Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grilled Chicken Lettuce Wraps & Fire Day Fridays

This has nothing to do with the P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps, other than the fact it has lettuce.....and you wrap it.

It uses a simple 3 in 1 marinade/glaze/dipping sauce for grilling chicken kebabs. Wanna know more?Well check out my Fire Day Friday post over at Our Krazy Kitchen.
I am going to be doing a recurring "column" there. I hope to inspire people to fire up their grills (without having to feel intimidated because they don't have a fancy grill or smoker).

I have a copy of Steve Raichlen's new book Planet Barbecue! and I am tremendously impressed by it. I can't wait to try a few of the recipes and post about them this weekend.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spinach & Garbanzo Bean Veggie Burger

Don't worry, you have not entered a parallel universe. It is not snowing in Hell. But yes, I did make a veggie burger tonight.

This past Friday, Alexis and I worked at our Johnson City, TN office. We skipped lunch so we could eat an early dinner on our way out of town at our favorite restaurant there, Cootie Brown's, . (Next 3 photos are mobile phone pics.)

This place is eclectic and fun. Staff wear tie dyed t shirts. The planter boxes out front have bright colored flowers made out of rebar and car radiator fans. They have outdoor and indoor seating pretty much year round. And....can I show you the men's room? This is some of the hilarious artwork in the men's room. Yep, that's a screaming roll of toilet paper.

But it is their exceptional menu and quality food that keeps us coming back. We almost always get something different and this time, we both ordered different veggie burgers! Yes, two confirmed Carnivortarians ordered veggie burgers. Alexis got the black bean burger and I got the spinach burger (only the second veggie burger I've eaten in my life).

How much did I like it? I decided to try to make them on my own tonight but the only hint I had was that it had garbanzo beans as a base.

Spinach & Garbanzo Bean Veggie Burger
Source: Nibble Me This inspired by Cootie Brown's

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
6 oz baby spinach (by weight, not volume)
2 oz basil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp red pepper, ground
1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
2 ea eggs
1/4-1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Mix all ingredients except bread crumbs in a food processor or blender until you have a paste consistency. Add bread crumbs in pulses until you get a thicker consistency.

Shape into 4 burger sized patties. If they are too "mushy" add more bread crumbs and maybe a bit of flour until the mixture can be shaped into patties. TIP: Remember that these are veggie patties and that they won't shrink like the typical ground beef burger. Try to keep them about the size of your buns. (Bread buns. If you've "got much back", don't try to replicate that.)

Place in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up.

Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup mayo and 3 Tbsp pesto together.

Preheat a cast iron skillet in a 350f oven and then put on medium heat on the range top. Cook for 5 minutes on one side. Flip and cook an additional 4-5 minutes on the opposite side.

Serve on a toasted roll with the pesto mayo.

For the second time ever tasting a veggie burger and the first time ever trying to recreate it, I think we did a bang up job on this one.

But if you ever find yourself in Johnson City, TN, make sure you stop by Cootie Brown's. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, April 26, 2010

McCormick's Giveaway Contest Winner Announced

Today is the day, the drawing for this excellent Grill Mates package from McCormicks. I have used each of these in the past week and enjoyed them all.

At 4pm EST today, I printed off the comments I have received for entries into the contest. There were 42 (after eliminating duplicates and adding one that was posted in the wrong post). I assigned each entry a consecutive number in the order in which they were received and used the random number generator at to select the lucky winner.

And the winner is.......#8 - Pattikake from the Big Green Egg forum! (Patti, you'll have a pm from me on the forum for your mailing info.)

Thank you McCormick's and Grill Mates. Thanks everyone for playing.

I hope to do one giveaway for various items and products each month this summer. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fairgrounds Italian Sausage, Peppers, & Onions

Close your eyes and imagine being at a fair, carnival, or festival. Can you hear the sizzle of a flat top grill and smell the Italian sausage, peppers, and onions?

Yesterday, Alexis and I got up at dawn and headed down to the inaugural Pork Knox, a KCBS sanctioned BBQ contest. A full post about the event is forthcoming.

We got there early, before the crowds showed up and food vendors opened their booths. The contestants are very friendly and willing to talk shop around this time. But once turn in times approach, I know to leave them the hell alone. We were hoping the weather that assaulted the entire southeast might hold off until after the event was done.

I was taking pictures when the vendors fired up but I knew that later I wanted two things, a funnel cake and an Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions. [I know, why eat that at a BBQ contest? I'll explain tomorrow but in short, a BBQ contest is a competition, not a BBQ festival. There's a difference.]

