Cherry-Glazed Pork Chops

Folks who know me know that I seldom follow a recipe exactly as written. But when fellow blogger Chris at Nibble Me This says that he had a winner of a pork chop recipe, I decided it was best to skip the improvisation and just to straight up copy it ;).

2 bone-in pork chops
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup dried cherries, diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme

Set up your grill for a direct cook at 450°F.

Combine everything but the chops in a 9×13 flame-proof pan (disposable drip pans work great here).

When the grill is ready, set the pan on the grate and heat just until it is warmed through and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, but keep warm nearby.

Season the chops with a little salt and pepper on each side and toss on the grill. Cook for 2 minutes (these were some thinner chops) and flip. Let them go for another 2 minutes and then move them to the basting pan. Flip to coat both sides.

Cook for another 2 minutes a side. Move them back to the basting pan and flip to coat each side. Do this one more time, then move the pan (chops and all) to the grill and let everything bubble, flipping often, until the chops hit 135°F internal.

Remove from the heat and let them rest for about 10 minutes.  Serve with the glaze spooned over the top.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Chris was right – he nailed it. I take zero credit for this dish (other than being smart enough to know a great recipe when I borrow one). Even though the chops were thin, the glaze kept them moist and added that wonderful sweet/tart flavor that goes so well with pork.

I’d make this again with no hesitation, but maybe with a little mustard… Yeah, that’d be nice. And maybe apples instead of cherries? Hmmmm… Maybe a little garlic? And more bourbon for the cook? Why not?

Morels!

Nothing says spring like morel mushrooms. These wild ‘shrooms have a short growing season and it takes a sharp eye to spot them in the woods, but their wonderful nutty/meaty/smoky flavor makes them worth the hunt.

While I don’t seem to have the knack for finding them, I am lucky to have two brother-in-laws who have a special gift in that area, and sometimes they even share!

The only wrong way to prepare morels is to either overcook them or hide their flavor. I like them with just a little olive oil or butter, a grind of sea salt, and then a quick sauté. If I can do it on the grill, that’s even better.

Swamp Venom Thighs

Yes, I do love me some chicken thighs. They are just such a nice piece of meat to grill – tender, crispy, flavorful. They are also so hard to screw up that I reach for them a lot when we have friends coming over. Since they don’t demand much attention, they are great for casual dinners out on the deck.

2 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
2 tablespoons of your favorite rub (Dizzy Pig Swamp Venom here)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 gloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 1/2 lime (about a tablespoon)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

At least 2 hours before cooking, dust the thighs heavily with the rub, lay them out in a single layer on a sheet pan, and let them sit uncovered in the fridge. This step both seasons the thighs and also helps to dry out the skin a bit to make it crispy.

Set the grill up for a raised direct cook over medium-high  (400°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg I used the Woo2 to raise the grid. This gave me a more even heat by moving the thighs away from the flame and closer to the reflected heat from the dome.

Combine the butter, oil, garlic, and lime juice in a flame-proof melting pot and warm it on the grate just long enough to melt the butter. Set aside and keep warm (I nestle mine right up next to the BGE).

Put the thighs on the grill skin side down, close the lid, and let them cook for 30 minutes while you chat with guests and pour margaritas. Excuse yourself to flip them and let them go another 20 minutes.

Time to start paying attention – check the thighs for doneness. Chicken is technically done when the juices run clear and the internal temperature hits 160°F, but I like my thighs cooked a little longer.

So leave the thighs skin side up and continue to cook until the chicken hits 160°F, then brush both sides with the thighs with the basting sauce. Let them cook 10 minutes more and brush them again. Let them cook  5 more minutes, brush one last time, remove them to a warm plate, and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The chicken was great – crispy and spicy with just a hint of smoke. The Swamp Venom rub is stellar on chicken and has a deep, herby heat thats not too hot. The baste adds a nice little citrus punch and some extra juiciness. The margaritas didn’t hurt either.

This Little Piggy Went to Market

We are lucky enough to have good friends who asked us to go in halvsies on a pastured, organic pig! Both my dear wife and I were raised on locally-grown meat, and we get a little nervous buying that stuff from the supermarket in styrofoam trays, so this was all very exciting for us.

We ended up with just over 100 pounds (2 coolers worth) of chops, roasts, ribs, ham, bacon, and ground pork. Here it is taking up a good portion of our 11 cubic-foot upright freezer.

