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!


XXL Big Green Egg

I final got a first-hand gander at this beast at the Apple Harvest Eggfest. Wow! When I got there they had already taken the ribs off, but at one point they were cooking three racks of ribs, two pork butts, a turkey, an apple crisp, and still had plenty of room to spare.

For all you Eggheads out there, here are all the nerdy details:
29 inch grill diameter
672 square inch cooking area
424 pounds
You can fit 35-40 burgers, 14-16 chickens, 18-20 steaks, or 20 stacked racks of ribs on it – about three times the capacity of my large Egg.

XXL Big Green Egg-924

While this monster is way too large for this humble home grillmeister (although I wouldn’t say no if someone wanted to give me one), I can sure see a grill/smoker this size appealing to some of the big competition barbecue teams, as well as caterers and restaurants.

XXL Big Green Egg-487BTW – the Apple Harvest Eggfest was a hoot. Perfect fall day filled with the smell of apples and barbecue. Can’t beat that. Will definitely do it again next year, maybe even as part of a cooking team.

 

 

Perfect BBQ Tek Chimney Cap – Review

The fine folks over at Perfect BBQ Tek recently asked me try our their new chimney cap on my Big Green Egg and I was happy to oblige.

The cap, which fits a variety of kamado-style cookers, is designed to keep rain and/or snow out while working with the existing top vent controller. With the Big Green Egg, the chimney cap goes on first and then the dual-function daisy wheel top goes on top of that to hold it down.

When I first opened the box, I thought someone had sent me a mailbox. The cap really isn’t much more than that – just a simple u-shaped aluminum box that is open at both ends. It’s wide and tall enough to get at the daisy wheel controls, but deep enough keep any stray precipitation out of the Egg.

Chimney cap

Seems simple enough, but as the owner told me, “I know it’s simple, but it takes work to get things back to simple.”

I wasn’t able to whip up any nasty weather for my tests, but the following video shows what the cap is capable of withstanding:

It looks to me that if it got any worse than that, I’d be manning the sump pumps or gathering animals two-by-two and barbecue would be the least of my worries.

Aside from the simple-yet-practical design, I also really liked that the cap didn’t change how the draft/temperature controls worked on the Egg. I could set up my bottom vent and daisy wheel opening just like I would if the cap weren’t there.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
All-in-all, the Perfect BBQ Tek Chimney Cap looks to be a great solution to keep stormy weather from ruining your cookout.

Sunny Bang Hot Sauce Review

I have been trying my hand at lacto-fermentation – making kimchi, sauerkraut, hot sauce, and veggie pickles the old-fashioned way using little more than salt, time, and  gut-friendly lactobacillus. It’s a little putzy and time-consuming, but I’m enjoying the results and am glad to be adding more probiotics to our diet.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find Sunny Bang Private Label commercially producing a lacto-fermented hot sauce that is still “alive” when you get it. Of course, I had to give it a try.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The bright, orangey-red sauce comes in a very cool swing-top bottle. It has a nice, thick texture and a bright, fresh veggie aroma. There’s not much heat to it, but what there is comes all up front and doesn’t build up over time or linger. It has a bit if zip from the lactic acid and vinegar, but nothing harsh. The finish is all fruity sweetness with a little effervescence.

In short – this ain’t no bubba-slurping, taste-hiding, vinegary hot sauce. It’s harmonious (not a word I would ever imagine using to describe a hot sauce) – all the flavors work together to give everything you put it on a bright and tangy bit of heat.

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.

Chicken and Noodles

Jovial-Chicken-Noodles

Jovial Foods was kind enough to send me some of their gluten-free Brown Rice Tagliatelle pasta to review. With the nasty cold and wet weather we’ve been having lately, the first recipe that sprang to mind was a hearty Chicken and Noodles.

2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2-3 cloves or garlic, crushed and diced
1 (12-ounce) box Pacific Natural Foods Organic Condensed Soup Cream Of Chicken
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 box (9-ounces) Jovial Gluten-Free Brown Rice Tagliatelle

Heat the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook until the onions start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about another 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until everything is heated through and the onions have just started to brown a little bit.Jovial-Chicken-Noodles

Add the soup and milk and stir to combine. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the carrots are tender.

While the chicken and veggies are simmering, cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Rinse with cold water and let drain.Jovial-Chicken-Noodles

Add the cheese to the chicken and veggies and stir until it is melted in. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve hot over noodles. Top with a sprinkle of cheese if you feel like it.