But then the skies turned ominous...and we got drenched, so I never got my Italian Sausage sandwich.

I decided to make my own today. Sure I could try to upgrade and make it "gourmet" but I wanted the real experience. There is just something about a fair sausage dog.

So my ground rules were keep it simple like a fair vendor would do. The only difference was that I was using live fire instead of a gas flat top like the carnival vendors use.

Fairgrounds Italian Sausage, Peppers, & Onions

Source: Nibble Me This

1 1/4 lbs Italian sausage links
16 oz beer (warm!)
1/2 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4" wedges
3 ea mini sweet peppers, seeded and cut lengthwise (Sub a green bell pepper if needed)
2 hoagie rolls, sliced lengthwise
2 Tbsp mustard
oil (see text)

Preheat a cast iron pan on a 350f grill. Place the sausages in the pan and add 12 oz of the beer. TIP: Be sure it is warm! Pouring a cold beer into a hot cast iron pan can cause a catastrophic failure of the pan. (That means your pan could literally break in two pieces, drench your fire, and ruin more than just one meal.)

Cover and cook for 16 minutes, turning the sausages 1/4 turn every 4 minutes. If needed, add the final 1/2 cup of beer to keep the liquid level up. TIP: Don't trust those silicone oven mitts. After opening the lid 3 times, I realized each time they were partially melting onto the lid.

Remove links to cutting board and split lengthwise. Drain liquid (if any) from the pan.

Oil: This is an area where I cheated. Carnies use plain oil. I used a high heat oil (safflower) and mixed about 1/4 cup with 1/4 tsp each of salt, pepper, oregano, and basil for a seasoned oil.

Put the pan back onto the fire and add about 1 tbsp of the oil. Place split sausages and veggies back onto the hot pan. Squirt about another 1 - 2 Tbsp of oil on the veggies.

Toss the veggies with tongs for the next 3 minutes. Flip the sausages (they should be browned at this point). Continue tossing the veggies for another 3 minutes and remove the pan from heat.

Slice the two hoagie rolls lengthwise and slather some mustard on each side. TIP: I used a mixture of 1 Tbsp plain yellow mustard with 1 Tbsp of coarse ground mustard.

Fill each roll with half of the sausages and half of the onion mixture.

Ahhhhh.....craving satisfied.

Versus: Fair/Carnie Food

(leave your preference in the comments section)
*Italian Sausage sandwich
*Cotton Candy
*Candied Apples
*Kettle Corn
*Corn Dogs

Obviously, I'd have to go with Italian Sausage sandwiches. What's your call?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Giveaway: McCormick's Grill Mates Package

Grass is growing, birds are singing, temperatures are rising, the sun sets later every night and outdoor cooking is getting into full swing. McCormick's is wanting to help one lucky Nibble Me This reader kick their grilling season into gear by giving away this sample package.

This package includes the following new Grill Mates rubs, marinade mixes and Lawry's bottled marinades that I have utilized during the past week.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade
Goes with beef, chicken, pork or shrimp. I used it to grill this flank steak. We thought it had very good flavor but I'd suggest adding 1 Tbsp of bourbon when mixing up the wet and dry ingredients if you're looking for that mellow bite of real bourbon.
Lawry's Szechuan Sweet and Sour BBQ
Great for chicken, pork, or beef. This marinade quickly brought flavor and that classic sweet and sour color to grilled chicken. If you are tired of your normal grilled chicken, shake things up and use this marinade and serve with stir fried veggies and sweet jasmine rice. That's what we did.
Apple Wood Rub
Apple and pork go together like.....well, like Pete Brady said on the Brady Bunch, "Pork chops and apple saaauuuuche". So I used this rub to grill some boneless pork chops and used one of our standard glazes. It produced a nice flavor that complimented the chops but didn't make them too strong.

Lawry's Tuscan Sun Dried Tomato with Minced Garlic and Olive Oil

I used this rustic marinade on some fantastic grilled chicken breasts with some Tuscan fries and grilled zucchini. I think this one was Brett's favorite.

Smokehouse Maple Rub
This smoky and sweet spice rub really delivered on a half rack of smoked spare ribs.

Mexican Fiesta Marinade
You could use this one for beef or chicken fajitas on the grill. I used it to make chimichangas with fajita chicken, beans, cheese, roasted peppers, and served with a southwestern queso sauce for dipping.
So how do you enter for the chance to win this Grill Mates ultimate care package? It's easy. Just click on THIS LINK to their recipe site. Then leave a comment in my comments section below tell me which recipe caught your eye. You can enter until 4pm Monday, 4/26/10. Monday night I'll do a random draw from all of the candidates.

