Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tailgating Prep: Patriots vs Bills

Tomorrow Matt and I are going to Foxboro to watch the Patriots make their record 3 and 0 at the expense of the Buffalo Bills. I'm pretty pumped because this is actually my first regular season game and I expect the atmosphere to be intense. The Bills haven't won a game this year and all signs are pointing to blow out, but it should be exciting regardless. The weather is going to be sunny and in the upper 70s, and the grilling is going to be epic.

We're going to try something new, since this is a 1pm game: breakfast on the grill. We expect to be at the stadium around 10am and firing up Matt's 22" Weber with a brand new griddle. I'm bringing pancake batter, eggs and home fries. We expect to spend another two hours grilling post-game, while we wait for the traffic to clear and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. A visual preview...

I never would have thought you could improve on my bacon jalapeno poppers. Well it turns out you can, to the tune of mixing chopped bacon and sharp cheddar into the cream cheese before stuffing them. I may die of cardiac arrest at 30, but at least I can say that I got to eat these.

Innovation

Poppers

Some boneless country pork ribs, rubbed and ready for the grill:

Boneless Ribs

Some Patriot's endorsed brats:

Patriot's Endorsed Beer Brats

And some buffalo chicken wings, because why not:

Chicken Wings

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Posted by Nat Tarbox. 3 comments

Monday, September 03, 2007

Happy Labor Day

I was reading the summer grilling issue of Cook's Illustrated today. I'm not sure if this is always the case, but it seems like with each recipe their goal was to improve on something that was commonly accepted at levels of mediocrity. For example, the section on fajitas pegged them as generally being bland chunks of chicken and peppers that required excessive condiment application to disguise their lack of flavor.

Marinade

I'd never thought about it that way: we always tend to enjoy the condiments as much as everything else. How can you go wrong with fresh guacamole, salsa and sour cream? I saw the author's point however. You should be able to do enough with chicken that it can stand on its own. The recipe in question was for a quick marinade, primarily lime, cilantro and jalapeno based, with a suggested marinade time of just 15 minutes.

Chicken Marinade

Veggies

To compliment this, we chose another recipe from the same issue for a dill cream cucumber sandwich. One interesting technique highlighted here was for maintaining the crunchyness of cucumbers. It involved putting a ziplock bag of water on top of the sliced cucumbers to help squeeze out the internal water. In addition the slices were tossed with salt which further drew out the internal moisture. The result was supposed to maintain the delicious crunch of
a freshly cut cucumber, even after being dressed.

Cilantro

Draining

As should be no surprise when working under the written instruction of Cooks Illustrated, both dishes turned out to be a success. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and each primary ingredient in the marinade was distinctly noticeable after grilling. The cucumbers were every bit as crunchy as expected, and the fresh dill and sour cream dressing was a refreshing compliment to the citrus spice of the fajitas. Even a quick tip on covering your tortillas with a dish towel after taking them off the grill made a huge difference, keeping the tortillas warm and supple instead of hardening once they come off the heat.

The Spread

Nom nom nom nom

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cleaning out the fridge: vacation time!

Cassie and I are leaving for Cape Cod this weekend, so we made an attempt at cleaning out the fridge. A quick survey turned up the following items:
- 3 chicken breasts
- 3 burrito burrito size tortillas
- 2 bell peppers
- 1 onion
- Salsa
- A small chunk of cheese

Fajitas ahoy! I had a bottle of jerk marinade on the shelf. We cut up the chicken into finger sized pieces and let it soak in the jerk sauce with some pepper flakes (store bought jerk is never hot enough) for a few hours. This was quickly grilled with the veggies on kabobs for a tasty fajita filling. Not too bad for left overs. The jerk sauce went well with the corn salsa and sweet peppers.

Jerk Chicken Fajitas

I plan on doing some grilling on the beach while we're on the cape, so although I may be absent from posting for a week, expect some good stuff on my return. Hopefully Matt will be able to keep the blog moving with some Independence day cook out goodness.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Grilled Barbecue Chicken Pizza

With my recent desire to rid my digestive system of its daily intake of high fructose corn syrup, I have been making some of my condiments from scratch. My most recent experiment has been a thick, homemade tomato sauce. With the recipe for homemade bbq sauce perfected, it occurred to me that I had all the fixin's for my absolute favorite pizza in the entire world: Barbecue chicken.

