New Years Dinner – Smoked Tri-Tip

Early this morning, Heather & I were talking about plans for today..  It was then that we realized we had absolutely nothing planned, including dinner.  Since we had planned nothing, we neglected to take anything out of the freezer to defrost.  So, I trotted off to Wegmans this morning to see what struck me.  As I perused the meat case, a pile of tri-tips were being freshly put out.  Hmm..  Tri-tip.  It’s been forever since I’ve had any, and I’ve never actually cooked it myself, though I’ve been interested in doing so. As an added bonus, this would afford me the opportunity to play around with the iGrill2 that Heather gave me for Christmas.  Have I mentioned how amazing my wife is?

So, I rubbed the tri-tip with a store-bought mix of kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper and garlic and stashed it in the fridge. Later, I loaded up the smoker box with hickory chips, got the grill going at about 225F and then loaded up the meat.  We did a reverse sear on this tri-tip.  For those who don’t know, searing first, then finishing over indirect heat makes for a less evenly cooked piece of meat than if you flip the process around.  Roast/indirect cook first, then sear second.  While we’re at it, let’s shoot the notion of “sealing in the juices” right between the eyes.  This has been debunked multiple times, just let it die, ok?  I set the iGrill’s alarm for 120F, at which point I’d pull and rest the meat.  This took almost 90 minutes to get from 40F up to 120F, at which time, I pulled the meat and chucked the tater tots in the oven for 20 minutes.  During the 10-minute rest, I cranked up all the burners on the grill to high to get everything nice & hot.  By the time the 10 minutes was up, the grill was up to 650F, and the roast went back on for a blast of heat that made a crust that would have made Dr. Maillard proud.

After a nice crust was laid upon the meat, I sliced it against the grain to maximize the tenderness, and served it with the tots and some warmed up olive oil & rosemary rolls I also picked up at Wegmans.  We have plenty of leftovers, which will probably end up as tacos in the next few days.  Future yum.

Cornbread Stuffing

So this year, we cooked a good bit of the Christmas dinner at Heather’s grandparents’ house..  It afforded them the opportunity to relax, and me the opportunity to experiment a little.  So, I finally got my chance to fry a turkey and make the stuffing.  The turkey was very good, having bought one of the foo-foo organic, free-range, went to the right schools, and lovingly attended to, right up until its beheading birds, then brined it myself before frying it up..  But this post isn’t about the fried turkey I made, which was delicious, by the way.  This post is about stuffing.

Yes, I called it stuffing, despite the fact that I never shoved it up inside an animal to cook it.  Don’t get all snippy & pedantic here, it’s just stuffing.  Very tasty stuffing, but still, just stuffing.  I also shamelessly lifted this from a recipe of Anne Burrell’s from the Food Network site, though I changed it up a bit to call it my own. The original recipe called for “spicy sausage”.  This spawned much debate between the people behind the meat counter at the market down the road.  We ended up settling on Andouille, since it offers a little spice, but not enough to knock you over.  It all melded really well in the end.

The recipe calls for 10 cups of stale cornbread.  I had no idea how much 10c of cornbread was, but happily, there was a video on the Food Network site, showing Anne Burrell and Ted Allen making the stuffing.  In it, they used 2 8×8 pans of cornbread.  To me, that’s a much more sensible measurement than “10 cups”.  But I digress.  Here we go.

  • 1 large onion, fine dice
  • 3 ribs celery, fine dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed, then finely diced
  • 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound of Andouille sausage, removed from the casings
  • 2 cups dried cranberries (an 8 ounce package was just enough)
  • 2 8×8 pans of stale cornbread, cut into 1″ chunks (I used a mix from Krusteaz, and it turned out well).
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock (I used low-sodium, so I could add salt if it needed it)

Coat the bottom of a big sauté pan with olive oil (again, get the kind made with real virgins, alright?), and sauté the onions & celery over medium-high heat until they’re softening up.  Hit that veg with some salt and pepper to season it up.  Next, add the sausage, breaking it up into small bite-sized chunks and cook until the sausage starts to brown.  Add the garlic and keep going for another 1-2 minutes, then add the sage & rosemary, and keep cooking for another minute or two.

Get a big bowl, dump in the cornbread, cranberries and the contents of your sauté pan, along with 3 cups of the chicken stock.  Now get in there with your hands and mix it all up thoroughly.  The cornbread should be wet when you’re done.  Dump all that into 1 large or 2 small baking dishes and chuck it into a 350F oven for about 30-35 minutes.

This was one of the best stuffings I’ve ever had, and everyone loved it.  It even looks a little Christmas-ish with the red cranberries, and the piney-aroma of the rosemary.

