Lunch – Smoked Wings

Lately, I’ve been after some wings.  This past Saturday, I picked up a pack of the super duper, organic, raised by Tibetan monks, lead a life of luxury type wings at Wegmans.  This morning, I went outside and lit a chimney full of charcoal, dumped that in the bottom of the smoker, and added a bit more on top.  In hindsight, I didn’t need the “bit more”.  Oh well, live & learn.  I really liked doing the wings because it required almost no attention whatsoever from me.  I lit the coals, adjusted the vents once, assembled, pulled, then ate.  My total time actively doing stuff, apart from eating, was maybe 10 minutes.

I ran the WSM without the water pan in place, dropped a chunk of hickory on top of the fully ashed over coals, and assembled the cooker.  The wings were rubbed with the Weber Kick’N Chicken rub and put in place.  I ran the smoker hot so the skin would be nice & crispy – 350F.  About an hour later, I went out and checked the wings.  They registered 163F, so I pulled them.

I sauced them with a mixture of 1/2c Frank’s Hot Wing Sauce and 1/3c wildflower honey.  I think next time, I might do less of the wing sauce.  Maybe a 50/50 split to tone down some of the heat.  They were fantastic.

First Brisket on the New Smoker

So, earlier this year, the best wife ever agreed to let me go out and get myself a smoker.  I ended up deciding on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, 22.5″.  I probably would have been fine with the smaller 18.5″ one, but figured since I wanted to try my hand at brisket, I’d go for the bigger one.

So, last weekend, I gave it a go for a brisket. This first brisket run wasn’t a full brisket.  I just picked up a hunk of flat from the store.  It was 2.68 lb at the start.  I put it on at 10:30, hoping for a 15-16:00 sit down time.  Since it was small, and I was planning on going slightly hotter that usual, at 275F, I figured I was in pretty good shape time-wise.

I loaded up the cooker with some good old Kingsford Blue, and dropped in 4 chunks of pecan.  To that, I added about half a chimney of lit coals and assembled the cooker.  I ran the cooker with the water pan installed, foiled, but empty.  I had a bit of temp control difficulty, but I attribute that to me being new to using the WSM.  In the end, it wasn’t a big deal.

I wrapped when the meat hit 155F, and was able to push through the stall without difficulty.  I’d expect more difficulty with a full packer brisket stalling out.  At 14:15, I’d hit 203F, so I pulled the brisket, and wrapped it in a new layer of foil and a beach towel for an hour’s rest on the counter.  Then, we came, we sliced, we ate.  And it was good.  I even took advantage of my time waiting for it to cook and made a snazzy Excel template for tracking smokes like this.

Weekend Project: Weather Shield for iGrill v2

My wife, who is awesome by the way, got me an iGrill v2 for Christmas.  If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a probe thermometer that speaks to an app that runs on your iPhone, iPad or Android device using Bluetooth.  Like most electronics, it’s not fond of getting wet.

So, I decided to build a housing for it that would protect it from rain, allow the probes to get out, and could be attached to a post underneath our deck.  I picked up a Rubbermaid food storage container at Target.  I got the 14 cup version.

I then hit the Lowes down the road, where I got a stainless screw and washers, and a galvanized (not stainless!) metal strap.  Don’t buy a stainless strap, since you want the magnet in the back of the iGrill to stick to it.  I also grabbed a water-tight electric conduit fitting for the probe outlet.

I taped and then drilled a 1″ hole in the side of the container and installed the conduit fitting.  I lined up and drilled another hole in the back for the mounting screw.  The strap is being held in place by the screw and held steady by some silicone caulk.  You can see a little squeeze-out below.

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.


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