It was early AM on Tuesday morning when I started pondering what my dinner plans for the evening were going to be. After taking a quick inventory of my refrigerator, I decided that grilled meat wasn't going to get the job done by itself. What I did have was some raw pizza dough, a package of chicken breasts, some fresh mozzarella, and six ounces of my homemade BBQ sauce. All we were missing was the tomato sauce.

Pizza Dough

The tomato sauce takes no more than fifteen minutes if you know what you are doing and I had twenty to spare. First step was to boil water for the tomatoes. The recipe requires five peeled vine-ripened tomatoes and the boiling water helps peel the skin right off. While the water boiled I chopped up the onion, celery and garlic and tossed it all into a pan coated in olive oil. Once I had the onion and celery frying up, I peeled and finely chopped the tomatoes and added them to the pan. With ten minutes to spare, the major grunt work was out of the way. I added the brown sugar, basil, parsley, lime juice, soy sauce and two tablespoons of tomato ketchup. The sauce was ready with two minutes to spare and the whole house smelled amazing.

Peeled Tomatos

Time for work.

Cube Dweller

Hooray! Time to grill this mother. After starting the coals I took out the pizza dough that I had rolled out onto a baking sheet before work and laid down an even healthy coat of my sauce while leaving a 1.25" border for the crust. Next, I sliced up the raw chicken breasts into thin strips and laid them out liberally over the whole pizza surface. I spread spoonfuls of the bbq sauce over the chicken strips and then laid down a thick layer of freshly shredded mozzarella. Topped the whole thing off with a small sprinkling of oregano (Thanks Papa Gino's).

I grilled the pizza still on the baking sheet for easy transport and no mess. Tin foil would have worked as well, but it's not a ridged surface and I'm all about function, baby. There's no real specific time frame for grilling this as it all depends on your coal amount and placement. Because I typically place the coals in a sloped pile on one side of the grill I rotated the pizza 180 degrees halfway through to ensure an even crust. The pizza crust should be firm and the cheese golden before removal.

Grilled Pizza

The end result was a delicious and quick weekday meal for me and my roommate Mariel. Because the ingredients are cheap and the sauce and mozzarella can be used again, it's a great option for doing pizza one night and pasta the next.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Recipe: Italian Stuffed Chicken

Straight from our Memorial Day madness comes our recipe for Italian Stuffed Chicken. This is a great recipe to try when you want to mix it up a little while pleasing everyone.

Stuffed chicken

Ingredients:
• 4 Thick cut chicken breasts
• 1 Cup lite Italian dressing
• 6 oz. fresh spinach
• 2 Cloves chopped garlic
• 4 Tbsp. ricotta cheese
• 4 Tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
• 4 Tbsp. shredded mozarella cheese
• Ground pepper
• 4 tsp. Mrs. Dash seasoning blend
• Toothpicks
• Mesquite or hickory woodchips (optional)

Prep:
Start preparing the chicken by washing the chicken breasts and placing them in a marinade of the Italian dressing up to five hours in advance of grilling. About a half hour before lighting the coals you should soak two handfuls of the woodchips in water.

When you are getting ready to cook, take the chicken out of the marinade and place them on a plate. On a cutting board, take each chicken breast and cut into the meat sideways creating a pocket. Chop the garlic cloves into small pieces. In a medium frying pan, cover surface with olive oil and add garlic and spinach. Sautee spinach for two to three minutes until spinach has shrunk and cooked through.

Remove frying pan from heat and set spinach aside on small plate or dish. Stuff each chicken breast with a tablespoon of spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, and mozarella cheese. Adjust measurements to fit your specific chicken breasts. When chicken is stuffed, pin the stuffed pocket shut with a toothpick and lightly season the top of the chicken with the pepper and Mrs. Dash.

Grilling:
Place to chicken breasts on the back of the grill to cook with indirect heat. Drop handful of woodchips onto coals and cover the grill. Grill meat for about twenty minutes flipping the chicken periodically. Applying the leftover marinade to the meat throughout the grilling process can help keep your chicken moist and emphasize the Italian flavor. When internal temperature has reached approximately 170 degrees F, remove chicken from grill and serve. Also remember to take out the damn toothpicks.

