Music while you cook:

Listening to music while I cook is a mainstay. It certainly takes the “work” out of it and imparts more “fun.” It can even set the mood for the meal itself. And it’s certainly better than watching bad game shows or the news while eating dinner!

 

It can be used as an inspiration, to set a theme, or to distract you from the monotony of the day and let your creative side shine while you’re making a fantastic meal. And can help generate conversation, as long as the music is at a conversation volume…and not a reference theater level volume.

 

I personally have used it not only when I am cooking indoors, but also when I am outside grilling and smoking. I have some outdoor speakers that are connected to my surround sound system that let me play whatever is on inside, or something completely different.

 

It doesn’t even need to be fancy…just your phone, or a boom box. (if you remember those) But there is something about the music that makes it all feel more fun.

 

Having music on when you dine can also be a heightened experience for those looking to add some other dimensions. Italian dinner nights can get some opera, taco night can get some salsa, (pun intended) Jamaican jerk chicken night can get some Reggae…you get the idea. It just creates a mood that is more festive.

 

I just think it makes the task of cooking, a little bit more fun, and a little less like work!

 

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Using your grill as an outdoor oven

This is the time of year where we tend to get outside more often during the warmer months. This is prime grilling and BBQ season, not that you can’t grill year ‘round. Myself, I don’t let weather or season get in my way of outdoor cooking but some of us live in regions that make it a little more difficult in inclement weather.

Most types of grills can double as an outdoor oven…to cook things other than meat, too! (Provided it can get to the appropriate temperature) There are plenty of reasons that this works for several applications. We have talked about grilled pizzas before, but think inside the box. There is no reason why you can’t bake cakes, cookies, pizza, quiches, frittatas, casseroles, mac n cheese, etc…

When you think about it, the best reason to explore this is alternative energy. It makes sense to use gas or charcoal instead of the electricity it takes to fire up your oven. Also, it may be warm outside and you’re trying to keep your house cool with air conditioning, inside.

If you have an electric grill, smoker or pellet grill that uses electricity…that’s ok, too. Mostly because you’re house’s interior won’t raise in temperature from your oven’s output. This will also this provide more room in your kitchen for guests!

All you need are some cookie sheets, casserole dishes, pizza pans, cast iron skillet or other inexpensive items that might already be in your kitchen. Just make sure that you’re ok with getting those dirty. 🙂 Oh yeah, invest in a good pair of heat resistant gloves if you don’t have oven mitts. http://www.amazon.com/health-personal-care/dp/B001EPR98Q

Now that we have mentioned the environmental reasons for using your grill as an outdoor oven…

How about the best reasons? Taste and togetherness.

You’d be surprised at the flavors that can be subtly and quite deliciously added to your macaroni and cheese when you cook over charcoal. (I would recommend indirect heat at 350 F degrees) If you don’t want that kind of smoky flavor, use your gas grill when baking things like cookies or cakes.

However, the very best reason is the gathering of friends and family. Getting others involved and getting everybody in your crew outdoors. Cooking outdoors is not just for the adults and the guys. This is the chance for you to hone your skills for then next time you go camping, your next birthday, graduation, retirement or summer party that could be transformed by making that killer dish that you baked in you “outdoor oven.”

I have just started getting into doing this and it makes sense. As soon as I bake some outdoor brownies, or smoke some green bean casserole, I’ll be sure to feature those in their own blog. For now, I just wanted to get the idea out there.

Happy outdoor cooking!

-J

Use your freezer wisely

While certainly nothing beats a fresh piece of grass fed steak on a charcoal grill, it’s only a small part of the actuality of how we eat on a daily basis. As a person who likes to grill a majority of my food (meat and vegetables) I couldn’t do this economically without rationing my produce and protein by using my freezer.

I really try to encourage smart shopping for your groceries and the easiest way to save money is to buy in bulk and exercise your ability to safely store your food until it is time to grill it up. This means buying whole chickens, whole tenderloins of beef and pork, full hams, shoulders, legs of lamb, etc…

If you don’t have the wherewithal (or knife skills) to butcher the larger items yourself…you’ll find that you local grocery store will do most of this for you, FOR FREE. (Especially beef) And if you store doesn’t offer this, don’t worry you can still save money buying larger packages of food that are almost always less expensive!

