Gift Ideas 2014

It’s the gift-giving/getting time of year again. So whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Boxing Day, or Festivus – here are some goodies that your favorite foodie might appreciate.

Raven Powder-Free Disposable Black Nitrile 6 Mil Gloves
Great food-handling gloves with enough thickness to protect your hands from hot foods and enough dexterity to handle delicate cutting jobs.

FoodSaver GameSaver Deluxe Vacuum Sealing Kit
When my second FoodSaver V3825 died I was just about ready to chuck to whole works and go back to zip-top bags. Luckily, I called the company and the service rep steered me to the GameSaver model – no bells and whistles, manual sealer, cheap, 10-year warranty, and works like a charm.

ThermoWorks ThermoPop Super-Fast Thermometer
This splash-proof, fast, and accurate thermometer is easy to use and if it saves you from  just one over-cooked roast or under-cooked chicken it will have paid for itself.

Kerr Wide Mouth 8 Oz. Mason Jars and Ball Wide-Mouth Plastic Storage Caps
Together these make excellent individual serving bakeware. I’ve used them for pecan pies, budino, pot de creme, and custards. They work just like ramekins, but once cooled, you can screw the lid on them for storage or transport.

Cafe Bustelo
The secret to the great Cuban coffee I had in Key West – rich and strong and works great in a drip coffee maker. Going to try adding this to some of my barbecue rubs.

Vegetable Starter Culture
I’ve been doing a lot of lacto-fermented veggies – dill pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, hot peppers, etc… This culture provides consistent results every time.

GrillPro 41090 2-Piece Silicone Basting Brushes
Heavier duty and easier to clean than any other brushes I’ve tried. The shorter one is good for cooking indoors and the longer one works great on the grill.

Fat Daddio’s 18 Aluminum Gauge Half Sheet Pan and Chrome Cooling Rack
These guys make some seriously heavy-duty bake ware. This combo is great for roasting in the oven, but I use it mostly for transporting and resting hunks of meat from the grill. The rack lets juices drain away so that the skin on chicken stays crispy and the crust on roasts stays crusty.

Happy holidays to all!

Holiday Survival

The recipe for surviving the holidays with your family? Man, I sure wish I knew that. The only wisdom I have to share is this little sanity-saving video that helps to remind us all to keep our perspective. Remember – it could always be worse ;).

Best wishes! Hope everyone has a happy and a merry!

Gift Ideas

It’s 8°F outside and my Big Green Egg is covered with a thick coating of snow, which means it’s probably time for my holiday gift guide. If you’re looking for gifts for your grill geek, here are some goodies that I’ve had a chance to try out over the past year and can highly recommend:

Google Nexus 7 Tablet – this has become my go-to device for checking recipes, updating grocery lists, and checking email. It’s easier to use than a smartphone and easier to carry around than a laptop.

Fat Daddio’s 15-Inch x 2-Inch Cake Pan – this heavy-duty pan fits perfectly inside an upturned large Big Green Egg plate setter, making it an ideal drip pan.

Tagine – I can’t tell you how many uses I’ve come up with for my Emile Henry Flame Tagine. It not only makes a great dutch oven, but I use the base all the time as a casserole dish or serving platter.

Oster Counterforms Blender – this inexpensive blender is a nice alternative to a food processor. I “wet blend” a lot of sauces to save food prep time.

Toastabags – I use these so that I can toast my gluten-free bread in a non-GF toaster, or so that my dear wife can toast her bread in our GF toaster.

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen – Harold McGee’s definitive book on kitchen science is focused on the both the “hows” and “whys” of cooking.

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing – Michael Rhulman’s book is the undisputed authority on making confit, salami, prosciutto, pâtés, as well as smoked meats and seafood.

Cuisinart Elite Collection 4-Cup Chopper/Grinder – small, but mighty. Perfect for making whirly sauces.

Red Boat Vietnamese Fish Sauce – this artisanal nuoc mam puts the puts the “ooh” in umami.

Microplane Professional Coarse Grater – excellent for grating cheese, garlic, or zesting citrus fruit. Also makes fancy chocolate garnishes.

Stainless Steel Vented Chimney Cap – this Big Green Egg replacement cap from Smokeware easily does the job of both the ceramic cap and the daisy wheel and offers better features than either.


Cheese Burger

No recipe today –  just a photo of a big and juicy cheese burger and a big “Woohoo!” that it’s finally summer here in my neck of the woods.

Winter was long, spring was wet and cold, and it was beginning to look like summer would never get here. But the past few weeks have been glorious – highs in the 80s, lows in the 60s, and bright blue skies as far as the eye can see. Can’t beat that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed out to the deck for a little al fresco dining with my dear wife.

Happy summer to all!


P.S. Gluten-free bun courtesy of Udi’s.