Turkey & Chorizo Chili

So, last weekend, I christened our new 7.25 quart Le Creuset Dutch (French??) Oven by making some chili.  I scored a screaming deal on eBay for a new with tags pot at $100 under what the shops down the road are charging.

Anyhow, back to the chili.  I shameless ripped this off from Food Network, and (gasp) Rachel Ray.  Yeah, she’s annoying (EVOO! Yumm-o! Shoot me now!), but every now & then, she really gets one right.  This was very tasty and not hard to prepare at all.  The recipe calls for chorizo.  Make sure you’re buying the Mexican stuff, and not Spanish.  Spanish is more like salami, where Mexican is more like a sausage, similar in texture to Italian sausage, but with different flavors.

Lay hands on all of the following:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable/canola/olive oil
  • 1 lb Mexican chorizo, out of the casings – If you can get loose sausage, even better.
  • 1 lb cooked turkey breast, cut into 1cm cubes – I went to the deli, got the store-roasted turkey breast cut into 1cm slices – took 3 or 4 slices to get a pound.
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped – I went for the Spanish yellow onion here for some sweetness
  • 1 tablespoon of ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
  • A 15oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons pureed chipotle in adobo – I just dumped the whole can into the blender
  • 1.5-2 cups chicken stock (she called for 2-3 – I did 2 and needed to reduce for longer than she called for)
  • 2 tablespoons corn meal, quick-cooking polenta or even masa
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Heat up your dutch oven on the stovetop on medium-high heat, put the oil in.  Add the chorizo.  Break that stuff up and cook until it’s browned, and you’ve got that lovely orange grease in the bottom of the pot.  Add the onion, peppers and garlic and cook until they’re soft (about 3-5 minutes).  Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer it low for 45-60 minutes.

The original suggestion was to serve with lime wedges and top with Fritos.  I did the Fritos, and it was good, but I also put some shredded sharp cheddar cheese in before the Fritos.  This was absolutely delicious, and the leftovers kept nicely for about 7 days, when I ate the last bit of it.

I don’t usually do chili without beans, but after my recent surgery, I was on a slightly restricted diet (low fiber, low residue).  I’ve since been cleared for beans.  Were I to make this again, I’d probably add a small can of rinsed black beans to round it out.  But without the beans, it was delicious.  The recipe makes 4-6 servings, depending on how hungry you are.  For us, it was enough for the 4 of us (the kids didn’t eat much of it), and we had 2 mug/bowls left over.

Also, highly recommended for fall/winter soup/chili leftovers, are the Corningware mugs with lids (relax, it’s not an affiliate link, I promise). I just checked, and they’re even cheaper in Target ($7.59 at the time I wrote this).

An evening with the guys, steaks, and good times.

Monday’s a big day for me.  I’ll be going in for some surgery.  Nothing major, I swear.  But, it will involve a couple of days in residence in the hospital.  So, with my wife out of town with the girls for the weekend, it seemed like a perfect night to have the guys over.  The kids went to one of the other houses, where we shared a babysitter, and the night began..

Earlier that day, I hit the Rastelli’s Market just down the road.  I was pleased to find some gorgeous USDA Prime NY Strips at a pretty reasonable price.  If you’re a South Jersey person, Rastelli’s really has a great selection of all sorts of stuff.  The prepared foods are quite good as well.  Behind the butcher counter, I met years of experience, and a willingness to get everything just right to afford us the perfect evening.  Not long after, I left with 7 of those Prime NY Strips, cut 1.5″ thick.  We paired the steaks up with some roasted baby red potatoes and sautéed haricots verts.  My friend John brought some fantastic bread too.  On to the recipes & methods.

Roasted Baby Red Potatoes

These are quite possibly the easiest potatoes in the world to make.  Impossible to screw this up.  This serves 8 people.

  • 3 pounds of baby red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (be sure to get the stuff made from real virgins)
  • 6 cloves of finely minced garlic
  • Kosher salt & ground black pepper – just eyeball it, put in as much as you feel comfortable with
  • Leaves from one sprig of rosemary

Cut the spuds in half, or quarters if you’ve got some big babies in there.. Put everything in a large bowl and toss.  Or do as I did – put the lid on and shake it like crazy.  Dump this out onto a sheet pan (or again, as I did – a foil-lined sheet pan) and chuck it in a 400F oven for an hour.  The potatoes were done early, so I just hit the warming button and left them in the oven.  You could use pretty much any small, thin-skinned potato as well, but I like the flavor of the red potato here.  Like I said, this is impossible to screw up.

Sautéed Haricots Verts

Again, ridiculously easy.  This will also serve 6-8 people.