The key to this is preservation. This includes enclosing single serving and family size servings in freezer safe zip top bags. If you have a vacuum sealer contraption, that is even more awesome. This allows for you to take something out to thaw that is just right for that meal. (Also use this pro-tip; if you have any Anodized aluminum coated pans or flat griddle; they can be used as a speedier thawing device)

Example: dinner for two can be two filet steaks that were cut from your tenderloin, or dinner for four can be a small roast that was from the other end of the tenderloin. Whole chickens can be cut into wings, legs, and breasts for people that have different tastes. If you don’t have the time to cook a whole chicken, you can save the time by partitioning the portions, saving on cook time and thawing time.

If you can shop in bulk, you can also shop for sales. Most grocery store sales run cyclical, following some sort of pattern. If you know that rib eyes go on sale every four weeks…buy them every four weeks. If you know wings go on sale every six weeks, load up!

The key is to take them out of their individual containers (generally made for refrigeration for a few days) and package them yourself to freeze. (Some pork, beef tenderloins and whole chickens are vacuum sealed; just make sure that they have no other additional flavoring ingredients) Ground beef, ground chicken, ground turkey or ground pork is best portioned, then put in zip tops. Then you can buy the much cheaper five pound version vs. the one pound.

Look, this is going to take some time AND discipline. You’ll need freezer safe zip top bags and a Sharpie. That’s like a seven dollar investment. You will save money, as long as you package things carefully, keep your freezer cold and work on the “first in, first out” method. (Food that goes in the freezer first, should come out first or as close to that as you can) Use that marker to label your packages with what and when, i.e. chicken thighs 4/4/13. That’s not too hard, right?

I have used this method for years and it allows me to buy much better, healthier, cleaner, less processed food. You can add you own flavors, which you can pronounce, while you save money.

Hope this helps; grilling season is in full swing!

-J

Ribs

Ribs

Over the winter I have been practicing to enter into some competitive BBQ competitions this upcoming spring and summer season. I am hitting my groove and I have definitely nailed some with my best effort in the rib category. Enjoy!

Cedar plank smoked salmon with bonus leftover salmon salad roll

Using flavored wood smoke for your foods is way easier than you think. If you can soak a piece of wood in water, beer, wine or fruit juice…you can smoke anything on virtually any kind of grilling contraption.

Using a cedar plank may be one of the easiest methods, ever. It’s particularly great for delicate food like fish. But can be equally as tasty using shellfish, beef or poultry. It’s simple, effective, makes presentation rustic and clean up easy, too. My other favorites are scallops and London broil/flank steak on the plank.

You can find grill planks at pretty much any hardware store or big box store, as well as online. And the easy part is all you need to do is soak it in a liquid for prep. About a half to full hour is all you need and you can use anything you like from water to beer to apple juice. Since some of the grilling planks can be a little long, a cookie sheet is probably your best best to use as vessel to soak the plank in. You can weigh it down with a glass or bowl of water. Then just set aside after soaking and the cool thing is you can use it as a prep dish and go right to the grill!

Set up your grill for indirect heat. It doesn’t matter if you use a charcoal grill, gas grill or smoker with this…with the exception of time and temperature. As long as your plank isn’t over a direct flame, you’re all set.

I used wild caught sockeye salmon, as it marries perfectly with the cedar smoke for a distinctly Pacific Northwest inspired flavor profile. I washed the filets and patted dry with a paper towel and placed on the soaked plank. For me, I think it is easier to leave the skin on the filet. I think it may be a personal choice, but for me it holds in the juice and helps the filet stay intact. I keep it real simple; grass fed butter (ie Kerrygold), fresh lemon zest and juice, fresh rosemary sprig, (I used thyme in the pics) sea salt and cracked pepper.

I used my ceramic egg for this…but like I said, it’s a versatile dish, so just pay attention to your temperature. I was able to have this a perfect medium rare in no time at all. The planks will get a little char on them, but won’t go ablaze. You can serve this directly on the planks for a rustic buffet style. Otherwise, they will slide right off intact for a plate presentation. It all depends on how many filets you’re doing.

This also provides an excellent leftover opportunity, if you lucky enough to have some left! I mixed a small dollop of some olive oil mayo and diced dill pickle into my left over salmon to make a smoked salmon salad roll. I spread the mix on a whole wheat tortilla, rolled it up, and cut it sushi style to make an appetizer roll which I topped with some hot pepper sauce served with sliced dill pickles. Truly a bonus left over dish that’s really simple and quite amazing.