Serves 4.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day Session #3 - Epilogue

At last... Game day. Going into Monday, the grilling plan was far from certain. I would be quarterbacking the event, but when I woke up the menu and the guest list was still to be determined. Knowing there would most likely be a holiday rush, I headed to SUPER Stop & Shop at 8:30 AM so I could get first dibs at the meat and produce.

Stop & Shop did not disappoint. I walked into the store and was immediately greeted by a produce worker piling up fresh corn on the cob. My previous corn selection was second rate so I was inclined to serve up some grilled asparagus. But when I saw the corn I had to do it, especially given the occasion. I had toyed with the idea of doing a stuffed chicken and the racks of beautiful thick cut Purdue chicken breasts sealed the deal. After browsing the rest of the produce section, I decided to stuff the chicken with spinach and a blend of mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses.

Happy Memorial Day

In addition to Nat and Cassie, I anticipated cooking for an additional five people including my roommate Mariel. I had to bring backup. To help feed the masses I picked up a huge package of beautiful chicken wings and a bottle of Ah So Sauce, a neon pink Chinese style barbecue sauce that immediately puts your chicken wings on steroids. Finally I grabbed some hamburger meat so I could pad every ones appetite and ensure that everyone got some of the good stuff.

Upon my return from the store I started the prep work. First, I seasoned the chicken breasts and placed them in a marinade of Italian dressing. I coated the chicken wings in the Ah So sauce and put everything in the fridge. Once the main players started arriving, I sauteed the spinach in a skillet with some olive oil and chopped garlic. Once the spinach cooked through, I slit each chicken breast laterally and stuffed the spinach and cheese in the newly created pocket. After each piece of chicken was stuffed I pinned it shut with a toothpick and sprinkled the top with breadcrumbs.

With the coals started and the food prepped, Cassie began addressing our new glaring problem: We forgot to buy beer. While this may not seem like a formidable solution to the rest of the earth, this is an enormous obstacle to those of us living in backwards ass Massachusetts. We had already failed at a disastrous multi-town search for an open liquor store, so Cassie took my formidable collection of miscellaneous hard alcohol and proceeded to create some delicious summertime drinks.

I bet you didn't know jean shorts were back

I placed the chicken breasts on the back of the grill to let them cook slowly. Hamburgers were placed over the coals to cook through quickly as my guests were growing impatient. I wanted to boost the chickens flavor as much as possible so I began adding hickory wood chips that I had soaked earlier. The chicken cooked through perfectly and the blend of cheeses kept the meat incredibly moist. When the stuffed chicken breasts were off the grill I piled on the chicken wings and started boiling the corn. I applied several new coats of Ah So sauce while the wings cooked through.

Stuffed chicken

The results of our grilling efforts were top notch. Both the stuffed chicken and the Chinese chicken wings provided an interesting twist to the menu and we successfully accommodated the thirteen total guests who came to enjoy our grilling madness. Cassie provided the most impressive after dinner treat with a home made thatched crust cherry pie that was a flat out show-stopper. With the help of some great appetizers, Frisbee, Nat's iPod and the Nintendo Wii, we went the distance and capped our memorial day weekend with a truly epic grilling session.

Cherry pie

Thanks to Alyson Dusseault for letting us use the awesome Polaroids she took.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day Session #2

Cassie and I grilled up some chicken fajitas in the alley on Smokey Joe this afternoon. Freshly squeezed margaritas, grilled chicken with peppers and onion, and some corn on the cob from our neighbors who were also grilling. A perfect Sunday afternoon.

Fajitas and Margaritas

Yum

Now for a nap.

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Posted by Nat Tarbox. 0 comments

Memorial Day Session #1

As we headed into a glorious Memorial Day weekend Nat and I decided this was a prime opportunity to really get our grilling back on track. Waking up early Saturday morning, I though steaks would be a great place to start as we hadn't really done steaks to their fullest in some time. Well, it turned out that Nat had some steaks that had been marinading since 1987... This was a good sign of things to come.

We headed to the SUPER Stop & Shop around noon to gather further equipment. Bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers were the logical opening act as they cook fairly quickly and the spicy flavor fits nicely with a summer style cookout. For sides we went with chopped BBQ vegetables and boiled corn on the cobb. During our trek Nat stumbled across some glorious hickory wood chips, a prize we had been searching for in previous grilling sessions. Finally, we capped it off with a rack of fresh pork ribs which would take the hickory smoke perfectly.