Giveaway rules and info:
1 - One entry per blog owner / forum handle.
2 - If you are entering via the anonymous option in my comments section, you must include your contact information so I can get in touch if you win. For example, if you're from the EggHead forum, you could just say, "Joeblow from the Egg Forum".
3 - Drawing will be random number generator based.
4 - McCormick's will ship the package directly to the winner.
5 - All results are final. Any complaints should written in Aramaic and filed with my pet chinchillas for processing.

So dust off your grills and enter below.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Smokehouse Maple Ribs

I smoked a half rack of pork spare ribs last night specifically to take to work today for lunch. I decided to try the Smokehouse Maple rub from the free sample pack that I got from McCormick's. [Standard Product Review Disclaimer]

The first thing I noticed was their use of coarse ground spices and herbs. That is something I do with my home made rubs, because IMO, the coarse grind concentrates and intensifies the various flavor. They also had texture.

I smoked the ribs for 3 hours at 250f (the temp at the grate level was about 225f).

When first learning to smoke spare ribs, I used the easy 3-2-1 method. This year I haven't been using foil at all and have had very good results.

But this half rack was so thick and I was short on time so I wrapped them in foil and cooked for another hour at 250f. The down side is that this steams the ribs. The upshot is that it cooks them faster, helps speed up the rendering of fatty tissue, and makes them tender.

Then I took them back out of the foil, brushed lightly with some Blues Hog Barbecue Sauce mixed with Blues Hog East Tennessee Red. I let them cook for about 30 minutes more.

Finally just before 10pm last night, I had hickory smoked ribs!

Man they smelled so good and dinner was 4 hours earlier....

Hmmmm, there were 5 ribs for lunch the next day for Alexis and me. 2 ribs a piece would be fine but how would we split that 5th rib?

So in order to maintain marital bliss at lunch the next day, I ate that 5th rib right then and there! :) :0

I was impressed by the flavor that this rub delivered. I was afraid it was going to be too sweet based on the smell but it did bring just enough heat to balance the sweetness. I'd definitely use this again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oven Baked Fries

The other day I mentioned our favorite way to make oven baked fries and I said I'd post it later. It's later.

Besides, it has been a "Oh, so this is what it feels like to be ground into breakfast sausage" kind of week at work, so I needed a quick post. Yeah, I know it's only Tuesday. Like I said, it's been THAT kind of week.

The thing I like about this method of making fries is it is very flexible to whatever spices/herbs I have on hand or need to match our meal. For example, last night we were having Tuscan Grilled Chicken so I wanted the fries to be "Tuscan-ish".

In the book Ciao! Tuscany, the authors mention several times that Tuscan area cooks like to use a wild herb called nepitella. They admit it's hard to find in the states but that you can sub 2 parts fresh mint leaves to 1 part oregano. So that was the spice/herb we added to our oven baked fries this time.

Oven Baked Fries
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

4 ea russet potatoes, cut into a bit more than 1/4" strips
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp spice/herb mixture (you choose the spices and herbs)
Kosher Salt to taste

To cut your potato into the fries, slice a very thin piece off of one side and set it onto a cutting board for a stable base. Cut the potato lengthwise into slices a little bit thicker than 1/4". Yeah, that could be 3/8", 5/16", or even 9/32". Don't fret over the math. Just cut them into your ideal "french fry size" width slices. Then cut the slices the same size into the fries.

Soak them for 10 minutes in cold water. Thoroughly dry.

Whisk together the oil, spice and herbs. Toss the potatoes in the oil/spice/herb mixture and spread out on a baking sheet.

Put it in a 475f oven for 30-40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Remove once all sides are browned. Season with salt.

See? So easy and flexible. They can go with just about anything.

If you are doing BBQ, you could add some of the BBQ rub to the oil. If you're doing Greek, you could do some fine crumbled feta and oregano. If you are cooking a southwestern flank steak, use some cumin, chili powder and cilantro.

Sorry for such a seemingly lame post but if you try fries this way, you'll like them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Good Doctor's Pork Chop Glaze

Ugh! Are you kidding me? It's time for football practices already?

Spring practice started for Trev's Pee Wee football team tonight at 6pm so I planned a hearty late lunch that would fuel him through the hour and 1/2 workout: Grilled pork chops, grits, and sugar snap peas.