-J

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Leftovers that don’t have to be boring

With the Thanksgiving Holiday behind us, the leftovers are long gone by now. While most people are making turkey sandwiches and the like, I like to stretch my bird out as far as I can. That means taking advantage of all the parts that are left over to make meals that will go on for days. Don’t get me wrong, I love turkey sandwiches…especially with stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy on them! Those are a personal favorite of mine.

What I like to do is take all the meat off the bird that I can right then and there on Thursday. I then package it accordingly in plastic zip-top bags to use for later.

The most important thing to do is separate light and dark meat and SAVE THAT CARCASS! You’re going to need that for making your own turkey stock…which in turn can be used for everything from the obvious, (like turkey soup) to the liquid in an amazing risotto or couscous dish. It is very versatile and freezes and keeps well. So next time you have a rice dish, or want to make an amazing stuffing or casserole, you can use your own turkey stock, one that you know all off the ingredients of.

There are so many more things you can do than just soup or stock, too. While most people will use the breast meat for their sandwiches, this will leave a lot of dark meat left over. This is a good thing for leftovers as the dark meat remains moist for a little longer than breast meat in my opinion and certainly a little goes a long way in soup, stew, chili, or my favorite: home made turkey pot pie!

The funny thing is…I do this with everything. Whole chickens, Boston butt, leg of lamb, hams, etc…I make a main dish one day, and then have three days worth of meals from the original dish. This is smart. It saves money; it saves time and saves you from having to create a whole new menu for a whole new day. It goes back to buying in bulk, when you can and when it makes sense.

I almost always buy chicken whole, when it’s on sale. It’s not just because I love cooking beer can chicken, (which I do!) it’s because I have a plan to use the whole bird. Beer can chicken breasts are amazing in so many things, like panini or huge sandwiches on French baguettes. But then you have all the other meat that can be made into tacos, super nachos or quesadillas, and white chicken chili!

Bone-in hams follows the same suit:

  • Ham dinner on day one.
  • Scalloped potatoes with ham as a side for day two.
  • Ham, cheddar and ale soup for day three.

I understand the doldrums of eating the same thing day after day and that’s why I try to be creative and think of something that is completely different, yet with similar ingredients. Your imagination is the limit. You’ll definitely be able to stretch your dollar embracing leftovers, and who doesn’t love that?

Here is a sample list of staple leftover dishes that I frequently make:

Turkey:

Stock

Soup

Chili (red or white)

Pot pie

Casseroles

Whole chicken or large chicken pieces: (bone-in, skin-on)

Stock

Soup

Tacos

Super nachos

Quesadillas

Egg rolls

Stir fry

Casseroles

Chicken and dumplin’s

Ham:

Stock

Scalloped potatoes with ham

Cheddar and ale soup with ham stock

Cheesy hashbrowns with onions and ham (Waffle House style!)

Lamb:

Stock

Smoked lamb soft tacos with vinaigrette slaw

Potato soup with leeks

Let me know some of your favorite leftover dishes!

-J

Easy, cheesy, stuffed and smoked jalapenos

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This year I promised myself that I would grill more vegetables. I have been holding up to that promise and in the mean time, I have been researching and figuring out more ways to have fun and bring some flair into grilling healthier foods.

This is not one of those recipes.

But fear not, it is delicious and I couldn’t help sharing because they are that good. These are the almighty jalapeno peppers, stuffed with cheese and meat. What I did was take a spin on a classic recipe to make them somewhat waistline friendly. (wink-wink)

I recently received this sweet little gadget as a gift, and got right into action using it. It is a pepper holder that came with a great little corer for the dirty work. This neat little trinket is about fifteen bucks. (rack and corer) SEE HERE

If you don’t have the use for it, you can still McGyver up some tin foil apparatus or some other rigging contraption. I have only done whole jalapenos in this rack, otherwise I split them down the middle and layer the filling on, instead of stuffing them. Which is not as cool; and harder to eat as a tapas style hors d’oeuvres.

On to the prep.