I just had to fry up some of the bacon right away. I could tell almost instantly that this was real smokehouse bacon because as soon as the pan got warm the whole kitchen smelled like hickory. I cooked it just barely on the crispy side of the crispy/chewy line. Wow! Rich and tender with a substantial meaty taste and just the right amount of salty/smoky goodness.

I’m thinking chops this weekend. Can’t wait.

A Little Delay

We were having guests over for dinner, and I was trying to get the side dishes ready when my dear wife squeals, “OMG, we’ve got eagles!”

I went out onto the deck and sure enough, this big guy and his partner were sitting in an oak tree right by our house. They were there for the better part of an hour, taking turns fishing from our pond. It was fascinating.

Needless to say, dinner ran a little late.

Chicken Thighs & Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

I’ve tried a lot of barbecue sauces over the years – tangy Lexington style, thick and sweet Kansas City, South Carolina Mustard, but this is my first go at a white barbecue sauce. Big Bob Gibson’s White BBQ Sauce is a tangy, mayonnaise-based sauce that Bob developed down in Decatur, Alabama. They say it’s a natural on chicken, so I tried it on a batch of thighs.

2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken thighs,
2 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (Dizzy Pig in this case)
1 1/2 cups Big Bob Gibson’s White BBQ Sauce

Set your grill up for a direct cook over medium-high (400°F) heat.

Season the thighs with the rub and toss on the grill. While the thighs are cooking, pour the white sauce into a shallow pan (I used a 9×13 drip pan). Grill the thighs for 5 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes on the other.

Dip the chicken into the white sauce, making sure to cover both sides. See how the rub is starting the mix with the sauce?

Return the chicken to the grill and cook for 2 minutes, flip and cook for 2 more minutes on the other side. The sauce should have just melted into the meat and the thighs should have reached 180°F internal.

Now, everybody back in the pool – put all the chicken back into the white sauce, turn to coat. Set the drip pan with the chicken and sauce on the grill and let it cook for another 2 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.

Remove the pan full of chicken from the heat, toss thighs again to coat, and serve.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The thighs were wonderfully tender and had great flavor from the combination of rub, smoke, and white sauce.  The tang from the vinegar and lemon was nice, but it got a little overwhelmed by the richness of the sauce. Next time I’d skip the bottle and make the sauce myself, probably using Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn’s version as a starting point. I would also skip putting the chicken back in the sauce before serving. I think I’ll use Chris’ dip and flip technique next time to get all the flavor from the sauce without it being too heavy.

Boosted Brats

Now that the weather is nice enough that I actually want to be outside, it’s nice to throw as much of the meal as I can on the grill. This meal is a great example of how you can do both your meat and veggies on the grill and boost the flavor of both.

12 bratwurst
2 medium onions, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup beer
1 tablespoon olive oil
A couple of grinds of back pepper

Set your grill up for a direct cook over medium heat (350°F).

Toss the veggies, oil, and pepper together in a flame-safe pan (I used a foil 9×13 drip pan). Put the pan in the grill and cook, turning often, until the peppers have softened and the onions are getting nice and brown (about 10 minutes). Add the beer and let the veggies simmer in it for about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the grill and keep warm nearby.

Bump the heat up to about 400°F and toss the brats on. Grill, flipping often, until brats are firm with a just a little char on the ends (about 15-20 minutes).

Remove the brats from the grill and load them into the veggie pan. Arrange so that the brats are partially submerged in the beer and veggie goodness.

Put the pan with the brats and veggies back on the grill and let simmer for a couple of minutes until everything is heat through. Serve with sauerkraut, brown mustard, and some baked beans or potato salad.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
How can you go wrong with brats? Just by themselves they are little porky wonders, but add the beer and roasted veggies and you’ve got a real winner. But the biggest plus was enjoying that for once the weather wasn’t trying to do me in.

Steaks & New Veggie Pan

I’ve been looking for a new veggie pan for a while. The first one I bought was one of those fry pans with holes in the side and a removable handle. It was okay, but the veggies would more stew in their own juices than they would roast. Then I got the Weber grill pan (which need a little “reforming” to fit on the Big Green Egg). It’s great for getting a quick char on flat rounds of bread or slices of onion, or to hold a bunch of oysters, but it doesn’t let the heat get around the food so one side tends to burn before the other side is done.