Start by soaking 4 one inch thick pork chops in a brine for 2-3 hours. The one I made today was water, kosher salt, turbinado sugar, a dried red chili and black peppercorns.

Then rinse and dry the chops. Rub them with your favorite pork rub (make your own like my pork chop rub or use a commercial one).

Grill the chops over a 375f fire for 2 minutes and then flip. Cook for another two minutes and then flip.

Brush them with this glaze that I adapted twice from Dr. Howard Taylor (Dallas, Tx) published in the December 2007 issue of the National BBQ News. Since I have adapted my original adaptation, I wonder if I have totally departed from his recipe or ended up right back at it. Either way, I now call it:

The Good Doctor's Pork Chop Glaze
Source: Adapted from Dr. Howard Taylor
enough for about 8 chops

1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp lime juice
3/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper, ground
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (omit if you're heat sensitive)

Whisk all ingredients together in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Brush the glaze on and cook for another 2 minutes per side (That would be a total of 8 minutes cooking time and the chops should be at an internal temp of 145f. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes.

I know what you're thinking, "Grits? For a lunch side dish?"

But you wouldn't say that about polenta, would you? The key is to get good quality, coarse stone ground grits. Don't use the instant or quick cooking kind. Two totally different products. Alexis bought this bag from Earth Fare and we loved them, some of the best I've ever had. Everyone had seconds at lunch.

The funny thing was, while the grits were cooking, they absorbed all of the liquid (chicken stock/water) when only halfway through cooking so I started to ladle & stir in warm stock throughout the last 15 minutes. Therefore I dubbed this "gritsotto".

I originally planned on adding some cheese to the grits or maybe topping with a sauce, but they didn't need it. The texture and flavor of these grits played an outstanding supporting role to the pork chops.

Quick game of Versus for the comment section:
Flo from Mel's Diner ("Kiss my grits!")
Flo from the Progressive commercials?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wok and Roll: Veggie Stir Fry

Do you remember the first time you ever cooked with a wok and how fun it was?

I got to rediscover that fun today when I used a wok cooking over a live fire on the Big Green Egg for my first time. I stir fried some vegetables to go with the Szechuan sweet & sour chicken that I grilled.

Vegetable Stir Fry
Source: Nibble Me This

1-2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 ea onion, sliced lengthwise
4 ea mini sweet bell peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1/3 pound sugar snap peas (I wanted snow peas, but used what I had)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tsp ginger, minced
1 ea dried red chili pepper, crushed
1/2 Tbsp safflower oil
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp Sriracha sauce
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Marinate vegetables in the rice wine vinegar for 15 minutes. Whisk together the honey, soy sauce and Sriracha sauce and set aside. Whisk the corn starch and water together.

Preheat wok on a 350f grill. Then add the safflower and sesame oils. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.

Add the sugar snap peas and stir fry for 1 minute, continuously tossing to coat in the oil. Drain the vinegar, add the other veggies and stir fry for another minute.

Add the soy mixture and cook for another minute. Add the corn starch slurry as needed to thicken the sauce and cook for one more minute.

Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

So the grilled Szechuan sweet and sour chicken must be hard, right? Nope, it was as easy as can be and only had two ingredients: chicken and Lawry's Szechuan Sweet & Sour Chicken marinade. [Standard Review Disclaimer]

The marinade is in McCormick's 2010 GrillMates line up and was part of the free sample package that they sent me to try out.

I simply marinated the chicken breasts in the sauce for 1 hour and then grilled it at a grill temp 350-375f (on the Big Green Egg on a raised grid) for 20 minutes, flipping every 5 minutes.

My quick impressions:
  • Great taste.
  • I was worried the marinade might burn on the grill but it did not.While this product boasts a 30 minute marinade time (and it would be good after that), I'd recommend going 1-2 hours for maximum effect.
  • This would go GREAT on grilled wings.
  • I like that the ingredient list does not read like the periodic table of elements.
Usually grilled chicken defaults to something slathered with bbq sauce or maybe a southwestern approach. This is a fun and easy departure from the "same old, same old" grilled chicken for the back yard cook.

I have no problem recommending this marinade to liven up your summer grilling. Look for it in your grocery store, it should be there soon, if not already there.

The folks at McCormick's are going to give one lucky NMT reader this same sampler pack.

Keep an eye out for the upcoming post on Friday for the details.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brown Sugar Bourban Flank Steak

"What's for dinner!" Trevor exclaimed rather than asked as he bounded through the door.