Being Sociable

For a tech geek, I have been pretty slow at adopting social media. Until recently I used Facebook mostly as a news feed and if I tweeted you had better be upwind ;)

But I recently have been dipping my toes in the digital waters, and I kind of like it. It lets me give my readers previews of upcoming blog posts. It also gives me a place to post neat pictures or ideas that may not ever make it into the blog,

So here are the places you can find me elsewhere on the great wide interwebs:

// < ![CDATA[
// < ![CDATA[

Food & Fire Blog

Buy the Kindle edition of this blog.
Promote Your Page Too

Or scan this QR code into your Android phone.

Thanks for liking, twittering, buzzing, or stumbling upon me!

Cooking in Cozumel

Cooking in Cozumel

Lest you think I spent my entire vacation with my toes in the sand and a drink in my hand – while we were in Cozumel my dear wife signed us up for a cooking class with local chef Josefina Gonzales Luigi. The class offered a truly immersive cooking experience – from touring Josefina’s prolific garden (and playing with her four kitties), to deciding upon the menu, then trying out our Spanish while shopping San Miguel’s mercado for fresh ingredients, and finally assembling the goodies under Josefina’s guidance.

Cooking in Cozumel

We walked from Josefina’s kitchen over to the market to pick up supplies. The mercado is a block-sized labyrinth of vendors selling everything from fresh meat and produce, to hand-made linens, cooking utensils, and clothing.

Cooking in Cozumel
Fresh red snapper on their way to becoming lunch.

When we returned from shopping, Josefina’s assistant had a big batch of refreshing agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea) waiting for us.

Cooking in Cozumel

1 cup dried hibiscus flowers (found in large bags in the ethnic foods section of most big grocery stores)
3/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
1/2 gallon water

Put 4 cups of the water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat until boiling and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the dried hibiscus flowers. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain into a pitcher, discarding the flowers

Add the remaining water (or ice and water if you want it cold fast) and chill.

After enjoying the agua de jamaica we started the ceviche right away so it could “cook” while we prepared the rest of the goodies.

Cooking in Cozumel

1 pound firm white fish, deboned and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice (about 4 limes)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon habañero pepper, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Because there is a (small) risk of parasites if the shrimp are fresh, you’ll want to boil them before adding them to the ceviche – fill a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp to the boiling water, stir, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 8 to 10 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and just cooked through. Drain shrimp off into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Put the fish and shrimp in a large, non-reactive bowl. Cover with lime juice and stir well to make sure everything gets coated in lime juice. Let sit in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, Stir and return it to the fridge for another 20 minutes. After 40 minutes in the lime juice the fish should be “cooked” through and change from being pinkish grey and translucent to whiter in color, firm, and opaque. Stir in the onion, cilantro, and chile. Return to the fridge for another 20 minutes to let the flavors develop.

Serve with tortilla chips.

There were 10 other folks in class, and all told we ended up making refried black beans, guacamole, nopale (cactus) salad, red and green sauces, ceviche, margaritas, mango and cucumber salad, achiote sauce, habañero salsa, corn tortillas, and quesadillas. It was quite a meal and a real joy to get to learn from a talented cook and get to use fresh local ingredients.

A huge thanks to my dear wife for setting this up. It was the highlight of our trip and a great way to spend my birthday!

Grilling Gifts

The older I get, the more I realize that gifting stuff just to be gifting stuff doesn’t buy anyone anything. You just end up with more stuff. That, my friends, is not a good thing.

So this is a guide to useful stuff – books, gear, foods, and websites that I’ve really enjoyed and that have helped make grilling more enjoyable.

Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook’s Manifesto by Michael Ruhlman – not so much recipes, but tools and techniques that have really improved my cooking.

High-Que Luxury Stainless Cooking Grid for Large Big Green Egg – this baby is a massive steak-searing machine. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved using this grate to make restaurant-quality steaks at home.

Charred & Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang and Peter Kaminsky – forget everything you ever learned about grilling meat. This book shows you how to break the rules to build more flavor into your food.

Maverick ET732 Wireless Thermometer – this remote thermometer saved my Thanksgiving bird from being way overcooked and that makes it a worthwhile tool to have.

Sweet chili sauce – I’ve used this sweet & spicy sauce as a glaze, dipping sauce and as a base for a barbecue sauce. Mae Ploy is good and ubiquitous, but The Ginger People’s Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce rocks if you can find it.

Real hoisin sauce – the kind made from plums gives you a great blend of sweet, salty and aromatic flavors.  Nice as a base for barbecue sauces. This brand is also gluten free.

Allegro Marinade use much like you would soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce to give dishes a savory umami base. Also great straight up as a marinade.

Raw sugar – this minimally processed cane sugar adds not just sweetness, but an almost floral flavor. Sold as Sugar in the Raw, demerara sugar, or turbinado sugar.