Jovial-Tagliatelle-Traditional-Egg-Pasta-Organic-Gluten-Free

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Good egg noodles are one on the things that I have really missed since going gluten free. Jovial’s Gluten-Free Tagliatelle sure hit the mark here – tender but with substantial, with enough thickness and body to it to stand up to the sauce.

What impressed me the most was how different the Jovial pasta is from a lot of other gluten-free pastas I’ve tried. It wasn’t sticky or starchy. It didn’t solidify or dry out while it was draining. There where no “off” flavors, grittiness, or odd textures. If I didn’t know this was a GF pasta, I don’t think I could have told the difference.

One thing to note is that your cooking times may vary. I always start checking GF pastas for doneness at about half the recommend cooking time, and then every minute there after. Like any good pasta, you want it to be al dente – firm, but not soft. This is a narrow window that can be even narrower with GF pastas. My pasta ended up being done almost 2 minutes early.

Gluten-Free Tostadas

A Gluten-Free Tostadas

I was very happy to see that Udi’s is now offering gluten-free tortillas. I decided to give them a test drive on “man-food night” while the dear wife was away and make tostadas.

1 (8-ounce) package of Mexican chorizo
1 (15.4-ounce) can refried black beans with chilies
4 Udi’s tortillas

For topping:
Cojita and/or shredded co-jack cheese
Salsa verde
Sour cream
Choula hot sauce

Preheat your oven to 350°F. While oven is heating up, crumble chorizo into a medium skillet and brown over medium heat – about 5 minutes. Stir in refried beans and reduce heat to low.

Arrange tortillas on a cookie sheet and slide into the oven. Cook for 10 minutes, then flip and cook until they get browned and puffy – about 5 more minutes, but watch them as they can burn quickly.

Udis Tortillas
Tortilla inflada – the sign of a good tortilla is when it inflates when heated.

Assemble the tostadas by laying down the first tortilla on an oven-proof serving plate and spreading it with a layer of refried beans and meat. Add a little cheese and salsa if you want. Top with a second tortilla and spread some meat and bean goodness on that. Top with cheese, salsa, hot sauce, and maybe some more cheese. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Slide the tostada-covered plates back in the oven and let cook at 350°F until the cheese starts to melt – about 5 minutes.

I served these with a dollop of sour cream, a little more Choula, and a squeeze of lime (okay, and more cojita too).

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Crunchy, cheesy, spicy, and just a little greasy – perfect for bach’ing it in front of the TV.  I have to give Udi’s a lot of credit for making tortillas that I couldn’t tell were gluten free.

The Nutrition:
Man food has no calories.

One year ago – Grilled Sweet Corn in the Husk
Two years ago – Saucy Wings

Stainless Steel Vented Chimney Cap

Vent Cap

For Father’s Day, my dear wife and our 4 furry “children” gave me a stainless steel chimney cap from the folks at Eggware for my large Big Green Egg.

The cap is sold as a replacement for both the standard issue ceramic cap and the dual-function metal top (daisy wheel). It is a two-piece design that uses a fixed base and a rotating cap that can be adjusted through a wide range of openings to control the air flow and cooking temperature.

Vent Cap

The big selling points for the new cap for me were:

  • Stainless steel won’t rust or break like cast iron can – having lost one daisy wheel to breakage and having the replacement rust up on me, this is a big deal for me.
  • The fit is snug enough that the vent opening doesn’t change (thus throwing off your temperature) when opening and closing the Egg.
  • The overhang on the top lets you cook even when it’s raining (great benefit considering the weather we’ve been having lately) and can be left open when it isn’t being used to prevent crud from growing inside the Egg.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I’ve done both screaming hot and low and slow cooks with it and it has really performed nicely.

For cooking a steak, I brought Big Green Egg up to about 900°F (the thermometer was pegged all the way to the right), then put the cap on with the vents wide open and the temp didn’t drop a bit. It was like it wasn’t even there. After the steak, I put my filthy blackened plate setter in and left the vents open for an hour to do a clean out. I now have a (very nearly) clean white plate setter, fire box, fire ring, and a much cleaner dome.

For my spare rib cook, I closed the cap down until only a tiny hole (about the size of a roofing nail) was visible above the adjustment tab and shut my bottom vent down to about the width of a nickle. The Egg held 250°F for just over 5 hours, rock solid. When the ribs where done I closed the top and bottom vents and the Egg shut right down – losing 50°F in an hour and 100°F after two hours.

The only down side was that the cap gets a lot hotter than the daisy wheel ever did (be safe – always wear gloves or use tongs when adjusting), and there was some slight discoloration around the vent openings. I’ve been told that the top is dishwasher safe, so I might give that a try to remove the stain. If not, then it’ll be Bar Keepers Friend to the rescue.