While crisping some prosciutto, I replied, "Grilled flank steak, baked potatoes, and peas."

"I love baked potatoes, but not peas," he volleyed.

"Well you have to eat some," I told him. "Like Lennon said, 'All I am saying, is give peas a chance.' "

He asked, "Who is Lennon?"


Warm weather is sweeping the country. That sound you hear is grills being opened and fired up for the "grilling season"!

I realize that most of my readers are casual outdoor cookers. I get it. I know that most people...
  • aren't going to cook outdoors when it is snowing or there are sub-freezing temps
  • like grilling just for fun and don't want to be stressed out by spending hours brining/marinating meats or perfecting a dry rub.
  • don't want to buy a specialty rub or sauce from an online vendor that will double the cost of the product because of the shipping costs.
And do you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. There are some easy, store bought options for you.

I was given a sample of McCormick's 2010 Grill Mates product line to test out. Yes, it was free, but I never promise a review for any samples accepted and I only review the ones I like. This is one that I like.

Tonight I used their Brown Sugar Marinade for a flank steak. Yeah, I know, when you read "marinade" you think that it will take hours and rule it out for a quick dinner tonight. But that's one of the things I like about the Grill Mates line, they are quick marinades. This one can be done in as little as 15 minutes.

It was as easy as mixing the dry packet with 2 Tbsp of vinegar, 2 Tbsp of water, and 1/4 cup of oil. I scored a flank steak (cutting 1/8th inch criss crosses) and put it in a zip lock bag. After 30 minutes, I threw it on a grill preheated to 450f.

One of their tag lines is "flavor you can see" and in the picture above, it's evident. I didn't add anything to this mix, it was only their product prepared as described.

I cooked the flank steak for 3 minutes per side. I brushed it with 2 Tbsp of the marinade mixture (reserved before adding the meat) and then cooked 1 minute more per side.

I let it rest for 15 minutes and then sliced it thinly across the grain for a perfect medium rare flank steak.

Although I have trusted McCormick's spices for years, I was surprised at how much I liked a pre-mixed marinade like this. It got approval from the two boys (21 and 10) as well as both of us. And the great thing about it is you can buy it in the stores at a reasonable price.

The peas were a nice and easy side dish that went beautifully with the grilled steak.
Peas with Prosciutto
source: Nibble Me This

4 slices prosciutto, sliced into 1/4" strips
1/4 ea sweet onion, sliced
1 lb fresh green peas
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp butter

Crisp the prosciutto over medium heat in a sauce pan and remove to cooling rack or paper towel lined plate.

Add the onion (I used the Vidalia variety) and cook about 5 minutes. Add the peas, water, and butter, cover and cook for another 5 - 8 minutes until the peas are at the texture you like. Season with black pepper to taste.

Garnish with the crisped prosciutto.

Hey, guess what. The weekend is almost here. Are you breaking out your grill this weekend?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Smoked Pepper Jack Cheesburger

Quicky Post.

These are the days of green grass, late afternoons of fun even during the week, and the smell of coal fired burgers. Everything just feels right with the world (especially if the TV is off).

We got home from work and Trevor & his best friend asked if we could play a game of two-hand touch football. How could I resist?

The game went into overtime, so we had to come up with something quick for dinner. The boys wanted burgers and fries. But I wanted to something at least a little special about the burgers. I had the very last of the smoked pepper jack cheese that we cold smoked during the winter. (I hated to see them go….sniff, sniff)

So I made a smoked pepper jack cheese sauce that turns a burger into a taste experience. You could make a similar cheese sauce by just substituting your favorite signature cheese.

Smoky Pepper Jack Cheese Sauce
Source: Nibble Me This

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp flour

1 cup half and half

1 cup pepper jack cheese, smoked & shredded

1 Tbsp worchestershire sauce

½ tsp hot sauce

Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium high heat. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in the half & half.

Keep whisking occasionally and bring mixture to a simmer. Whisk in the cheese in small batches, until melted through. Whisk in the worchestershire and hot sauces. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

Is that more complicated than just throwing on a slice of cheese on a burger? Hell yeah. Does it add something more than just throwing on a slice of cheese on a burger? Hell yeah.

The smokiness comes through without being obnoxious and the heat from the pepper jack cheese lets you know it is there.

The oven baked fries were a huge hit and were very easy. I’ll post that recipe later this week. The burgers were grilled on the Big Green Egg at 450f direct heat for a few minutes per side.

I’m usually a catsup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion kind of guy. But sometimes I love a good specialty burger like this. What is your "ideal burger"?