Sea salt – I like to think of it as salt with flavor. I buy the coarse-ground sea salt in bulk and run it through a salt grinder (either by itself or with some added herbs and spices) to really kick up the taste of food.

Food52 Genius Recipes – this site is full of really insightful recipes. If you’re looking to make the best fill-in-the-blank whatever,  this is the place to start.

Weight Watchers – I am not a joiner and I sure don’t go to meetings, but an online subscription gives me a lot of tools to help me improve my lifestyle.

Amazing Ribs – Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn is a self-proclaimed Barbecue Whisperer and Hedonism Evangelist. His site is a one-stop-shop for barbecue tips, recipes, and techniques.

Happy Holidays to you all!


We are currently enjoying the peace and solitude of the great north woods, so no new food posts this week.

The photo above was taken from the porch of the cabin we’re renting. I was setting up a landscape shot when my dear wife noticed a canoe on the beach. So I was going to wait until they paddled by to add them to the composition.

As I waited, my dear wife asked “Are they setting up a camera tripod in the water?” Sure enough, somebody was shooting an outdoor ad. They had this poor guy in red flannel portaging his canoe back and forth until they got the shot they wanted.

So this is my landscape shot of their photo shoot. Enjoy!

P.S. For all you fellow geeks out there – the photos were transferred from my OM-D camera to my netbook wirelessly via an Eye-Fi card. Then uploaded to the cloud through a Droid mobile hotspot.


What’s a vacation without some grilling? I had the great luck to get to cook up a couple of meals on this neat 1940’s stone grill/fireplace.

No recipe here – just some monster burgers cooked in the great outdoors.


Yoga – Getting My Om On

No food or fire today, just a plug for what is fast becoming my favorite form of exercise – yoga. While my dear wife and I have dabbled with yoga on and off over the years, we’ve both recently found our own “practices” at different studios with instructors that we really enjoy.

As a former gym rat, I hate to admit it, but I’ve seen more changes in my body after just a few months of regular yoga practice than I could get from the same amount of weight lifting. I am much stronger, particularly through my core, and have much more flexibility with fewer aches and pains.

A lot of people view yoga as a way making friends with your body. You ask it to do something, it tells you what it’s capable of, and you work out a compromise. No ego – just asking, trying, doing, asking, and trying again. Rinse and repeat – it is a remarkable way to relearn what your body is capable of and to calm and center your mind.

A big appeal of yoga is that it is accessible to anyone. There’s chair yoga, power yoga, hot yoga, meditative yoga, kids yoga, relaxing yoga, aerial yoga, water yoga, you name it… And within each of these, you can experience the postures at different levels. 20 people could take a basic hatha yoga class and get 20 different experiences. You could also do the same routine 20 times and get 20 different experiences yourself. It all depends on how focused you are and how deeply you can settle in.

My final plug – I have always ended a session of yoga feeling better than I did before I started it. I’ve never had that experience with any other activity.

Here are some yoga goodies that I’ve found valuable:

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness uses yoga as a way to calm the mind and ease pain.

YogaAccessories Extra Thick High Density Yoga Mat, the extra thickness takes a big load off of my joints and knees.

Gaiam Total Body Balance Ball we keep one of these at home to help stretch out sore joints and build balance.


Winter Grilling Tips & Tools

My Big Green Egg is so well-insulated, it really doesn’t care how cold it is, so even though I live in a northerly clime, I still pretty much grill year-round. While winter grilling can be more of a challenge, it can still be a lot of fun if you keep these things in mind:

  • Dress for the weather, both of them – it’s not just about staying warm outside, it’s also about managing the transition from outside to inside. Dress in layers that you can easily remove. I wear pak boots that I can slip off at the door and have a “landing strip” of rugs both inside and outside so I don’t track all over the house.
  • Clear your cooking area – shovel out the grill, your working area, and a path to the door. You do not want to go down in a pile while juggling a plate of food.
  • Plan on using more fuel and time – anything below freezing and I add 25% more time and fuel to my projected cook just to be on the safe side.
  • Wear insulated/fire-resistant gloves – both heat and cold can burn you and the risk goes up when the temps go down. Slap a bare, damp hand on a MAPP cylinder at  5°F and you’ll feel about as dumb as the kid with his tongue stuck to the the flag pole.
  • Cold = dark – if you’re cooking in the late afternoon you need to be prepared to do it in the dark. Grill lights or flood lights are nice, but to see what’s really going on with the food,  I like my headlamp that my dear wife calls a “dork light.”
  • Go hot ‘n fast or set ‘n forget – steaks are a joy, even when it’s cold out. Wait inside until the grill is up to temp and then your total outdoor cook time is well under 10 minutes. With ribs or butts you’re only outside to put them on, check the temp every now and then, and take them off when they’re done. Use a remote thermometer and you barely have to get off the couch.

ONE YEAR AGO – Valentine’s Day

TWO YEARS AGO – Wing Sauce – First Try


%d bloggers like this: