes, I realize that calculus jokes have no place in a food blog.

***And just in case that wasn't good enough, I've already thought through the "double reverse timbale". That's where I do a "reverse timbale into a deep bowl. Then, you put two different things on the inside and outside of the formed "timbowl". For example, you could make a rice timbowl, put cooked stir fry stuff on the outside and an brown sauce inside of it. Cool presentation and then the guests mix it all up.****

****Yes I like footnotes.

Sausage and Grits

On a semi-food related note: Bowling For Soup released their new album (remember those? It's what recording artists used to make, now it's just singles) this month. It is low-brow, immature, ridiculous and hook laden stuff. But I can't help myself, I love it! Songs like Hooray for Beer, My Wena, and I Hate L.A. make me laugh and I keep finding myself scrolling them up on my mp3 player.

Back to food: As Big Dude, Pam, and Katherine can attest, it was a cold gray day here in Appalachian country yesterday. Just plain "stay under the covers" kind of weather. So when I finally got around to making something for dinner last night, I wanted something warm, stick to your ribs, and easy. Sausage & Grits fits the bill.

I sauteed some peppers (green bell & hungarian wax), onion, and garlic and browned sausage (mozarella & roasted garlic chicken sausage). I made a quick gravy. I rushed the roux for the gravy, which is why the gravy is so light....a true "blonde moment". I should have taken it darker before adding the broth. Then I just put it all on top of slow cooked stone ground grits, not that instant crap.

It was very good for something so easy. The textures mixed well and the mild grits complimented the strong flavors of the meat-veggie mixture. Despite being so pale, the gravy was even tasty. Good stuff.

Blog Question: Has anyone else had problems with blogs randomly "disappearing" from your blog roll? I've had it happen several times lately. Today's example is Big Dude. As of this second, his blog is missing and I know it was on there before. I'm about to add it back right now but was just wondering if it's just me.

So if any of you disappear from my blog roll, just know, "I ain't hatin' on ya!". :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Failure is NOT an Option's not optional because it's already here!

But do you know what the great thing about failure is? Failure is one hell of a teacher!

Thomas Edison reportedly said in response to the number of failures he went through to create a functional light bulb, "I didn't fail. I just discovered ten thousand ways NOT to make a light bulb." [Andy Andrews pg 11]

This is what I wanted to make, Apple Smoked Apple Dumplings.

Jeanie made the one above over at Cowgirl's Country Life. I've been a huge fan of her blog for several months. If you haven't seen her blog you just have to go look at it. She is the ultimate "from scratch" cook. She even RAISES HER OWN SHRIMP for St. Jimmy's sake! I challenge you to read her blog and not be envious of the cowgirl's life she is living. It's literally home, home on the range. No conference calls, no meetings, and no suburbs.

So things started off well, I cored the apples

and peeled and sliced them into 4 thick slices each

I rolled out a refrigerated pie dough (a family recipe....if your family name is Pilsbury!) and reassembled the apple slices with a cinnamon/brown sugar mix (1 T cinnamon/half cup brown sugar) between the layers.

Then I wrapped it up snug as a bug with the pie dough.

I gave it a little egg wash, sprinkled some more cinnamon sugar, topped with a pat of butter, and then put them on the Big Green Egg at 300f with some apple wood chips.

While the dumplings were smoking, I made a caramel sauce from scratch from Joy of Cooking. One cup of sugar topped with 1/4 cup water-

Swirled gently over medium heat until the sugar fully dissolves and the mixture is clear like this-

Then I raised the heat and covered for 2 minutes. Uncover and let boil. When the color goes from this

to this

Swirl the mix again and remove from heat. (I love how I caught the liquid still swirling after I put the pan down here.)

Pour in 1/3 cup water, carefully as it will steam and splatter. Stir together until smooth. It didn't look like the light brown caramel sauce you buy for ice cream but the flavor was amazing.

Meanwhile, Alexis was making whipped cream so I went to check on our apples, since they were almost done. I opened the Egg and......OH SNAP, EPIC FAIL!

Most of the pie dough fell off. The post mortem analysis came back to two things. First, we used fuji apples, not the best for baking. Second and more importantly, I didn't want the apple slices to oxidize or brown while I got everything ready so I put them in ice water. DOH! Or should I say DOUGH! The moisture leaching out from the soaked apples during the cooking made the dough fall apart. (Quit snickering Greg. Just because you can do a full week of apple recipes and nail it, yet I can't even make it through one day...)

