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!
No recipes this time, just some thoughts on making the most of what’s left of our fleeting daylight and fall grilling weather.
I got inspired to rethink how I plan meals on the Big Green Egg after reading the Kingsford U: Grill Once Eat Twice post over at Nibble Me This. Chris makes the point that it takes the same amount of time and fuel to to cook two chickens as it does to cook one chicken, and you end up with more tasty grilled chicken for future meals.
Even though I’m usually just cooking for the two of us, I put this idea into practice by typically doubling or tripling most recipes on the grill. The extras end up in my lunch, or as dinner later in the week, or they get frozen off for those nights when nobody wants to cook.
Now I’ve started working on a variation of this that I call one fire – many meals. The idea is that once you’ve gone to the effort to get the grill set up, you might as well try and pass as much food over that flame as you can.
For instance – the other night I made steak for dinner. While I was getting the BGE fired up, my dear wife said that there were also a couple of packages of chicken tenders in the fridge that she would like cooked up for salads and snacks. She had planned on baking them, but they would be ever so much better grilled, wouldn’t they?
Fire = good so, of course, they would taste better. My only question was how to go about cooking the steaks hot and fast and then modifying the heat so that the tenders would get a little char on them, but not get overcooked and dried out.
I pondered this while I prepped the steak with some fresh-ground sea salt and black pepper. I had the tenders laid out in a 9×13 pan and was hitting them with a little Dizzy Pig Swamp Venom when an idea clicked – I could leave the heat alone after the steak was done and resting and then cook the tenders quickly over the roaring flame and move then off to a baste á la Adam Perry Lang, cut the heat, and let them finish there.
Not bad, but wouldn’t the heat move too fast through a metal pan and just scorch the tenders? Probably. Hmmm, how about a Dutch oven? Yeah that’d work. Or, even better, use the tagine. Genius!
I poured a couple of glugs of olive oil into the base of the tagine and then added about 4 cloves of crushed garlic and about a teaspoon each lemon zest, thyme, and sage.
With the BGE running at about 650°F, I put the steak on for 2 minutes a side and then moved it off to a warm plate, covered it with another plate, and let it rest while I cooked the chicken.
The tenders went on in batches. With the heat this high, by the time I finished putting the last row of tenders on the grate the first row was ready to be flipped. Once they had some nice grill marks on each side (but where still pretty raw on the inside) I moved them off the heat to the tagine, making sure to toss them a bit in the oil.
When all the tenders were in the tagine, I swirled another glug of olive oil over the top, put the lid on, and moved the tagine to the grill. I closed the lid on the BGE, shut the bottom vent down to reduce the heat, and went inside for a lovely steak dinner.
When I checked on them 30 minutes later, the tenders were done and basting in their own juices. I moved everything inside, removed the lid, and let them cool before packaging.
Cooking this way does take a bit more time and fuel, but not much more effort. You’re essentially letting your downtime and residual heat work for you. For this cook I spent maybe an extra ten minutes packaging off the tenders, but we ended up with a steak dinner, a dinner of tenders and veggies the next night, chicken salad lunches for a couple of days, and about a dozen tenders frozen off for chicken stew the next week.
Both of my grandmothers kept their favorite recipes in their heads, and what few they couldn’t remember, they wrote out in neat script on 3 x 5 note cards and stored then in wooden boxes. For most of their lives, they fed their family foods that they or their neighbors had grown, raised, or made with their own two hands. Their grocery lists were short and the meals were predictable. You knew what you were having for dinner based on what day of the week it was.
Our world is a little more complicated, which I don’t always think is a good thing. While I’m lucky to know the joys of sriracha and tahini, I’m just not always sure how you wade through all of the recipes and food choices out their without getting overwhelmed?
Thankfully, there’s an app for that. Here are some apps and web sites that I’ve found useful in managing the complexity that is our modern world:
OurGroceries – share shopping lists with everyone in your household via smartphones or web browser. My dear wife loves this app. It was one of the first ones she installed on her Droid 2. She can enter her shopping lists on the netbook in the kitchen, I can add things from my phone or computer, and when we go shopping we can just tap on an item to cross it off the list.
Google Reader – a web-based feed aggregator, or (in non-techie speak) a great tool for grabbing content from all of the food blogs that I follow (36 at last count) and dumping them into one place so that I can read them at my leisure. Also try Feedly to put a more magazine-like wrapper around your feeds that makes them easier to read on a smart phone.