  • 1 pound Haricots Verts, stem side trimmed, washed, etc.
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Red pepper flakes

Boil some water.  Salt the water generously.  Prepare a big bowl with salted ice water nearby.  Par-cook the beans for about 90 seconds, then rescue them from the boiling water (I used a frying spider like this to do the job), depositing them in the ice bath to stop the cooking process.  When the beans are cooled, extract them from the cold water.  I did this step a few hours ahead, so I put them in a sealed bowl in the fridge.  If you’re doing it right then, just put them aside.

Get your sauté pan ready.  Coat the bottom in the EVOO.  Add the garlic, some salt and a pinch of the red pepper flakes.  Very slowly and gently, heat up that oil to infuse the flavors of the garlic and red pepper.  Turn up the heat to medium, add the beans and finish them off.  How long?  Do you like your beans crunchy or like baby food?  It’s all up to you.

Grilled NY Strips – Reverse Sear Method

This was the part that drew shock & awe from the guys.  Conventional wisdom says you sear a steak and finish it over indirect heat, like in the oven.  This flips that model upside-down.  Why?  Science.  That’s why.  Think about what happens when you do a roast in the oven.  You cook that roast to medium-rare or medium, and when you cut into it, it’s pretty much top-to-bottom pink, right?  Think about the last time you had a steak cooked by conventional means.  You had a crust on the outside, and a ring of well-done just underneath, followed by your center that’s medium-rare or medium.  What if you could get rid of most or all of the ring of well-done meat?  That’s what the reverse sear is all about.  Want to read more?  Go check out /r/steak on Reddit.  Lots of reverse searers and sous-viders there.

So, on to how to do this.  I put the steaks on a rack, holding them above a sheet pan.  I salted each side very generously with Kosher salt.  I left them out on the counter like this for an hour.  An hour?  In the creepy-crawly bacterial danger zone?  Relax, skippy.  You’re going to blast these things with fire in a little while.  Bacteria growth, if any, will be on the surface, and will be quite handily eradicated after you introduce them to some fire.

I did our steaks on the grill.  We’ve got a Weber Genesis E-330, LP model.  I switched on the far right burner, and deposited our steaks on the far left of the grill and closed the lid.  How high should the burner be?  Depends on how cold it is outside.  Last night, it was about 45F, so I did medium-high.  You want the ambient temp inside the grill around 200-250F.  Relax, this will be a while.  If you’ve got a probe thermometer, probe the meat and set the alarm for 115F (assuming you want medium-rare).  Basically, you’re going to pull about 10-15F below where you want to finish.  For me, this took about 45 minutes to reach this temp.  I pulled the steaks, and covered them in foil, and took them inside to rest for 10 minutes.

During that rest, I cranked up all of the burners to high and kept the lid down.  By the time the rest was over, the grill was about 650F.  During the summer, I can get it to well over 700F.  Steaks go back on and get flipped every 30 seconds until you’re happy.  To impress, add a turn, giving you nice cross-hatch grill marks.  The steaks got about 4 minutes total sear time, roughly 2 minutes per side, leaving them at 125-130F, perfect medium-rare.  Off the grill, onto the plates.

Because you’ve already rested the meat, they won’t bleed out the moment you cut them, so you can dig right in.  Be warned on a couple of points here…

  1. You need thicker steaks to pull this off.  If you go with the standard ¾ inch type steaks you generally see in the market, the method doesn’t work.  Why?  During the sear, you’ll overcook the middle.  Minimum of 1 inch.  1 ½ or more is better for this method.
  2. Be prepared for horrified looks from your guests.  When you pull the steaks to rest them, they will look like sad little lumps of meat.  That’s ok.  Just tell your diners to relax and believe.  Last night, I had 6 skeptics that thought I’d ruined good steak, only to completely reverse that opinion mere minutes later. :-)

My sole regret was forgetting to get a picture of the completed steaks.  What can I say?  We were hungry.  We paired the above with a bottle of Phantom, from Bogle Vineyards.  Rastelli’s was doing tastings the other day, and it caught me by surprise, so I bought 2 bottles.  At $18 each, they were better than lots of $50 bottles I’ve had.

Grilled Meatloaf – Yum.

My wife & I were pondering options for lunch today.  On the weekends, we tend to eat the larger meal for lunch and a smaller dinner.  Today, we settled on meatloaf, garlic mashed red potatoes and peas.  Rather than our usual broil & bake process, I decided to do the meatloaf on the grill, as it was a lovely day outside.