So it wasn't pretty at all but it still tasted GREAT! The crisp texture of the dough, the cinnamony sweet apple, the bite of the caramel sauce, and the kiss of whipped cream were phenomenal.

If this had gone perfectly smooth, I wouldn't have learned as much as I did through my partial failure.

The exact conversation Alexis and I had went like this:

"I'm not mad, I know what went wrong." I said, dining on the apple crumble mess, "We have more right?"

"Four granny smith apples and four crusts," she confirmed and then added, "Two more times to mess up!"

"That's the spirit!"

So share a "failure" you had in the kitchen and do you think you learned more from it than initial success would have taught you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Brick Oven Pizza

And the comfort food train continues.....

One of my favorite things about the Big Green Egg is its flexibility. Sure it is a great smoker and is fuel efficient. But it also is a spectacular grill and also a convection oven. That is what sold me on the BGE instead of a traditional offset smoker. When you set the Egg up in the convection oven configuration (plate setter legs down), it is the perfect "wood fired brick oven" for cooking pizza.

These pictures were taken tonight after our 10 y/o son's football game, so excuse the darkness. We ate at 9pm. In this picture, the "plate setter" is the three legged ceramic stand that the pizza stone is sitting upon. With everything preheated to 500f, I placed the pizza dough in for 3 minutes and then topped with a jar sauce and fresh chopped basil.

Then we added Canadian bacon, handfuls of fresh shredded Mozzarella cheese, and more basil and Canadian bacon. It's all about the layers! Don't you just love the glow of the natural wood charcoal burning below?

The high temps bouncing off of the ceramic cooker make quick work of the toppings. It only takes about 10 minutes to get from here.....

To here....

Plated pictures? Did I mention it was 9pm when we ate?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chili Con Carne with Beans

Chili recipes are like moms, everybody has one and everyone thinks theirs is the best.

Growing up in Florida, the chili that I had always had beans in it. But in Texas, where chili originated, putting beans in chili is almost considered to be a criminal offense (Epicurious).

The International Chili Society rules for chili cookoffs explicitly define red chili as " any kind of meat or combination of meats,cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of
BEANS and PASTA which are strictly forbidden".
But interestingly enough, those
same rules require that entries for the Peoples Choice category require either beans or pasta. WTF?

So that tells me whether or not to use beans in chili is up to me and I choose to use them. Here's my spin on chili.

Chris' Favorite Chili
1 pound Ground beef lean
1 pound Chorizo sausage
1 ea onion diced
1 ea Bell pepper diced
1 can kidney beans dark red, drained
1 can kidney beans light red, drained
1 can (14.5 oz) Tomato diced
1 can (14.5 oz) tomato sauce
1 ea Jalapeno peppers seeded and finely diced
12 ounce beer
2 cloves garlic diced
1 ea bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoon brown sugar
3 teaspoon Chili powder

Brown ground beef in a cast iron dutch oven or large pot. Remove and drain grease. Brown the sausage and remove with a slotted spoon.

Add onion and bell pepper and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and chile pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes..

Return meat to pot. Stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, at least 45 minutes.

Remove bay leaf.
Serve while hot with cheese and a hearty bread or Texas toast.

Today's batch benefited from some of the last of the red Hungarian wax peppers in our front yard.

This recipe works fine on stove top, but to me it's even better cooked in a dutch oven on the grill.

As the weather turns cold, ceramic cookers like the Big Green Egg really show their strength. Their thick 1+" of insulation are very resistant to cold weather. We had freeze warnings last night but here the Egg is chugging away at 350f with no problem.

I, unfortunately, do not come with ceramic insulation, so I threw some split hickory in the chiminea to keep me warm.

Every time I took the lid off to stir the chili, the steam wafted into the cold air.

This is a simple tip but it makes a difference. When toasting bread for garlic bread or Texas toast, most people seem to slather the bread in the butter mixture and then grill it. That makes it soggy, IMHO. I like to grill it first and as it firms up, give it a light brushing with the butter/seasoning mixture that I warmed on the grill.

It all came together just in time for a comforting lunch.

So, what's your opinion: beans or no beans?