Upon our return, first step was to prep all the food. With the steak marinading in the fridge, Nat mixed together a spicy rub for the pork ribs made with paprika, ground peppercorn, cayenne red pepper, sea salt and Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning blend. We chopped onion, potato, red pepper and green pepper into 1.5 inch pieces which we slathered in Jack Daniels original BBQ sauce and wrapped shut with tin foil. Lastly, we took the hickory woodchips and soaked them in water until it was time to start the insanity.

Matt tends the coals

We started the coals with about a gallon and a half of lighter fluid because A) I left the bag of charcoal outside for a week so the coals were damp from a rainstorm and B) someone in charge of my apartment building threw out my coal chimney stack because they couldn't identify the rusted mass for what it was. Once the fire finally started going we added the soaked hickory chips and placed an aluminum tray of Sierra Nevada ale next to the coals to flavor the food above.

The spread

We decided to slow cook the ribs so we could maximize the sun and get as much smokey flavor as possible. The bag of BBQ vegetables was placed on direct heat so we could get as much indirect surface area as possible for the jalapenos and the steak. Once everything was in place we covered the grill and me, Nat and my brother Kevin proceeded to make good use of Nat's new frisbee.

Success

The results of our grilling session were better than we could have ever anticipated. The jalapeno poppers were incredibly spicy, as Nat said he left the seeds in the jalapeno slices. We took Nat's marinaded steak off the grill at the absolute perfect moment and the BBQ vegetables were chock full o' flavor. After devouring the main event, we force-fed ourselves the slow cooked ribs and corn on the cobb. It's easy to forget the impact that wood chips can have on a meal and this grilling session was a helpful reminder. The bar has definitely been raised.

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Posted by Matt. 1 comments

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Urban grilling

A running theme here at the BBQ blog, and you'll have to take my word that it continued to be one during our one year hiatus, is the challenge of urban grilling. Public transportation, social diversity, an abundance of interesting career options and cultural events... In the eyes of the pit master, none of this means jack when it comes with the burden of not being able to grill. Shockingly, most one bedroom apartments in Boston do not come with a half acre of manicured lawn.

Going the entire summer with stove cooked meals is not an option. The resourceful urban griller knows this, and is capable of overcoming. Last night we fired up Smokey Joe, originally drafted to the team for Patriot's tailgating duties, in our back alley. Most people who aren't from the city consider an alleyway to be a narrow space filled with trash, muggers and working women. In our case, its a pleasant space with some convenient steps that serve as stairs and overhead lighting (which is unfortunately motion sensitive, so keep moving).

Dinner consisted of teriyaki marinated free range chicken breasts and grilled asparagus. Easy, fast and delicious, the key words every author knows and loves when marketing recipes to people who whine about not having time to do anything.

The Chicken:
Good free range meat (ideally local), trimmed to serving size. Hit it with some pepper, kosher salt and some hot pepper if you aren't a sissy. Submerge in store bought teriyaki sauce in a plastic bag and throw it in the freezer. The day you want to grill, put the chicken in the fridge before you go to work, and unless you have a super cold fridge, it should be ready to grill when you get home.

The Asparagus:
Toss your fresh asparagus, trimmed of course, with some olive oil and a dash of kosher salt. Squeeze on some lemon and you're done.

Grilling:
Wait for the coals to burn down to medium heat. If you're cooking on a small grill like the Smokey Joe, this is particularly important. The small surface area and close proximity between grate and coals leaves little margin for error, and nobody likes dry chicken. I found that the asparagus cooks at about the same rate as a trimmed chicken breast, so this meal is super easy.

Get your coals piled up on one side, and arrange everything around the middle of the grate so nothing is directly over the highest point of the coal pile. Flip after five minutes and cook another four and you should be in business. As always with chicken, if you overcook it you'll get a lot of excessive chewing and 'no really its good' from the people you're cooking for. So don't screw it up and cook it too long.