We shamelessly lifted this recipe from the nice folks at Cooks Country, and re-adapted this slightly.  Ordinarily, we make this as described below, using very lean ground beef with ground pork.  Today, we just had beef on hand, so we went all beef, but used higher-fat content on the ground beef to make up for the lack of pork.

Make the glaze first…

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar (light or dark, whatever you like)
  • 2 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce

Put all that in a small saucepan.  Mix, and heat to combine & thicken over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Put some glaze to the side to use while cooking.  You should be fine reserving about ¼ cup to glaze with.  What hot sauce?  Whatever you want.  You can’t go wrong with Frank’s RedHot.  This time, I used the Tobasco Chipotle sauce for a slight amount of heat, and more smokey flavor.  I’ve also read tales of people using Sriracha as well.  I also used dark brown sugar today, and really liked the overall flavor.

On to the meatloaf…

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2/3 cup Saltine crackers, crushed (about 17 crackers)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 pound 90/10 ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 large whole eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper

Put the oil in the pan, heat it up over medium heat, add the onion.  In about 8 minutes, you’ll have nice, golden brown & delicious onions.  Add the garlic, keep it on the heat for another 30 seconds.  Done?  Into a large bowl with that veg.

Dump your crackers and milk in the food processor and unleash the blades upon them until it’s a smooth mixture.  Add the meat and pulse to combine nicely.. That should be about 10 1-second pulses.  Dump the resulting meat-goo into the bowl with the veggies.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix it all up.  Get in there with your hands and work that meatloaf.  Get everything nice & combined, but don’t over-work too badly, ok?

Here’s where we diverge from Bridget Lancaster’s officially sanctioned cooking method..  Instead of forming a single loaf on a foil-lined sheet pan, we’re going to cut the mix in half, making two smaller loaves.  This cooking method is similar to the also popular Weber recipe for grilled meatloaf.

Setup the grill for indirect cooking.  You want to get that grill stable at about 350F. For me, I’m cooking on a Weber Genesis E-330, and I’ve got the optional smoker box kit installed.  So, I kick on the right and center burners, and keep them just about 1/3 of the way between low & medium on the dials.  For a bit of extra flavor, I dropped in a wood chunk.  Today, I went for Hickory, since it pairs so nicely with beef.  Before long, the grill was ready, and blue smoke was rising from the smoker box.  Success was mine for the taking.  I lightly oiled up the grill and with a couple of spatulas, I deposited the meatloaves on the far left side, where the burner was completely turned off.  Down went the cover, and I set a timer for 30 minutes to check on progress.  At the 30 minute mark, we were at an internal temp of 120F.  I was looking for 155F, so we carried on.  While I had the grill open, I applied a coating of the glaze that I’d reserved earlier.  At the 45 minute mark, they were at 155F, and it was time to pull them.  It would have probably only been 40 minutes, but I don’t currently have a probe thermometer, and was relying on our instant-read, so I had to keep popping the top to get a reading.

As an aside, if any of the super nice people over at iDevices happen to be reading this, I’d sing of your glory and valor forever if you’d send me an iGrill2. :-)  I’d love to get my hands on one with 3 probes and an ambient temp probe as well.  But I digress, and that’s enough begging for today.

After pulling the loaves at 155F, I put them on a foil-lined sheet pan, applied another coat of the glaze, and then it was off to the broiler.  I put the spurs to them for about 5 minutes, to make a nicely caramelized and delicious crust on top.  We pulled, rested a bit, sliced and served with the remaining glaze.  I think next time I would broil first without the glaze on, then go to the grill.  But, that’s just a minor difference, really.

It was absolutely delicious.  I could see making meatloaf sandwiches out of this recipe too. Yum part two, revenge of the taste buds…

Remembrance.

Watching my friend John’s Daily Vlog from yesterday got me thinking about this.

It was a Tuesday morning, just like any other before it.  It’s not a day I talk about very much.  It’s a day that I really gained an understanding of my own mortality, and how quickly and easily it could slip away, had circumstances been the tiniest bit different.

Back in 2001, I was working for a network equipment manufacturer, covering ISPs and Telcos.  Sometimes, I did meetings direct with these carriers, trying to convince them to buy, other times, I’d do a ride-along to go with them to visit their customers, since after all, when their customers would buy, it meant my customer had to buy from me.

I had a meeting on my calendar already for Tuesday, September 11, 2001, but it was right near home in NJ.  Late in the previous week, I got a call from one of my customers, who wanted me to come along to a meeting at a new account he was trying to crack.  The meeting was to be at the customer’s offices, on the 90-something-th floor of 1WTC (that’s the “North Tower” for those who don’t know).  His plan was for us to meet up around 9 up in the cafeteria off the 44th floor Sky Lobby, chat for a bit, then do a 10 am meeting, which would culminate in a ride back down to the ground, and then back up in the express elevator to 106, where we’d take the customer to Windows on the World for lunch.  As much as I loved getting up to that place, I was already booked, so I turned down the meeting, and we’d agreed to reschedule.