In short – Big Green Egg ought to make this their standard cap, period. It easily replaces both the ceramic cap and the daisy wheel and offered better features than either.

One year ago – Tri-tip Steak Salad
Two years ago – Express Ribs

Forestlumps Charcoal

Forestlumps charcoal

A charcoal review? Really? Just how big of a of a grill geek am I?!?

Pretty darned big, thank you very much.

Forestlumps is a new lump charcoal on the market. It’s claim to fame is that it is made from 100% European beechwood – no scrap lumber, no trash woods. It’s also sifted and packed in such a way that you get more uniform medium-sized chunks of lump and fewer huge or tiny pieces.

Forestlumps charcoal

You remember the “Contents may settle due to handling” statement on your cereal box? The same things can happen to lump charcoal, which is pretty brittle. To protect the charcoal from damage during shipping, Forestlumps uses a neat packing method of putting 2 – 10 pound bags of charcoal in a sturdy box.

Forestlumps charcoal

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I’ve cooked my way through a 20-pound box of Forestlumps charcoal, doing both low and slow cooks and hot and fast ones. In all cases the charcoal was more medium-sized and consistent in size than I’ve see using Big Green Egg, Royal Oak, or Nature-Glow charcoal. There was almost no dust and very few tiny pieces (fines).

The charcoal lights easily and the fire spreads quickly with not much sparking and no popping from the MAPP torch. I noticed that even during the white smoke phase, where a lot of nasty volatile organics are getting burned off, the smoke still smell good. No bitter or sharp odors. When the smoke switched over to blue, it got sweeter and nuttier.

This is a hotter-burning lump and I did have the heat get ahead of me a couple of times, so you might want to close your vents down a little more than you normally would.

I like the boxes for storing the charcoal and the smaller bags for handling it. At $25 for 20 pounds, and free shipping if you order 2 or more boxes, it is comparable with what I pay for any other brand.

One year ago – Gluten-Free Biscuits & Gravy
Two years ago – Boosted Brats

Plowboys Ribs

Plowboys Ribs

I had such nice results using Plowboys Yardbird Rub on chicken, that I just had to take them up on their “Created for Chicken but Made for Pork” tag line and try it on some baby-back ribs.

I went with a very minimal prep of the ribs, just removed the membrane on the bone side of the ribs and rubbed in a generous coating of Plowboys Yardbird Rub into both sides of them about an hour before they went on the Big Green Egg.

I have to say that whoever designed the jar for this rub is a genius – 14 ounces, so you’ve got plenty of rub to work with, and then this dual-function top has both big holes for easy shaking and a larger flap that lets you get a measuring spoon in there. Very nice.

Plowboys Ribs

I set up my grill for an indirect cook at 250°F. I filled the firebox with lump charcoal and used an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat and a drip pan with a little water in it to catch the fat.

I lit the charcoal just in the center, and once the temperature hit 250°F in the dome, I added a couple of chunks of apple wood for smoke. When the smoke changed from white (bad) to blue (good) I loaded up the ribs bone side down on the grate and let them cook for an hour.

I flipped the ribs bone side up and then let them cook for 2 more hours. After the ribs had been on for 4 hours total, I started checking for doneness. Ribs are generally done when a full slab will almost fold in half and start to crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs. These weren’t quite there yet.

I gave them another 30 minutes and checked again. The meat had just started to pull back from the end of the bones, but a gentle tug on a couple of bones showed that they weren’t ready to come apart yet.

I gave them another 30 minutes and checked again – much better. I brushed them with a thick coat of Honey Hog Barbecue Sauce and let them cook for another 15 minutes. I sauced them lightly again, cooked them for another 15 minutes, then removed them from the smoker and let them sit 10 minutes before serving.

Plowboys Ribs

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The Plowboys Yardbird rub stood right up to smoke and the porky goodness of the ribs. In fact, it may be better on pork than on chicken. What I’m really liking about this rub is how it disappears – like a good background singer – you don’t hear them but you would sure miss them if they were gone. The rub enhances the natural flavors without getting in the way.

Why not a 5? We had a high of 6°F the day I cooked these, and the darker and colder it got the more those ribs sure looked like they were done. My bad. Another 30-45 minutes and they would have rocked.

The Nutrition:
Ribs will never be diet food, sorry, but I think I burned off most of the calories with all the shivering I did.

One year ago – Surf & Turf
Two years ago – Super Bowl Link Love