Looking Forward

I’ve been a bad food blogger.

The holidays came as a rush this year and, while I’ve been cooking, I haven’t been sharing those meals here.

Sorry about that.

To make amends, here’s a list of hopes/plans/wishes/resolutions that I’m looking forward to in 2012:

  • Tonight’s prime rib – with a recipe inspired by Michael Ruhlman and AmazingRibs. I have big hopes for this meal, and it will be fun to share it with dear friends.
  • Blogging more, worrying less – sometimes I over-think things when I should let the food do the talking.
  • Catching up on my reading – Michael Ruhlman’s CharcuterieSmokin’ with Myron Mixon, The Homesick Texan Cookbook, The Gluten-Free Bible, and the Big Green Egg Cookbook are all on my list.
  • Learning to code in WordPress – painful but necessary.
  • Spending more time playing and traveling with my dear wife.
  • Experimenting with the new Lomo lens on my Panasonic cameras (photo of the Big Green Egg ornament above taken with it).
  • Weight Watchers – need to keep on keeping it off. Mom’s caramel corn didn’t help over the holidays, but we are in much better shape than we were last year.
Hope you had a good 2011 and look forward sharing more on Food & Fire in the new year!


Peruvian Roast Chicken

Remember Sunday dinners? Everybody gathered around the table over a big ol’ hunk of meat with mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie for dessert. A meal so good it often required a nap and almost made it worth having to get up and go to church first.

While today it’s just the two of us (and we don’t get pie for lunch anymore), I still like the idea of making a big meal on Sunday and then having the leftovers for lunches or weeknight meals. So, when my dear wife found this MONSTER roaster chicken on sale, we knew that it would make the perfect Sunday dinner.

1 (6-8 pound) roaster chicken
1/3 cup soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or better yet, Achiote oil)

Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove the giblets and any excess fat, then pat dry with paper towels. Put the chicken into a large zip-top bag.

Toss the garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Add the soy sauce, lime juice, cumin, paprika, pepper, and oil and give it a whirl to combine. Pour the marinade over the chicken, turning to coat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal it, and stash in the fridge while you get the grill ready.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at 400°F. On the Big Green Egg, I use about half a fire box full of lump charcoal, an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat, and put a trivet on the plate setter for the roasting pan.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and put breast side up on a rack set in a shallow roasting pan (an old 9×13 cake pan works fine).  Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken and then add about a cup of water to the pan.

Put the roaster full of bird (it’s so big it looks like a turkey, doesn’t it?) on the trivet. Close the lid and let the bird roast for 40 minutes.

Flip the bird breast side down and cook for another 20 minutes. Then flip breast side up and start checking for doneness by measuring in the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh. While the chicken is done at 160°F, I like to let it go until the thighs are at least 180 to 200°F, depending on how crispy the skin is getting. On a bird this big, I don’t really worry about the breast drying out too much.

This beast of a bird took 90 minutes to cook. I removed it from the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. I served it with some Crack Sauce, black beans, and sauteed peppers for a south-of-the-border feel.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This was a truly wonderful roast chicken – juicy, tender, just a little smoky, and very flavorful. What makes it Peruvian? Heck if I know. The crack sauce is impressive and makes this dish unique, but the chicken itself was just straight-up good. Without the sauce it just tasted like great roast chicken with no real hint of cuisine or country of origin.

I haven’t done a lot of big roasters like this one, but really like the way they cook up. There is way more meat on one of these versus a regular chicken and the large amount of breast meat means that it takes longer to cook, so I get fall-apart dark meat and juicy white meat.

The Nutrition: Leave off the sauce and it’s just chicken – 1 Weight Watcher’s Point per ounce of skinless white meat and 2 points per ounce for skinless dark meat.

Gluten-Free Holidays

Living with Celiacs is a bitch, sorry. And the holidays do nothing to make it any better. Here are some (hopefully) helpful tips and tricks to get through the meals to come without getting sick or making somebody else sick.

If You are a Guest with Celiacs

It’s not all about you –  It’s Celiacs, not cancer. Everybody’s got issues, and the last thing you or anyone else wants to do is spend the holiday worrying your host or discussing the current state of your GI tract.

The single best thing you can do is to clearly communicate your dietary needs with your host, privately and quietly, well beforehand. I send out the Cooking Gluten-Free for Celiac Family or Friends? Please read this first! post to all of our friends and relatives before the holiday season. It helps put everyone at ease and takes the focus off you.

It is all about you –  It’s your job to take care of yourself and keep healthy. Ask questions, stick with foods you know are safe, and don’t be afraid to bring foods you know you can have.

I typically ask if I can bring at least one side dish (usually something that’s tough for most folks to make gluten-free), bring my own GF bread, and squirrel away some GF snacks that can get me by if there’s really nothing safe to eat.

If You are Hosting a Guest with Celiacs

Do your best – Celiacs is complicated (even for the folks who are living with it), and gluten can show up in damn near anything. Communicate, try to understand the issue, and minimize any chance of contamination.

Just to be safe, double clean all your cooking tools, cutting boards, and prep area. If you think your ingredients may be contaminated, replace them or have a new one on hand to use for your guest. My mom, for example, loves to make peanut butter cookies. She keeps a jar of peanut butter for me and one for the grandkids, so if they stick a knife in it, it’s not an issue for me.

