Kindle Here I Come!

Using my crappy Photoshop skills and channeling my best Billy Mays impression (bless his black-bearded, huckstering soul)…

Food & Fire is now available via Amazon’s Kindle Blogs. For a measly $0.99 a month you can get recipes from this blog delivered automagically to your Kindle so you can read it anytime, even when you’re not wirelessly connected.

But wait! There’s more… you get a 14-day free trial! Don’t like it? Cancel in 14 days and you pay nothing. Like it? Don’t do a thing and your subscription will automatically continue at our special low monthly rate of $0.99.

Special thanks to the the fine folks over at She Cooks He Cleans for helping me to get this deal set up. I appreciate it! I hope this is another way for folks to discover my blog so I can share my geeky love of food.

Saucy Wings

I’ve been loading up on lots of “man food” while my dear wife is away on her trip. Of course, wings had to be on the menu at least one night.

6 fresh chicken wings
Olive oil
1-2 tablespoons barbecue rub (Dizzy Pig’s Swamp Venom)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce (John Henry’s Honey Barbecue Sauce)

In medium bowl, lightly coat wings with a couple glugs of olive oil. Dust the wings with some of the rub and give them a toss. Dust and toss again, making sure that all of the wings are covered with the rub.

Set a cooling rack on a cookie sheet or jellyroll pan. Lay wings out on a rack and let them sit uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and preferably overnight.

Set up your grill  for an indirect cook over medium-high (400°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg I use about half a fire box full of lump charcoal and an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat.

Put the wings on the grill skin side down, close the lid,  and let them cook for 30 minutes. Flip them and let them go another 20 minutes.

Brush the wings on both sides with the barbecue sauce. Let them cook 10 minutes more and brush them again. Let them cook  5 more minutes, brush one last time, then serve ’em up with more barbecue sauce on the side for dipping.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
Lovey wings – nice herby heat from the rub wrapped in a rich tomato sweetness. The wings were fall-apart tender, yet still juicy with a nice crisp skin.

The only thing lacking was a little more heat up front. Maybe I should have hit the wings harder with the Swamp Venom. After all, wings aren’t really man food unless they require beer to put out the fire.

Badly Bungled Black ‘n’ Bleu Bon Voyage

My dear wife is gone on a vacation with her mother, so the cats and I are baching it. When I asked her what she wanted for her last meal on the Egg before she left, she said she had a craving for a big ol’ steak topped with bleu cheese.

I decided to try a black ‘n’ bleu version using a nice pair of a dry-aged New York strips and my cast iron griddle. The black is the nicely charred black pepper crust and the bleu is the simple bleu cheese sauce on top.

2 – 8 to 10-ounce New York strip steaks
Olive oil
Freshly-ground black peppercorns
Kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons bleu cheese crumbles
1 tablespoon heavy cream

I drizzle both sides of the the steaks with olive oil and then seasoned them with a few grinds of salt and pepper. I let the steaks sit out at room temperature while I got the grill fired up and made the sauce.

I set the Big Green Egg up for a direct cook at nuclear temps (700+°F). When the grill was roaring like a dragon, I put the griddle directly on the grate and let it heat up for about 15 minutes.

I made the cheese sauce by working the cream into the crumbled cheese with a  fork until everything is combined, but still a little chunky. I stuck it in the fridge to set up a little.

Been wondering where the bungled part comes in? See that harmless looking griddle? I tossed the steaks on there for what was supposed to be 3 minutes per side.

Let’s just say that there was much smoking and sizzling. So much so that I flipped the steaks early at 2 minutes. Whoa – that’s some serious char.  By the time I got my Thermapen out of the drawer and checked the temp they were both at 135°F internal and headed into that dreaded grey zone called “well done.”

Hoping against hope, I pulled the steaks off and let them rest for 10 minutes. Then topped them each with a scoop of the bleu cheese sauce and served them with a salad, baked potato, and sauteed mushrooms.

The Verdict: ★★★☆☆
I feared the steaks were ruined, but they ended up tasting great – the black pepper offset the bleu cheese in a way that made the steaks rich, but not over the top. The char was perfect and the steaks were still a bit juicy, but they were badly over-cooked.

