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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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fourth of July Beach Cookout

Grilling on the beach was something I'd really been looking forward to doing this year, and it did not disappoint. Around 5pm the wind started to pick up a little and cleared away all the sun bathers, so we though it would be a good time to light the coals. It was slightly challenging getting coals started in direct wind without the charcoal chimney I normally use. Once the flame caught I put the lid back on leaving a 2 inch game over the side with the coals banked. This in conjunction with the side air vents on the Smokey Joe Gold seemed to keep things burning.

Take that, offshore winds!

I wanted to let the ribs smoke for at least an hour, using the apple wood chips I had found in the local hardware store. To tide us over, I made some kabobs with fresh pineapple, onion, peppers and shrimp. These cooked real fast, and kept us entertained while some more of that delicious corn we had on sunday was streaming. One thing I noticed was that the shrimp readily absorbed the smokey flavor and also dried out rather quickly. I'm not sure if this was because they were on the small size for grilling, or if it was because they had been pre-cooked when we bought them. Either way, I'm going to have to delve into shrimp grilling a little bit more and try to crack this. The fresh pineapple was delicious as usual.

I guess thats the cool thing to do now?


The ribs cooked for just about an hour and a half, with the rub forming a delicious looking crust. I brushed them down with some Sweet Baby Ray's honey bbq sauce and let that caramalize for another 15 minutes. Just as we were getting ready to take them off a few drops of rain sizzled on the grill lid. As we got the ribs inside it just started to pick up so we dodged a bullet and enjoyed our meal while watching the storm go by.

Ribs and Corn

Delicious Ribs

Please note Cassie's delicious home made sangria in the above photo. The ribs were delicious, with just enough of a smoke ring around the inside to convince myself that one can take a serious stab at doing actual barbecue on a grill, even a small one like the Smokey Joe.

//update: the Flickr photo group Bar-B-Qued Ribs asked for me to submit that photo to them! Super cool, check out all the food porn they've collected.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Taking a Run at some Serious Ribs

In the run up to Memorial Day we stumbled into some fantastic ribs purely by chance. The ribs had been an afterthought at the store, the rub had been assembled out of on-hand ingredients the day of the cookout, and the sauce was whatever we could find in the fridge and stretch out with some molasses and ketchup. The ribs were thrown on the back of the grill and forgotten for a few hours while we cooked a number of other items. In short, we ignored and/or blatantly broke every rule for smoking ribs on a grill. And yet, as noted in the relevant blog post, they ended up being amazing, and probably the highlight of the entire grill-a-thon. BBQ is a series of happy accidents.

This weekend, with a weather forecast for "awesome", I'm looking forward to trying some ribs utilizing the techniques outlined on amazingribs.com, specifically their detailed instructions on smoking ribs with a Weber kettle (and if you haven't been paying attention, we've recently been adding links such as amazingribs.com to the new Links section of the blog). The plan as of now is to try out this maple chipotle sauce I've had my eye on, and combine it with the Memphis Magic Dust rub for some extra spicy flavor.

As a side note, the ever excellent video blog Townie News, home of Fitzy Fitzgerald and covering all relevant Boston sports news, featured an excellent commentary on two critical components to a successful summer: beer and grilling. check it out (crude language and humor, but if you're reading this blog that shouldn't be a problem right?).

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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: Matt's Barbecue Sauce

Here's an easy does it recipe for a delicious basic barbecue sauce. While your average store bought barbecue sauce can do an adequate job, they are chock full of high fructose corn syrup which is largely responsible for our growing nation of butterball children. This recipe works great as both a marinade and a sauce.

Ingredients:
• 2.5 Tbsp. Molasses
• 1/2 Cup Tomato ketchup
• 1 Tbsp. Butter
• 2 Tbsp. Brown sugar
• 1/3 Cup Finely chopped onion - Red or white
• 3 Cloves Finely chopped garlic
• 1 Tbsp. Red wine vinegar
• 1 Tbsp. Soy sauce
• 1 Tbsp. Spicey Mustard
• 1 Tbsp. Lime juice
• 2 tsp. Worcesteshire sauce
• 1 tsp. Ground cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp. Ground pepper
• 2 tsp. Salt (Sea salt preferred)
• 1 tsp. Oregano

Prep:
Coat small frying pan in olive oil over medium heat. Add finely chopped onion and garlic and cook for two to three minutes, stirring occasionally. Add molasses. ketchup, butter, lime juice, vinegar and brown sugar to the skillet. Stir. and cover.

In a small measuring cup, mix cayenne pepper, ground pepper, salt and oregano. Add mustard, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and seasoning to frying pan. Stir in ingedients and cover over low heat. Let frying pan simmer for several minutes, stirring occasionally.

Makes 6 oz. Serves 2-3.

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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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