Enter the steel grill roaster from Williams-Sonoma, a gift from my dear wife. It’s perforated stainless steel, so the food gets directly exposed to the flame, but it’s raised up a bit (via a grid under the pan) so it cooks more evenly.

To try it out I tossed a couple of sliced onions, some halved mushrooms, some sliced yellow and green  peppers in a bowl and hit them with a glug of balsamic vinegar, a couple of glugs of olive oil, and a few grinds of sea salt. I gave them a shake and let them marinate while I got the grill ready.

I got the grill up to 400°F and put the grill roaster on by itself for about 5 minutes to heat it up.  Using a slotted spoon, I moved the veggies to the pan, reserving the marinade.

I roasted the veggies for about 10 minutes, stirring them often, until the peppers had softened and everything had a little char on it. I took the roaster off the heat and dumped the veggies back into the bowl with the marinade and gave them a shake to coat them.

Then I cranked the heat up to about 750°F and give these bad boys a no-frills, hot & fast grilling.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The steak was great, but for once the meat isn’t the hero of this story. The grill roaster did an excellent job and I plan on giving it a real workout this summer. The perforations let the juices drain off so the veggies roasted instead of stewed. At 12×14 it’s plenty big – I could have done twice the amount of veggies and still had room to move things around. The raised design and slopping sides keep everything cook evenly.

Clean up went pretty well. It’s dishwasher safe, but the label (yes, I did read it) says to hand wash. I just let it soak overnight and wiped it off the next day. Since it’s solid metal with holes in it, not mesh, there weren’t a lot of surfaces that food could stick to.

Tri-Tip, The Roast that Eats Like a Steak

When is a steak not a steak? When it’s a beefy tri-tip roast. This cut from the bottom of the sirloin really lends itself to simple seasoning and quick cooking. I tend to treat it just like a big, thick steak and grill it pretty hot and fast.

1 tri-tip roast (about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Pull the roast out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to cook it. Combine the salt, garlic, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub onto all sides of the roast.

Set your grill up for a direct cook at medium-high (450°F) heat.

Put the roast on the grill and cook about 5 minutes per side (this one was thick enough that there where 3 of them), for about 15 minutes total. Turn roast up onto its flat butt end and continue to cook until it reaches 125°F internal (about another 5 minutes). Because this cut is so lean you really don’t want to cook it much beyond medium-rare.

Remove from the grill, let rest for 10 minutes before slicing across the grain into thin slices.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The roast/steak tasted great, but was a little chewy. Not sure if I didn’t cut the slices thin enough or if I erred too far on the rare side of medium rare.

Fortunately, I have another one of these bad boys in the freezer to play with. Better luck next time, eh?

Alice Springs-ish Chicken

My sister-in-law raves about this recipe originally from Outback Steakhouse, that they’ve adapted to make at home. I decided to give it a shot one evening. Most versions call for some time in the oven, but I just did it all on the stove top with a lidded fry pan.

½ cup mustard
½ cup honey
1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon lemon juice
4 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts

In a small bowl, combine the mustard, honey, oil and lemon juice. Pour about half the marinade over the chicken breasts, turning to coat. Reserve the rest of the marinade for later.

4 slices Canadian bacon
1 tablespoon oil
1 (4-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
4 slices co-jack cheese
4 slices pepper-jack cheese

Heat the oil in a 10-inch fry pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook just until it browns up a bit (2-3 minutes). Remove from pan and reserve.

Put the chicken breasts in the pan and season with the salt and paprika. Cook until one side is golden brown (about 4 minutes).

Flip the breasts and top each with a slice of Canadian bacon, a handful of the mushrooms, and a slice of each of the cheeses. Drizzle with a little of the reserved marinade.

Put the lid on the pan and cook until the chicken is cooked through and  the cheese is all melty and bubbling (about 10 minutes).

Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with the extra honey mustard on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★☆☆
Honey-mustard chicken topped with bacon and cheese – what could go wrong? Sadly the end result was not enough and too much, both at the same time. The flavors never really melded. You could taste the individual ingredients but not the “wow” of them all working together.  Any one of the ingredients would be tasty by themselves, but piled together they seemed to diminish each other rather than enhance each other. The cheese and bacon overwhelmed the mushrooms. The honey mustard covered up the chicken. Nobody wanted to play nice with each other.

So in the end, I succeeded in making a boring dinner of strip-mall food. Whoo-hoo! Maybe Outback and my sister-in-law have a secret ingredient – I’ll let one of them make this for me if I want to try it again.