Gmail – web-based email from Google. Not only is this the most bullet-proof, spam-free email account I’ve ever had, it’s a great place to store all those recipes you run across online. Use the GmailThis! bookmarklet to send a recipe to your email account, where you can then categorize it with labels and folders. No more recipe boxes.
WordPress – one of the best blogging tools out there. Food & Fire started out as just my way of storing and managing recipes that I’d made. I figured that if I blogged about a dish, then I had not only the recipe, but pics, and notes on how it turned out.
Locavore – based on your location, this app lists what foods are in season and the nearby farms or farmer’s markets where you can buy local food.
Find Me Gluten Free – locate gluten-free resources near your current location. Having celiacs, this app has been a life-saver when I’m trying to find something I can eat in an unfamiliar city.
Epicurious – search for recipes, create shopping lists, and follow step-by-step instructions all from your smart phone. You can also access your personal recipe box.
Recipe Converter – unit conversion and servings yield calculator. You can convert volume and weight measurements and makes scaling servings yields up or down easy.
OpenTable – don’t feel like cooking? OpenTable gets you free, real-time online reservations at more than 20,000 restaurants. If I’m out and about and want someone else to cook, I can book a table and get an email confirmation by the time it takes to drive there.
This morning I shot six holes in my freezer.
I think I got cabin fever…
I gotta go where it’s warm!
BOAT DRINKS, Jimmy Buffett
We’ve had continuous snow cover for over 120 days, 78.7 inches this season, and another 4 inches expected within the next couple of days. I’ve given up trying to clear the deck and have had to satisfy myself with shoveling a path to the Big Green Egg. Continue reading “What Do You Call It?”
It’s that time of year again. If you are looking for some gifts for your favorite grillmeister, here are some tools, sauces, and books that I “discovered” this past year that have really helped me out in both the kitchen and on the grill:
Silicone Prep Bowls – very useful when it comes to measuring and having all of your ingredients ready. They’re flexible, so you can just squeeze them to get sticky ingredients like honey out neatly and they easily clean up in the dishwasher.
Insulated Food Gloves – these are great for handling hot food without getting burned. I use them when pulling pork or carving up a turkey.
Flat Bamboo Skewers – I discovered these this year. They work so much better than round skewers. Threading food into them is a breeze and and they flip a lot easier without the food rolling.
Lightning Nuggets Firestarters – since we got our new deck I’m leery of flying sparks. I just have to touch one of these with the MAPP torch and in 20 minutes the Big Green Egg is roaring.
Egg Rite Egg Timer – no guesswork, just boiled eggs exactly like you like them no matter now hot the burner, what size the pan, or how many eggs are in it.
Pickapeppa Sauce – Jamaican ketchup, a spicy/sweet/savory blend that’s somewhere between jerk seasoning and Worcestershire sauce. Wonderful on chicken wings or thighs.
With Thanksgiving approaching and all of the other holidays coming quickly behind it, lots of folks have huge anxiety about entertaining. Some may let fear stop them from hosting a big food event. That just can’t happen – anyone can do this. Here’s a guide to pulling it together and pulling it off for the holidays:
The Head Game
I know – your in-laws are super picky eaters, your Uncle Fred is a bit of an ass, and your sibling practically channels Martha Stewart – and they all want to come to your house for the holidays! Having the confidence to cook for others grows with time and experience. Go into it with a sense of humor and remember what it’s all about – food and fun (oh, and fire).
Nobody is going to be as critical of the food you make as you are, so give yourself a break. And if someone is, you don’t want those kind of friends anyway. As for Uncle Fred, you’ll find a way to deal with him :}
Perfect is for Martha, and she probably has a staff of about 400 and a prison tattoo. There is no reason you need to try and compete with her. Relax, enjoy the ride and your company.
Not everything has to match; you don’t have to have the perfect house. Shabby chic is in right now, with mixing dishes up to make a pretty table. Or, if you’re just starting out, consider plain white dishes. They’re very versatile and make food look delicious.
Less is more – guests won’t be roaming the entire house, so focus on the dining table, the entryway, the bathroom, and the living room. Make sure it’s clean, and a bouquet or two of grocery store flowers gives a big punch for not a lot of cha-ching.
Get Your Mise En Place You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to be organized. Think through the meal, what you want to make and what you can ask others to provide. Lists are your friend. When a guest asks “What can I bring?” don’t be a hero – take them up on their offer!
If you’ve not made Thanksgiving dinner before, consider starting with a pre-holiday meal, say the weekend before, with a few friends as a warm up. Your friends will appreciate the effort (and the food) and it’s a great chance to try out some new recipes.