Luckily my dear wife is very forgiving and enjoyed her meal. I’ll try these again, but next time I’ll dial down the heat to the 500°F range and flip them once a minute, checking the temp more often.

She’s back in 10 days, maybe she’ll send home fresh salmon, and we’ll have surf and turf!

Belizean Grilled Shrimp

My dear wife caught a great sale on these monstrous 10/12 count JUMBO shrimp. I knew I had to do these babies proud, so I went with my version of the chili lime marinade that we first had at Wish Willy’s in Belize.

1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon hot sauce (preferably Marie Sharp’s)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 lime, about 1/4 cup

Put the salt and garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the remaining ingredients, except the shrimp, and give them a whirl until they are well-combined.

Put the shrimp in a freezer bag and cover with the marinade. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator for as long as it takes to get the grill going.

Set your grill up for a direct cook over high (500°F) heat.

Put a veggie tray or grill pan on the grate and let it heat up for about 10 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the shrimp from the marinade and put them into the pan. Reserve the marinade.

Grill the shrimp until they are pink and curly – about 3 to 5 minutes a side. Remove to a bowl and top with the reserved marinade.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The shrimp really took on that lovely Caribbean blend of tangy/sweet/hot/salty/spicy. Each bite was a big burst of flavor, but nothing got overwhelmed.

The only change I would have made was to cook them just a little more – they were so big that even though the outsides had picked up a bit of char, the insides were a little underdone. If I get a bunch this big again I might skewer them together tightly so they cook more like one big piece of meat.

Keep watching those sales, honey!

Great Grate Upgrade

I was doing some spring cleaning on my large Big Green Egg when I noticed that my fire grate (the metal plate at the bottom of the firebox that lets air in and keeps the charcoal from falling through) had not only cracked, but also deformed so that it was domed upward.

This is the second time this has happened in 5 years. The last time I just called my dealer and he had a free replacement for me in about a week. So, kind of a bummer, but not a huge deal. I put the broken grate back in and figured I’d pick a new one up when I got a chance.

But when I checked my email that night I had a note from the fine folks at High-Que wondering if I’d be interested in testing out their grate upgrade.

Talk about timing.

A couple of days later I had a new fire grate in my mailbox.

The BGE grate is cast iron and built like a floor drain with holes in it. The High-Que one is stainless steel and built like a grill grate. High-Que says that this design not only allows more air to get to the charcoal, but it won’t clog up with with ash either.

The High-Que grate fits perfectly, sitting on the same little bumps inside the firebox that hold the original grate in place. I loaded the firebox about a third of the way up with lump charcoal from a bag that was about half empty. You lump charcoal aficionados out there know that that means the lump was about 50/50 large chunks versus little chunks. There was very little dust (the few bits of lump you see in there are what was left when my shop-vac crapped out).

I lit the lump like I usually do – one Lightning Nuggets fire starter in the middle of the lump and then hit it with the MAPP torch just long enough to get the starter going. I closed the lid and the bottom vent screen, but left the upper daisy wheel vent off and the top open.

About 10 minutes later I had this little inferno going and the dome thermometer was just shy of 700°F.

I put the upper daisy wheel vent on and adjusted it the where I usually get 375°F (main opening covered and the little daises opened all the way). After 10 minutes the temp settled down to 425°F and stayed there for the 20 minutes it took to cook dinner.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I’ve used the High-Que grate 6 times so far, and so far it performs just as advertised – the Egg comes up to temp faster and burns between 25°F and 50°F hotter than it did with the old grate. I’ve not had any problems with ash clogging the grate, even though I’ve reused the lump that was left from the last fire every time and the and lump keeps getting smaller as I work my way to the bottom of the bag. I’ve not had to use my wiggle rod once to get the fire to take off.

It does feel like I’m using a bit more charcoal with the new grate, but I can’t tell if I’m really burning more, or if more of the little bits are falling through the grate. Also, all of the cooks so far have been medium to medium-high heat. While I don’t doubt that it will rock at nuclear temps, I’m curious to see how it does on an overnight low-n-slow cook.

The grate is made in the USA, has a 5 year warranty, and retails for $32.88 plus $4.99 shipping.

P.S. High-Que also carries a Nomex gasket with adhesive backing that I’m looking forward to tying out when my current gasket dies.

Express Ribs

I’ve been wanting to cook ribs, but the weather has been so cool and stormy that it’s been tough to find the time to get them done without getting drenched or blown off the deck.

It looked like I had a good opportunity coming up on Saturday, but I wanted to shorten the the cooking time just in case we had the change plans.  So rather than my usual straight 5 hour cook, I decided to speed things up by going with the 3-2-1 method at a higher temperature.

The 3-2-1 (or in this case 1.5-1-.75) method it is a great way to cook ribs long enough so that they are tender without drying them out. The first number is how many hours the ribs are smoked over indirect heat unwrapped. The second number is how many hours they are cooked after being double wrapped in heavy-duty foil. The final number is how many hours they are finished unwrapped. This combination gives the ribs a smoky flavor, breaks down the toughness of the meat, and adds a final crispy bark.

I had 2 nice racks of baby back ribs that I seasoned heavily with Tasty Licks Ribit Rub courtesy of Fred’s Music & BBQ Supply.

I set up my Big Green Egg for an indirect cook at 350°F (that’s right, three-fifty) – filling the firebox with lump charcoal and using an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat and a drip pan with a little water in it to catch the fat. I used a chunk of guava wood for smoke.

I arranged the ribs bone side down on the grate, then closed the lid and let the BGE do its magic for an hour. I flipped the ribs bone side up, and let them go for another 30 minutes. Then I removed the ribs to a sheet of heavy-duty foil and wrapped them up tightly. I did the same thing with a second layer. The ribs then went back on, meat side down, for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, I flipped the rib bundle over so it was bone side down and let it go for another 30 minutes.

After their braise in the foil you can see how the meat has really started to pull away from the bone.

After an hour of braising, I removed the ribs from the foil and put them on the grill bone side down. I let them cook for 30 minutes and then started checking for doneness. When ribs are done a slab will start to crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs. These were already at that point. All I had to do was look at them hard and the meat would start to pull away from the bone.

I sauced the meat side with Sticky Hog and let them cook for another 10 minutes. I flipped them carefully, sauced the bone side and let them go for another ten. Then I flipped them meat side up and gave them a final coat of sauce and let them cook for a final 5 minutes.

I removed the ribs from the grill and let them rest about 10 minutes before serving tearing into them.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
Despite the short 3 hour and 15 minute cook time, these were some of the most tender and tasty ribs I’ve ever made. The meat had a bit of chewy bark and pulled away from the bone easily, but didn’t fall off in a soggy mess. The Ribit Rub gave the ribs a nice paprika-laden warmth.

I was a little disappointed that the ribs didn’t have more bark and were a little light on smokiness. The smoke I understand – less time in the smoke equals less smokiness. But I thought that the temp would make up for the time on the bark.

Update – The Verdict: ★★★★★: I had a chance to do these again this weekend and used oak and apple wood for smoke. The added wood really bumped up the smokiness. I also switched to Dizzy Pig’s Dizzy dust for the rub, which gave me better bark :), but less heat :(.

I don’t know if I like all the futzing around with the foil, but it’s good to know that if I need to I can crank out some quality ribs in a limited amount of time.

Food & Fire App

Boy am I a geek. I got a new smartphone not long ago and it took just seconds for it to make itself indispensable. I use it to check the weather, read email, make dinner reservations, see when my bus is due,  update grocery lists, surf the web, play Angry Birds, get directions, scan SKUs to look up prices, ready blog feeds, and even sometimes make phone calls. If I have even a minute of downtime, I’m poking at my phone like a chimp, going “Ooo-oo-oo!”

So it was a natural that I create a mobile version of Food & Fire. You can either view a compact version of Food & Fire with any smartphone’s browser, download the site as an Android-only app at: http://www.appsgeyser.com/getwidget/FoodFire, or scan the QR code at the start of the post. Note that since this is not an Android Market app, you’ll have to click the “Settings” button on your phone that lets you download non-market apps.

I am very excited (in a bespectacled, nerdlinger kind of way) about this because I now  essentially have all of my recipes with me all the time. I can hear it now:

“Do you have a good barbecue sauce recipe?”

“Sure, there’s an app for that.”

Ah, geek nirvana.

The Perfect Margarita

I learned to make these margaritas almost a decade ago in a palapa-roofed restaurant on Xcalacoco beach in Mexico. They are the real deal. As I’ve warned many a guest, these are not some fruity, blended Don Pablo’s abomination. No, these are authentic, tasty, tart, and potent pot-you-like-a-houseplant margaritas.

There are only 3 ingredients in the perfect margarita (well, 4 if you count the salt): tequila, orange liquor, and fresh lime juice. As with any recipe, the fewer the ingredients the better those few need to be.

For the tequila, you want 100% Blue Agave. Avoid the mixto tequilas that are blended with those god-knows-what cane or corn-based spirits that tend to be responsible for the growing of horns and the falling off of clothes. You don’t need to shell out for the older Añejo tequilas. Stick with a $20ish dollar a bottle Blanco (white) or Reposado (rested). El Jimador, Hornitos, Herradura, and 3 Amigos are all fine.

For the orange liquor, stay away from the cheap triple-sec. You need something sweet to balance the bite of the tequila and lime, but you don’t need something that’s just liquid diabetes. Go with Cointreau, Patrón Citronage, or Controy (an inexpensive but tasty hecho en México ripoff of Cointreau).

Fresh-squeezed, real lime juice, period. Look for Mexican limes, which are rounder, smaller, and more flavorful than the ones you usually see in the grocery store that look like green lemons.

Once you’ve got your quality ingredients, you need to have them in the perfect ratio. For me, I want a margarita that’s strong, but not harsh. The magic ratio of ingredients is even simpler than the ingredient list – 1 : 1 : 1. So for one drink:

2 ounces tequila
2 ounces orange liquor
Juice of 1 lime, about 1/4 cup
Salt for the rim of the glass

Rim the glass with a just a little coarse salt. Shake all the liquid ingredients with a little ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a glass (I use a double old fashioned) filled with ice. Or add a little more ice to the shaker and serve it “up” in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lime.

For parties, I’ll typically fill a a pitcher with 3 cup : 3 cup : 3 cup mix and stash it in the fridge until it is cold. Then I’ll add a handful of ice and a few lime slices and serve it with glasses full of ice.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The only thing missing with these margaritas was not having my toes in the sand. Simple and clean – these had plenty of booze, and plenty of ice to cool them cold and not cripplingly strong. The lime nicely cut the sweetness of the orange liquor while letting the orange flavor shine. I used a Reposado tequila and the warm earthiness came through nicely without too much bite.

1st Sweet Corn

Okay, it’s from Florida, but this is the first fresh sweet corn we’ve seen since last September so I wanted to make sure these big, perfect ears got some very special attention.

Since reading Adam Perry Lang’s BBQ 25 and Serious Barbecue I have become a huge fan of moving food back and forth between the grill and a basting liquid a couple of times while cooking to build up layers of flavor. Most of the time it’s meat going into an oil and herb baste, but this time I wanted to give the sweet corn the “treatment.”

4 to 6 ears sweet corn, husked
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon Ancho chili powder
Couple of grinds of black pepper

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

Combine everything but the corn in a 9×13 flame-proof pan (aluminum foil drip pans work great for this).

When the grill is ready, set the pan on the grate and heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from heat, but keep warm nearby.

Grill the corn directly on the grate, turning a little it every minute or so until the kernels are a deep yellow and have started to lightly blackened (about 5 minutes). Move ears to basting pan and rotate to coat. Return to the grill and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, turning often. Remove to the basting pan, rotate again to coat, and then move the pan full of corn to the grill. Let it sit on the grate until everything starts to bubble, about a minute.

Rotate again before serving hot from the pan.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Wow – this corn was the star of the meal. Short of injecting them, I don’t know how I could have gotten any more buttery goodness cooked into the ears. The chili powder was a nice, warm touch and the lime juice balanced the slightly caramelized, smoky-sweetness of the corn.