The Thermometer That Saved Thanksgiving

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

All of my family was able to make to our house. We had 11 people, a 16-pound bird, all the trimmings, and much to be thankful for.

I didn’t do anything fancy with the bird this year. Two days out I mixed my Poultry Rub with 1/2 olive oil and let that steep overnight. The next day I removed the giblets, slathered the bird inside and out (and under the skin a bit) with the wet rub, sealed it in a zip-top bag, and stashed it in the fridge until 2 hours before it was time to put it on the grill.

Two hours before my (alleged) 4-hour cook, I removed the bird from the bag, set it on a rack set in a disposable roasting pan, and moved it back into the fridge to air dry a bit.

I set up the Big Green Egg for an indirect cook at 350°F using an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat. When the grill was up to temp, I moved the roaster with the bird in it out to the Egg and set it directly on the plate setter.

I knew from experience that within 20 minutes of putting the bird on, I could have the vents adjusted just so and the BGE would tick right along at 350°F for hours unattended. That way I could work on finishing touches (and maybe catch a nap) and the bird would take care of itself.

But just to be on the safe side (after all, this is a once-a-year dinner for 11 people) I set up my new Maverick ET732 Wireless Thermometer to keep an eye the temperature.

This unit recently replaced my old trusty Maverick ET-73 when its LCD display finally died.

Like its predecessor, the ET-732 has two temperature probes that monitor the temperature of both the meat and the cooker and transmits them to a portable receiver. It also has two alarms that can be set independently – one goes off if the temperature of the cooker goes above or below a range that you set, and another goes off when the temperature of the meat reaches your preset internal temperature.

So when we were two hours into the cook and the remote started beeping, I knew something was wrong. I checked the display and it showed that the bird had already hit 150°F in the breast. I rushed out to the grill and did some wiggling of leg joints and probing with an instant-read Thermapen to confirm what the Maverick is telling me.

Sure enough, the bird was done a full two hours early. I moved the roaster off the Egg and took it inside. Fortunately my dear wife had picked up an extra disposable roasting pan, so we covered the bird with that and wrapped the whole works with some beach towels.

I kept the Egg running at 350°F.  By the time everyone had arrived the bird had cooled off a bit, so I just popped it back on the grill for 10 minutes to get it up to serving temp.

The Turkey Verdict: ★★★★★
Despite finishing early and being re-heated at the last minute, the bird was very juicy with crisper skin than I would have expected. The wet rub was outstanding – very herby and savory. A couple of people commented that it didn’t taste like what they’re used to turkey tasting like. Considering some of the cardboard birds we’ve eaten over the years, I’ll take that as a compliment.

The Nutrition:
Don’t worry about the turkey – four ounces of turkey breast meat is only 120 calories and 4 Weight Watchers Points. Worry about the stuffing and gravy instead ;).

The Maverick ET-732 Verdict: ★★★★★
This is a nice improvement over the previous model. The range has been extended to 300 feet and the probe wires are heat resistant to 700°F. My only nit to pick is that the temperature ranges are hard to set because the unit doesn’t have up and down buttons. Considering that this baby saved our bird, I am more than happy to overlook this small issue.

One year ago – A Little Turkey Dinner
Two years ago – Thanksgiving

Poultry Rub

2 tablespoons sea or kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried sage
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon Old Bay or Chesapeake Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon raw or brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Combine everything in a shaker jar and stir to mix and break up any lumps. Makes about 1/2 cup.

This is great as a dry rub, but I ‘m going to try mixing it with 1/2 cup of olive oil, let it steep overnight, and then slather the bird inside and out with it.

One year ago – A McRib it Ain’t
Two years ago – Holiday Anxiety

Highlands Chicken

I am borrowing this recipe from Lea Ann over at Highlands Ranch Foodie. It’s a wonderful comfort dish. The flavors are so rich that it tastes like you went to a lot of work, but  you won’t believe how easy (like in weeknight easy) it is to make.

8 to 12 chicken thighs (boneless, skinless)
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 celery stalks with a few leaves, sliced
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
6 garlic cloves, diced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons whole grain or Creole mustard
1 tablespoon Triple-Sec
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Pat the thighs dry and arrange in a single layer on a plate (I use a 9×13 jellyroll pan). Season both sides of the chicken with half the salt and the all the black pepper.

Set a large, deep saute pan with a lid (or a wide, shallow Dutch oven) over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers.  Add the chicken thighs in a single layer and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the thighs have started to brown  – 8 to 10 minutes. Flip and repeat with the other side. Transfer thighs to a plate.

Add the celery, green pepper, onion, carrot, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and remaining salt to the pan and cook over medium heat until the onions are very soft – about 8 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine and Triple Sec.

Deglaze the pan, scraping to bottom get up the brown bits. Cook until the wine is slightly reduced, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, then add the broth and stir in the mustard.

Nestle the chicken thighs into the veggies, making sure they are at least half way covered in liquid. Cover the pan and move it to the oven.

Braise the chicken in the oven for 30 minutes. Then uncover and cook 20 minutes, until the thighs have browned up. Flip the thighs and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes to brown the other side.

Remove pan from oven and transfer chicken mixture to a serving dish. Serve over rice or sauteed spinach, or on its own with plenty of crusty bread for soaking up the sauce.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This is a definitely a got-to-make-this-once-a-week kind of dish for the cold and dark months. Rich and complex taste, and the meat just melts off the fork.