Since my meeting was near home, and not until later in the morning, I took the opportunity to sleep in a bit, and take my time getting ready.  Around 8:45 am, my phone rang.  It was a guy I’d done some work with in the past, who knew I was a regular in the NYC area.  He told me that he’d just seen the news, and asked if I’d seen anything.  Not knowing what he was talking about, I flipped on the news, and of course, we were all confused, wondering what was going on.  We hung up, and I kept on watching the news.  As the details began to unfold, it slowly dawned on me that had I accepted that meeting, I’d either be in line at the 1WTC visitor desk, or 44 floors up in the building that American’s Flight 11 had just flown into.  Had the meeting been an hour earlier, I’d have been right around where it impacted.  Just as I’d come to this realization, United Flight 175 flew into 2WTC as I was watching the news live.

Instantly, we all flipped from confused and sad about an accident to the stark realization of what was going on.  This was not an accident.  Moments later, my phone started blowing up.  Friends and family were calling me to see if I was alright.  I was completely freaked out.  I changed my VM message to say I was at home, not in the city and was fine.  I shut my phone off for the better part of a day, and just stayed glued to the news.  Then we all walked around in kind of a fog for days, maybe weeks.

Several of my co-workers were in the city that day, and happily, they all are fine.  One guy was sitting in traffic on the Pulaski Skyway, headed for the Holland Tunnel, and saw the whole thing happen start to finish.  A few were in the office we had on Broad Street. One was on the PATH train that turned around and left the WTC.  It turned out that it was the last PATH out of town that day.  The folks in the office described the sound of the buildings coming down as the loudest noises they’d ever heard, followed moments later by a cloud of dust, 25 stories tall rolling down Broad Street.

Eventually, services got restored, and people were allowed back into the city.  I volunteered with the Red Cross one day, handing out water to people who were digging.  I’m convinced I saw part of someone’s arm or leg.  Pretty damn unsettling stuff.  Years later, the PATH started to run downtown to the WTC site again.  It still freaks me out a bit to come back through those tubes into the bottom of what used to be a thriving concourse with shops and people everywhere, and is now, 13 years later, still a huge construction site.

Occasionally, I ponder how different my life could have been had I taken that meeting.  I may have never met my wife, gotten married, become a father, any number of things.  Each day is a gift.  We would all do well to remember that, myself included.

Today’s Lunch, Pork Tenderloin

On the weekends, we usually cook for lunch, and then do smaller, leftover-ish things later in the day if we get hungry again.  So, it’s another lovely day, and we’re off to the grill.  Today?  Pork tenderloin.  It’s just the 4 of us, so I only did one of the two tenderloins that came in the pack we bought.  The other is in the freezer.

I made up a little mojo/marinade type thing using a rub that I’ve had hanging around a while.  It’s the “Jack’s Old South” rub from Food Network.  Here’s the recipe for the rub…

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sweet paprika
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil

I was originally going to make a paste using apple juice and smear it on, much like a rub, but decided to give the pork a bath in it, so I added a bit more apple juice.  Just mix it up until it looks right to you. You’ll need about 4-6 ounces of liquid In there to do an adequate job. Trim up the tenderloin, put it in a gallon sealable plastic bag, and add the mixture.  Smoosh it around to coat, remove as much air as you possibly can and seal it up.  Minimum bath in this stuff should be 4 hours.  24 would be better.  Put it in the fridge for this time.  About 30 minutes before you throw it on the fire, pull it out of the fridge.

Don’t like the rub I mentioned above? Use whatever rub you like. I might try this next time with the rub my butcher makes.

Charcoal grill?  Setup for 2-zone cooking. Gas? Turn on all the burners and heat your grill up to medium high heat.  Cook it for about 2 minutes on each of the 4 sides, then shut off the burner that’s under the pork, or move to a part of a charcoal grill that doesn’t have direct heat going.  Close the lid, and check it every few minutes.  In 8-10 minutes, you should be all done.  Remember, trichinosis is at an all-time low for all of known history.  You do not need to cook your pork until it’s a crispy, dry mess, crying uncle.  140-145F is plenty good enough.

We served this up with a pasta salad, and leftover corn from yesterday’s tacos, and it was good.

Would I change anything? While I found it nicely spiced, as did my wife, the kids thought the spice level was a bit high. They’re a little wimpy with that stuff, so next time, I might do a bit less rub in the mixture.

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