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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!

 

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!

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

Grilled pizza party

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One of my favorite things to do is have food inspired parties. It helps if everyone gets involved in the process and gives everyone a chance to contribute. It’s great for families and friends of all ages and culinary skill levels. Grilling pizza is a fun, albeit sometimes laborious, way to cook a crowd friendly dish. So with that being said, I’ll let you know how I grill pizza and give some tips on how to make it fun and easier for you.So let’s talk about the dough, because this will make or break the experience. The simplest way is to buy pre-made bread-like dough. An example would be Boboli or Freschetta, which can usually found in or around the bread aisle. This is best for the speed of grilling pizza because you can just make your pie and put in on the grill. Then there is fresh uncooked dough. This will add significant time to your experience, but the flavors are so fresh and delicious that it’s seriously worth the extra steps.Boboli
FreschettaThe choice is yours, but knowing how to use both can set you up to do this for any meal, anytime.

We used fresh, home made dough that was made in our bread maker. You can also get fresh pizza dough from the bakery department of almost ANY supermarket. Now it can get a little tricky grilling raw dough, so I flash it real quick in the oven. This will make it much easier to handle on the grill and give it some rigidity. No need to fully cook it; just get it to the stage where it’s easy to handle with tongs and spatula (about 6 minutes at 350) to make the whole process easier.

You can grill the raw dough on the grill, too. Once you roll it out, make sure you lubricate your grill grates and dough liberally. When grilling freshly made dough, don’t worry about shape or uniformity. You’ll need to be on the grill watching this the whole time. It’s tough to even get in a beer break during this time because it’s pretty fast. You’re going to cook one side, flip, and then add your toppings to finish.

That means the most important part of grilling pizzas is having a station ready BEFORE you even put anything on the grill. A side table with your accoutrements is essential. Things get going pretty fast, so you’ll need to have this within a few feet of your grill so you don’t burn the crust.

I also use a pizza pan on the grill and I will tell you why…the more toppings you put on your pizza, the longer it’s going to take to cook. This means you may have a perfect char on your crust and un-melted cheese. I combat this with a pizza pan which I may sneak under halfway through the process.

Another tip I’d like to share is to cook most of your toppings before putting them on. If you’re putting meat on a grilled pizza, it should be cooked, since the fast cooking time won’t allow for raw meat to be cooked before burning the crust. I like to keep fresh and raw veggies on top of the cheese because of their water content.

Here are the pies we made this last interactive pizza party:

BBQ chicken and pork pizza with a red sauce, touch of BBQ sauce topped with shredded mozzarella cheese, crispy smoked bacon and fresh cilantro

Garden fresh heirloom tomato white pizza, with three kinds of basil, peppers and onions topped with buffalo mozzarella

Ricotta cheese with garlic and lemon zest pizza with red sauce and topped with shredded mozzarella and shallots

The most important 17 minutes:

If there is one thing that I have learned over the years that is a constant with grilling, it is that you will under-cook, burn, or even overcook something if you aren’t in harmony with your grill’s temperature or cleanliness.

I know this because I blazed up some bone-in, skin-on chicken breast the other night. Not good eats, and when I say blazed, I mean the fire kind that wicks outside the grill. Scary. Don’t worry; I was able to salvage some of the chicken, just not the skin.

I was not paying attention to my Weber gas grill, specifically the cleanliness of the drip pan. Grill blogging and taking pictures for the past couple of months, I neglected to do one of the most fundamental things in the grilling culture: CLEAN THE DAMN GRILL thoroughly, and not just the grates, either.

I am going to tell you about how I spent seventeen minutes yesterday cleaning my grill. That’s it. I know this because after torching the skin on that chicken the other night, I decided that everyone should know the importance of cleaning your grills. Whether you have a charcoal or gas grill (from the survey, most of you have gas), it is imperative that you do a quick cleaning every once in a while. Not only will you get more longevity out of your grill, your food will taste best and cook properly.

For gas grills, it can be a little more labor intensive. The first thing to do is locate the “drip” tray. This is going to be different on almost any grill. If you can’t find it, here is an easy tip for you…while your grill is off and cold, pour a tall glass of water into it and follow the water’s gravitational pull. It will come out somewhere. If it comes out into a removable container, you have found the drip tray. If water is coming out in multiple locations, I will have another blog for that…

You may even have a completely removable bottom tray; this is a good thing for several reasons. But for now, removing those two things and cleaning them is essential. This is where all the liquid deposits from grilling accumulate. Most of this is grease or fats, along with some char and all those lost shrimp and asparagus.

Pretty simple: if you do this often, your chances of burning down the place decreases exponentially. So I implore you to explore your grill’s innards and become familiar with removing and cleaning these parts.

As far as temperature, you need to know if the grill’s built in thermometer works. If you don’t have one, you can get a small on-grill thermometer so you can gauge this accurately. They are generally under ten bucks and they are used strictly for surface temperature only. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_st?keywords=grill+surface+thermometer&qid=1344520380&rh=n%3A2972638011%2Ck%3Agrill+surface+thermometer&sort=price

It took me seventeen minutes to do this last night; that is about the time it takes charcoal to get to ready. Then I promptly grilled those chicken breasts again.

-J

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