I did stray a bit from the original recipe. It called for a 1/4 cup of raisins and a 1/2 cup of heavy cream. I can see where both would add a lot to the dish. While I don’t ever see that much cream in my future, I will make sure to add the raisins next time and maybe just a hint of cream.

The Nutrition:
Serves 4 to 6. Without the cream, thighs are about 200 calories, or 4 Weight Watchers points, and the veggies are free.

One year ago – Minimalist Ribs
Two years ago – Beef Short Ribs

Jerk-ish Ribs

Did you remember to set your clocks back? I did (well, my dear wife did). While that extra hour of sleep was great, it doesn’t make up for the lack of sunlight in the evening. Soon it’ll get cold and I’ll be trudging back and forth to work in the dark, on foot, with snow on the ground, uphill both ways…

It’s joyous thoughts like that that make me yearn for warmer climes. To try and break my funk, I made up a rack of baby back ribs that packed a sweet heat reminiscent of jerk dishes I’ve had in the Caribbean.

The Marinade
1 rack baby back ribs
1 large shallot
4 to 6 Habanero or Scotch Bonnet peppers (4 were plenty for me)
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Wearing gloves, seed and devein the peppers. Put the salt, shallot, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic and shallot are minced. Add the peppers, soy sauce, oil, vinegar, sugar, rum, lime juice, thyme, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and give them a whirl until they are well-combined. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade for the barbecue sauce. Prep the ribs by removing the membrane on the bone side and trimming off any scraps of meat or excess fat. Put the ribs into a zip-top bag. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of the marinade over the ribs, turning to coat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal it, and stash in the fridge overnight.

The Barbecue Sauce
1 (11.3 ounce can) mango nectar
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar (divided)
1/4 cup marinade
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the mango nectar and 1/4 of the raw sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture has reduced to about 3/4 cup – about 10 minutes or until the mixture is thick enough that it starts to spit at you.

Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining raw sugar, reserved marinade, tamarind, and cider vinegar. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until all the sugar has dissolved and the sauce starts to thicken a little bit (about five minutes). Bottle and store in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

The Cook
Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at 300°F. I didn’t use anything between the ribs and the fire to diffuse the heat, but did use a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the heat.

When the grill is up to temp, add your smoking wood (guava in this case), and when the smoke changes from white (bad) to blue (good), put the ribs on bone side down for an hour.

Flip the ribs bone side up and let them go for another hour. Flip the ribs back to bone side down and start checking signs of being done – the slab cracks when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs and the meat has started to pull back from the bones.

This rack started looking done at the 3 hour mark, so I slathered both sides with some of the barbecue sauce and put them back on bone side down for another 15 minutes. I slathered the meat side again and let them go another 15 minutes. I gave the meat one last coating of sauce and moved the rack off the grill to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
This was one fine rack of ribs – all the heat and spice of traditional jerk but with a sweet and fruity base. It was one of those eat, sweat, wipe brow, swig adult beverage, repeat, kind of meals.

Next time I would use about 2 cups of the thicker mango nectar you can buy in  refrigerated boxes in most mercados. This was the thinner Jumex canned version, and it just didn’t have oomph.

The Nutrition:
Ribs still won’t ever be diet food  – 460 calories for 8 ounces of meat (4 to 6 bones worth) and 12 Weight Watchers points. But they were sure the cure for the gray blahs.

One year ago – Achiote Oil
Two years ago – Suck Creek WFR Hot Sauce

Tomato Powder

In the wake of our recent can-o-poluza, I realized that we had some dehydrated tomatoes leftover from last year that needed to get used up. I had planned to use them in place of oil-packed tomatoes, but just never got around to it.

In the past I’ve turned dried mushrooms into mushroom powder and used it to add a little meaty, umaminess to dishes. Maybe tomato powder would work the same way?

I had 8 ounces of dried tomato halves (enough to comfortably cover a 9×13 baking sheet). This is the end result of dehydrating 5 pounds of roma tomatoes (about 40 tomatoes). They had been sealed in a zip-top bag, but had picked up a little moisture since I put them away, so I laid them out on a pan and let them dry in a 170°F degree oven for an hour.

I removed them from the oven and let cool for another 30 minutes. By now they were very crisp and would break, rather than bend.

Now it’s time for a trip in the blender. I loaded the dried tomatoes into the blender with a food processor attachment. I pulsed them a half-dozen times until most of the tomatoes had broken down into chunks. Then I blended them on low for about 30 seconds. By now, it was mostly a very fine red powder with a few larger bits. A couple more pulses and took care of those. Note – let your blender sit a bit at this point before taking the lid off so you don’t get a face full of tomato dust.

I ended up with a little over a cup of fine red powder and it tastes just like summer – bright and sweet. It has nice, deep, concentrated tomato flavor. I’ve seen places that sell tomato powder where the idea is to rehydrate it into paste or sauce. But I think it would be much better as a way to add that fresh tomato taste as an accent – more like a spice. I’ve already tried a teaspoon or so in stew and it really bumped up the flavor and deepened that taste. And it’s a whole lot easier that opening a can of paste.

Next up is adding some of this to my General Purpose Rub and see what that gets me. Who knows, it might end up being a “secret ingredient.”

One year ago – One Fire – Many Meals
Two years ago – Election Day Teriyaki Kabobs