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Posted by Nat Tarbox. 0 comments

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Whiskey Chicken

While on a business trip to Miami, Florida I made a pit stop at Bass Pro Outdoor World in Fort Lauderdale. If you like to hunt, fish, raft, grill or think your side got cheated in the Civil War, this store is for you. While inside I bought a gift for my grilling hombre; a bottle of Whiskey Flavored Barbecue Sauce. While I hadn't tasted the sauce yet, there was a lengthy and hilarious story on the back of the bottle involving a bunch of lazy drunk trailblazers who were too sauced to make it to the west coast and thus decided to settle in some valley and make whiskey products.

Upon my return I couldn't wait to test drive our new sauce and made grilling one of my top objectives. Because the sauce was the headliner for this grilling session we opted to go with chicken as it responds well to marinading and takes on the flavor more than other meats. To fully develop the grilling theme of alcohol soaked meat we selected beer brats as our second course. Nat would get the party started with our famous bacon wrapped Jalapeno Poppers.

Saturday morning I made a trip to Whole Foods to pick up the meat. The packaging assured me that the chicken I selected was paid a full salary with health, vision and a 401k before he was executed. I put the chicken breasts in the marinade at 10 AM on Saturday morning. By grilling time the chicken had approximately 30 total hours of soaking in the sauce. We placed the chicken and the beer brats on the grill at the same time. The brats were placed in an aluminum foil basin with onions and two 12 oz. bottles of Bass Ale over direct heat. Nat placed the chicken over indirect heat, rotating consistently to prevent the sauce from solidifying. Sauce was reapplied sporadically to keep the chicken moist and from over searing the outside.

We accompanied the food with a medley of delicious imported beer. The lovely Rachel and myself enjoyed Boddington's Pub Ale while Nat and Cassie had a nice combo of Bass Ale and Stella Artois. I, like a complete jackass, left the hot dog buns at my apartment and Cassie made the trek to the supermarket to save the day. Big ups to Cassie. With our beloved Patriots now on vacation we bitterly devoured our food while cursing the flag-happy referees of the NFL who ended our season.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Night Grilling

Looking ahead to the New Years weekend, it became clear that any grilling that was to occur over the next week must be accomplished tonight. Seeing as how Matt and myself both work long office hours, this necessitated a night grilling session. Once a common occurence at my old apartment, under the protective front porch awning complete with outdoor lighting, we were breaking new ground here on Fairbanks Street. Fortunately, a high-output halogen illuminates the back alley to some extent. Urban grilling is fraught with such situations.



I had a lot of Christmas presents to utilize. Most importantly, my good internet buddy Meg who works for Vienna Beef in Chicago had sent a holiday package of delicious meat goodies. She also passed along a recipe for bourbon and bbq cocktail weenies. This was a must try.

My parents, in typical humorous-gift form, had given me a 'marinade syringe' and some associated sauces. Basically it looks like something you'd use to give an elephant a vaccine. We decided to try this out on the neutral canvas of some free-range chicken breasts. I used a honey mequite marinade, and also a cajun spice rub, both of which had been boxed with the 'marinade syringe':







First impressions on the meat syringe. These were good sized chicken breasts. I usually trim them to smaller sizes so people can be flexible in portions, and also so they can sit in more marinade. In this case I didn't, and the syringe still seemed a little large for them. You had to get it in just right to keep it from pouring sauce out the side of the chicken. The meat would sort of expand around the syringe and darken from the sauce.

As for the bbq and bourbon weenies (Whiskey Weenies?), I mixed 1/4 cup of Jim Beam (yee haw!) with 1/2 cup of bbq sauce, and shook them up in a tupperware container. We cooked these in a foil bag over the coals. Also debuting on the grill tonight from Vienna Beef were some delicious polish sausage (kinda like big hot dogs), which we ate while everything else was cooking. And I tried making the same potatos from earlier this month, but for some reason they didn't cook as well. I think the foil bag was too thick, or I had used too many potatos.





The cajun spice rub was really high in salt content, which sort of offset whatever benefit the meat syringe might have offered flavor-wise. The bourbon weenies were good, but obviously could have benefitted from a long marinade. They seem to be more of a party dish than something for casual grilling too. Delicious none the less. As far as the meat syringe goes, I'm guess at this point its intended for large items, like whole chickens or turkeys, and probably good for wild game. For the smaller meat cuts that we generally cook around here, it seems a little cumbersome.

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Posted by Nat Tarbox. 0 comments