This will hold thirty six peppers, and of course they don’t have to be jalapenos…you can use what ever kind you can fit, or fits your taste. So be sure to test out you peppers first, so you know the heat level you’re dealing with. Because not all peppers are the same in this size range and can differ greatly in heat levels.(also learned that the hard way)

Wash and clean your peppers in a pot or colander and let dry on some paper towels. Then get ready for some work, because this is going require some patience and space…you may make a mess. I would suggest having the following things on hand for this fun little project:

jalapeno rack
corer
small paring knife
cutting board
two small refuge bags (grocery size)
gallon zip top plastic storage bag
latex or similar style work gloves
eye protection
cheese grater
wooden spoon

Ok, I hope I didn’t scare you off with that list. Several of those things are optional, but safety is at a premium. Just good to know that you can facilitate this crowd pleaser dish without accidently getting hot pepper juice in your eye.

Cut tops off peppers and use the corer to get out all the spines and seeds, while maintaining a sturdy pepper vessel. Place all those inerts to your refuge bags and compost or discard. Place hulled peppers into rack. You can know ditch your protective gear and wash your hands vigorously. You’ll either thank me or damn me based upon you accidently rubbing your eyes.

This would be a good time to fire up that grill and set it up for indirect heat. I have used both a smoker and Weber kettle for these peppers and both came out awesome. If you are using a gas grill, no problem. just work your grill on indirect heat and use one smoke pouch of wood chips if you want that extra smoky flavor. Ether way, have your temperature in the two hundred seventy five to three hundred twenty five range. (degrees Fahrenheit) *Just so you folks know, I used cherry wood soaked in apple juice to enhance the flavor*

Next soften one package cream cheese. Then grate four ounces of smoked Gouda cheese. Set aside.

You want to then fry up a half pound of ground turkey. Stir repeatedly and brown. Sprinkle a bit of you favorite barbecue spice just as it is finishing up. Drain on some paper towels and back into pan. Add your softened cream cheese and Gouda to the turkey on a very low heat just to melt everything together and mix together with a wooden spoon. Let cool a bit.

Transfer that into a zip top plastic bag. Or if you’re fancy enough, a piping bag. Cut a small slit on the bottom corner of the bag, just enough to squeeze the cheese out in small controllable amounts. Fill your peppers to the brim.

If you had enough patience to trim and save the pepper tops after de-seeding them, cap them off for the pro-touch look.

Grill or smoke for forty five minutes to just over an hour. You’ll see the peppers change color and get some wrinkles on them…that means they are done. We don’t want them droopy because we want to eat them like a jalapeno popper.

Mix and match your favorite cheeses and peppers or go meat-less and get creative with this recipe because its fun, adaptable and delicious.

Caution, it may also be spicy but I think that’s what we are going for here!

ps. of course you can do these in an oven…but no one stares at an oven for an hour, drink beers and has good conversation

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Eat your heart out, Philly…super simple steak sandwich

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I have a go-to steak sandwich that is worth sharing. This one has has been a favorite for some time and I bring this one out as it is a top comfort food.

It’s pretty simple: steak on garlic bread. What could be better, right? Over the years I have narrowed it down to using select cuts that keep the price down because I usually try to feed a small hungry army and am forever trying to be thrifty about it.

The two cuts that I narrowed down to are:  the London Broil style and flank steak style. You can get into all kinds of terminology about the steak cuts, but that is for a different blog… Here’s a link on flank vs. hanger

I marinade my steak in a zip-top plastic bag and let it get to room temperature before cooking. That usually takes 30-45 minutes. For this quick after work dinner version I used Dale’s seasoning. Low sodium version, of course.

I threw a red onion on the grill with the steak along with some other veggies to round out the meal.

The absolute show stealer here is the grilled garlic bread. My recipe is easy.  One large french loaf (you can use any kind you like),  4 tbsp butter, 2 cloves garlic finely diced, and a handful of fresh thyme sprigs. Melt the butter, add garlic and thyme and brush on the inside of the loaf, split length wise. You can also add cheese here if you want, I use a Parmesan and mozzarella blend. Then sprinkle some crushed red pepper flakes on it.

Put the bread on the rack above your burners. If you don’t have a rack, use aluminum foil to cover.

Once your steak is at desired doneness, you’ll need to let that rest by putting it on a plate or cutting board and tenting with aluminum foil for at least ten minutes. Then slice on the bias, in thin strips. Put those on the grilled garlic bread with some grilled onions if you like.