Ask about food allergies and preferences early on. Having Celiacs, I can’t tell you how much easier having a pro-active host makes my life. If you need to accommodate some serious dietary issues, have them share a favorite recipe or bring a dish that they can have.
Clean out the fridge early so you have room to store everything for the big day. I know it’s boring, but do go through your recipes ingredient by ingredient a few days before to make sure you have what you need and sufficient quantities – you’ll save yourself unnecessary stress.
Do as much pre-cooking as you can – cook the potatoes, chop the veggies, assemble the relish trays, etc… Set the table ahead of time so you won’t be digging for the water glasses at the last minute.
At least at our house, the meat is the star (oh, and gravy too). If you can get a properly cooked hunk-o-meat on the table and hopefully nail the gravy, nobody is going to bitch about the cranberries. Go with good but simple sides that can take some reheating. Stuffing is better if you let it sit uncooked in the fridge overnight and casseroles don’t care when they get cooked. Line a cooler with some beach towels and use it to stash dishes that are finished cooking and just need to stay warm.
Hosting Make your guests feel welcome and useful, and keep them out of your hair until the food hits the table. Put somebody in charge of greeting folks at the door and putting coats away. Provide noshies and beverages that encourage guests to help themselves as they arrive, so you can focus on last minute prep.
As the host, do have a special few words to say at the beginning of the meal, and encourage your guests to share a thought. It’s good for everyone to take a minute of (painful?) reflection before digging into 5000 calories.
Guests enjoy being able to contribute their specialties, and it’s a great conversation starter. For example, asking the guest who brought an amazing salmon dip “So, you say you caught this salmon yourself?!?” led to amazing stories about Alaska trips like I’ve always dreamt of doing!
And, I’ve met no one that will turn down a care package of Thanksgiving leftovers on their way out the door. That is, if there are any.
When it’s all over, congratulate yourself on a fun experience and go take a nap. The dishes can wait!
This is my 200th post here at Food & Fire. Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither. A lot of things have changed since March of 2008 – new theme, bigger and (I hope) better pics, a subscription service, and the ability to print individual posts. A lot of things haven’t changed – the blog is still mostly about live fire cooking, I still love my Big Green Egg, we still eat with a camera at the kitchen table, and my dear wife still encourages (tolerates?) all of this food foolishness.
For my 200th post, rather than a specific recipe, I’d like to talk about something I’ve been working on for a while – the whole idea of going by feel when cooking.
While I’ll often follow a recipe exactly the first time I make it, after that I try to cook more by feel – “guesstimating” quantities by eyeballing them rather than whipping out the measuring spoons. I’m not to the point where “glops” are going to replace tablespoons in my written recipes, but getting to know how much of something you have without measuring really helps to make cooking faster and more fun. This also allows me to adjust the recipe based upon our personal tastes – you already know about my penchant for Penzey’s spices and hot sauce!
When you don’t have time (or inclination) to reach for a measuring spoon, a timer, or a thermometer, here’s an alphabetical list of other ways to measure:
About a beer – a measure of time, as in “How long until the coals are ready?” “Oh, about a beer.” Roughly 20 minutes.
Dash – the amount you can pick up with your thumb and first 2 fingers, about 1/8 teaspoon.
Dollop – the amount of sauce or thick liquid that you can get out of a container with a dining spoon, about 1 1/2 teaspoons.
Glob – the amount of sauce or thick liquid that you can get out of a container with a serving spoon, about 1/2 cup.
Glop – the amount of sauce or thick liquid that you can get out of a container with a soup spoon, about 2-3 tablespoons.
Glug – from the sound liquid makes when pouring out of a bottle, about 2 tablespoons.
Handful – depending on whose hands you’re using, 1/3 to 1/2 cup.
After 4 years of cooking on my large Big Green Egg, she finally has a name – Bella.
I know, “Naming a grill? You’re nutz.” But this stout girl has made quite an impression around here. She’s cooked hams, turkeys, pizza, paella, bread, steaks, ribs, chops, roasts, burgers, brats, salmon, tuna, chicken, chili, bacon, pork butt, lamb, shrimp, oysters, crab, and all manner of veggies – all with no complaints and a minimum of glitches.
Performance like that deserves a name.
To go with the name, I also have a new handle courtesy of the Lawn Ranger. Mike did a great job. This is one very pretty piece of oak and it fits the grill perfectly.