Look for recipes that are naturally gluten-free. The fewer ingredients the better. If you are uncertain, provide an ingredient list for your recipes or, better yet, send the recipes you’re thinking of making to your guest ahead of time to check. My dear wife always offers to bring any GF items needed to make the dish work. Sometimes the ingredients can be hard to find and they’re always expensive, so this way everyone wins.

If you buy or make a GF dish, make sure it stays GF by keeping it covered, moving it away from any gluten-containing foods, and by using dedicated utensils. Do encourage everyone to use the spoons that come with the dish or dip, not to be “fancy” but swiping a wheat cracker through the spinach dip is not pretty, especially if the person with Celiacs doesn’t see it to know that it’s been contaminated. If you have the space and are serving buffet style, consider having a dedicated GF area, perhaps on a different colored table cloth, so that folks are more aware.

Don’t be afraid – The last thing any host needs is more stress for the holidays. If you don’t get the whole Celiacs thing or aren’t comfortable making GF dishes, just let us know in advance so we can be prepared. Most folks with Celiacs are used to making the best of it and working around the issues.

For Hosts and Guests

Forgive, forget, and move on – Accidents happen. Aunt Bertha may not like you, but she probably wasn’t really trying to kill you with the flour that she forgot was in the scalloped potatoes. By the same token, if a guest gets sick, don’t blame them. Nobody chooses to have Celiacs, and the reaction they are having is not a comment on your cooking. Treat it like any other sickness and give them the space, time, and privacy to recover.

Wishing everyone happy (and safe) holidays!

Stuff I Like

Tiz that time of year when folks start looking for gifts for their favorite foodie. Because every cook has different tastes, and because your mileage may vary, this year I’m going to try to avoid making recommendations.

Instead, here are some products that I’ve enjoyed using this past year. I wholeheartedly give them the Food & Fire Seal of Approval (for what that’s worth ;)). If you think your grill guy/girl might appreciate some of them, go for it and enjoy the great food that (hopefully) may come your way in return!

Steel Grill Roaster from Williams-Sonoma – It’s a perforated stainless steel pan, so the food gets directly exposed to the flame, but it’s raised up a bit so it cooks more evenly. Great for roast veggies and shrimp.

Cholula Hot Sauce – There are now 4 flavors of Cholula: Original, Chili Garlic, Chili Lime, and Chipotle. I’ve been a big fan of their original sauce for years – not much heat or vinegar, but a solid chili taste that works great on almost any Mexican dish. The new sauces take that original flavor and add some very nice accents to it.

Bayou Classic Cast Iron Griddle – I’ve had this for a while, but really put it to work this year. I’ve made some excellent blackened steaks and sizzling fajitas on it.

Thermapen Splash-Proof Thermometer – The new version of my favorite  instant-read thermometer adds a splash-proof seal. It’s fast, accurate, and easy to read. I like it so much I now I have the new one in my grill table and old one in the kitchen.

High-Que Fire Grate Upgrade – I’ve been cooking with this new grate for the Big Green Egg for 6 months and it works as promised. 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 usually reuse the lump.

Emile Henry Flame-Top Cookware – I’ve been lucky enough to get to try out Emile Henry’s new line of flameproof ceramic that’s designed to go directly on a live flame. I’ve tried their tagine, Dutch oven, and pizza stone and they all cook like champs.

All-Clad d5 Stainless Pans – My dear wife gave me a nice set of new All-Clad pans almost a year ago. I’ve cooked the hell out of them since then, and continue to be very pleased with them. They heat evenly, respond quickly to temperature changes, and are easy to clean.

Wishing you all a happy and a healthy and a merry!

Polenta Dressing

Being a northerner with not a speck of Italian heritage, my experience with corn grits has been pretty limited. Growing up, it (sadly) just wasn’t a food that was on my radar.

Since becoming gluten-free, however, that’s all changed. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Corn Grits/Polenta has become my new best friend. My dear wife makes wonderful pizza crusts with it, and I’ve served it as both a cheesy side dish and as a pasta-replacement topped with pork ragú. This year for Thanksgiving, I wanted to try a polenta dressing in place of my usual cornbread recipe.

6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups coarse-ground grits
16 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup milk
6 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion,chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
8 ounces Andouille sausage, chopped
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1-2 tablespoons Louisiana-style hot sauce

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease up a 4-quart Dutch oven.

In a large saucepan, bring the broth, salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning to a boil. Whisk in the grits. Bring to a low boil, whisking frequently, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grits are thick, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

While the grits are cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic and saute until the onion softens (about 5 minutes). Add the Andouille and cook until it is heated through and starts to give off some oil (about another 5 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. In a large bowl, pour in the polenta and then stir in both the cheese and sausage mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Gradually stir the egg mixture into the polenta, mixing until everything is combined. Pour the works into the Dutch oven.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the center is set and the edges are a bit brown.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
While this was way too spicy for my relatives, my dear wife and I loved it – rich, creamy, crunchy, and spicy. I still miss my Mom’s gluteny stuffing, but this got me through Thanksgiving without feeling too deprived.

The Nutrition:

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