Simple, ridiculously easy to shop for, tons of ways to improvise, and you have yourself a world class steak sandwich that would rival the best.

-J

The tailgate superstar, the kebab

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Autumn is in the air and football season is on! It’s the most wonderful time of year to tailgate.  If you’re not a fan of football that’s ok, as long as you’re a fan of great food off the grill you’re in the target market.

While the word kebab means a lot of different things to a lot of different cultures, I define it as meat or veggies on a stick. Ultra portable, easy to cook and really easy to eat! It can be one of the most crowd pleasing, social, tapas style, trendy and delicious eats. Wiki:

With the NFL season kicking off on a Wednesday I can say that tailgating was not possible, but I still wanted to grill like I was at the stadium. One thing is for sure, the easier the better when grilling portable. If I were to do kebabs at the stadium, all my prep would be done at home and everything would be ready to just grill and eat once there and settled in at the designated parking lot.

With that in mind, I came home from work on Wednesday at 6pm with a plan. I was able to do all my prep like chopping veggies and marinading chicken. Then grill them  for dinner that would be ready by kickoff. I used simple ingredients and I skewered all my chicken and vegetables individually.  (See tips below)

I used sweet potatoes, red bell peppers,  and zucchini for vegetables. I brushed them with EVOO, rice vinegar, celery salt and pepper.

For the chicken I used a combo of bottled sauces that included peanut butter, tikka masala, shriracha, low sodium soy and a few drops of toasted sesame oil. I also added some lemon zest, rice vinegar and brown sugar. I whisked that up and put it in with cubed chicken in a zip-top bag for a 30-45 minute marinade.

Simple, delicious, easily eaten on the go, in the recliner or at your favorite tailgate spot. Not to mention, pretty darn good for you!

Tips:
One veggie type per skewer (cooking time)
One meat per skewer (cooking time, chicken police)
Two pair of tongs are ideal
Soak your wooden skewers for at least 30 minute in water
If you use metal skewers, use flat ones (less spinning)
Make a dessert with fruit kebabs!

-J

Quasi slow and low on a gas grill…BBQ cheat

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I love grilling big hunks of meat. It’s primal and manly, but in truth, there are many more practical and culinary reasons behind it. With traditional BBQ, you tend to cook at such a low temperature and for a much longer duration.

Last night I grilled a large pork loin on my Weber gas grill. I used a method that marries the high heat of direct grilling and finishes low and slow on the upper rack with indirect heat.  I preheated the front two burners until four hundres degrees, leaving the back burner off.

Going back to the big hunk of pork…the reason I buy them is to save money. There are clear benefits to buying in bulk and meat is definitely cheaper in the bigger cuts. It was a four pound loin, extremely lean and required very little preparation. In my case, I cut it in half to grill and the other half to cut into three quarter inch chops for a later day. This gives me four meals worth of pork for less then twelve bucks. Ka-ching!

Since this is a lean cut it makes sense to keep the cooking time down so it doesn’t dry out. The total prep time was less than ten minutes. There was a small amount of silver skin that I removed and cut it directly in half. Then I brushed it with olive oil and  dry rubbed with a BBQ style rub. Break out your favorites, mix and match, make your own rub…it all works with pork. The magic spices that highlight this style of blend are brown sugar, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.

Throw that over the direct heat part and grill for approximately ten minutes per side. You just want to sear the outside and get good browning from that dry rub. Once that color is good and the crust starts to form, transfer it to the indirect portion of the gas grill. For me it’s over the back burner on the top rack. The temperature is still around four hundred degrees. Essentially you’re grilling then baking; all on your gas grill!

It will take anywhere from sixty to ninety minutes to finish, reaching the internal temp of one hundred fifty to one hundred fifty five degrees. After that you want to transfer that to a cutting board or plate and tent with aluminum foil to let the juices redistribute. THIS IS MUST! Let that sit for at least fifteen minutes before carving.

This can be used for just about anything, making it one of the most versatile pieces of meat. I just sliced it and ate it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make fajitas, stir fry, panini sandwiches, or just about anything where pork fits the bill.

This is by far one of the the simplest, quickest ways to grill and enjoy. Buy in bulk  when on sale and save yourself money.

-J