The Manhattan

As classic a cocktail as there ever was – simple in concoction, elegant, yet straight-forward in presentation. This version is a little sweeter and lighter than most, using brandy in place of whiskey and more sweet vermouth. More summer on the deck and less supper club.

2 ounces brandy
Dash of aromatic bitters (Angostura is traditional, but I am sold on Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters)
Sweet vermouth

Fill a low-ball glass about half way full of ice cubes. Add the brandy, bitters, and top with vermouth. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if you must.

Buffalo Thighs

What’s the only thing better than buffalo wings? Buffalo thighs, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a nice big pile of wings and a refreshing adult beverage, but if I’m looking for a more substantial and less messy dining experience (think supper time, not happy hour), thighs it is.

8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
1-2 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (I used Dizzy Pig’s Swamp Venom)
1/2 cup Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon Suck Creek Wings WFR Sauce (or any good ‘hotter’ hot sauce)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Lay the thighs out in a single layer on a sheet pan and dust them on both sides with the rub. Move them to the fridge and let them sit uncovered for at least 2 hours, overnight is best. Doing this not only to seasons the thighs but also dries the skin out a bit to keep it crispy.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook over medium-high  (400°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg I used the plate setter to diffuse the heat.

Combine the butter, hot sauces, Worcestershire, and garlic powder in a flame-proof melting pot and warm it on the grate just long enough to melt the butter. Set aside and keep warm (I set mine right up against the BGE).

Put the thighs on the grill skin side up. Close the lid and let them cook for 20 minutes. Flip them skin side down and let them go another 20 minutes.

Baste both sides with the hot sauce mixture, and cook for 10 minutes skin side down. Baste both sides one last time and cook for another 10 minutes skin side up.

Start checking the thighs for doneness. Chicken is safe when done to an internal temperature of 160°F, but the thighs will still be chewy at this point. I like to let them go to at least 180 to 200°F, depending on how crispy the skin is getting.

When the thighs are done, remove to a plate and let them rest for 10 minutes. Serve with bleu cheese sauce just like you would buffalo wings.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Between the Swamp Venom rub, the Frank’s, and the WFR sauce these babies had some nice heat, making the cooling dip more of a necessity than an option. Thighs are small and have lots of nooks and crannies, so the sauce really permeates the meat.

The skin was almost potato-chip crispy – lovely. I’ve heard different opinions on whether you should start chicken skin side down or skin side up to keep the skin crisp. The skin-side-down camp says that the fat runs down and collects next to the impermeable skin and fries it. The skin-side-up camp says that the moisture drains away from the skin, keeping it crisp.

Me? I don’t think that there is much difference either way. I believe the key is to let the chicken air-dry in the fridge for a bit first and then cook it at higher temps. 400°F seems to be perfect for indirect cooks. I still flip them over from time to time, but that’s mostly to make sure that they cook evenly.

Sweet Corn, Brats, & Udi’s Gluten-Free Buns

My dear wife just came back from her brother’s with two feed sacks full of golden corn goodness. No recipe needed – I just tossed it right on the grill with some brats to make one of my favorite summer meals.

This was the first chance I’ve had to try new Udi’s Gluten-Free Buns and they were outstanding. GF baked goods tend to be crumbly, and almost always end up falling apart after a few bites. The Udi’s buns not only tasted great, but held together to the end even after being toasted for a bit on the grill.

Spatchcocked Gremolata Chicken

Sounds fancy, but this is just another take on the Chicken & Veggies dish that I make a lot in the summer. Gremolata is an Italian marinade made from garlic, lemon, olive oil, and whatever herbs your dear wife snips off for you. Once the bird is spatchcocked (easier done than said) and seasoned and the veggies are prepped, this is a pretty no-muss, no-fuss recipe.

The Birds
2 3-5 pound roasting chickens (grill once, eat twice)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh marjoram or parsley
4 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the gremolata by putting the garlic and salt in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken, and give them a whirl until they are well-combined. Add more oil as needed to make a thin paste.

Clean and rinse the chickens, then pat them dry. To spatchcock the bird, set it in front of you, breast side down. Cut up through the backbone with either a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp chef’s knife.

Now spread the bird open like a book and locate the keel bone that sits between the breasts. Nick it with a knife to get it to open up, but don’t cut all the way through. Flip the bird over and press down on the center of the bird until it lies pretty flat.

Rub both sides of the birds with the gremolata,working it under the skin a bit. Set the birds skin side up on a pan (I use a large jellyroll pan) and put them in the fridge, uncovered, for at least an hour. This not only lets the gremolata do its flavorful thing, but also helps dry out the skin a bit so it stays crispy.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium-high (400°F) heat. while the grill is getting up to temp, put the veggies together.

The Veggies
1 pound fingerling potatoes
2 bell peppers, roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh ground back pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes and toss the veggies together in a 9×13 pan (I use an old cake pan, but disposable foil drip pans are good too). Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

The Cook
Set the pan full of veggies on the grill. Place the grill grate on top of the pan and lay the chickens, skin side up, on the grate above the veggies. This way all the chickeny goodness will drip into the veggies as they cook and the steam from the veggies will help keep the chicken moist.

Close the lid and cook the chicken and veggies for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, start checking to see if everything is done. The chicken is done when the juices run clear and the the temperature has reached 160°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh. Pull the veggies early if they finish before the chicken. These were some larger birds and they went 90 minutes before being done.

Remove the birds from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the veggies from the pan to a serving bowl. Quarter the birds for serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
This dish is always a winner – crispy, herby, juicy chicken and really flavorful veggies.  I love that everything goes on the grill together and we get a great meal in under 2 hours. I always try to make enough of this dish that we get plenty of leftovers. with two birds we get dinner for two, a couple of hind quarters for my lunch,  and enough breast meat for enchiladas and chicken salad.

The only thing this dish could have used was another 20 minutes on the grill. The chicken was done, but because it stays so moist this way, I would have liked the dark meat a little more tender.

Blackened Redemption

I’ve been trying all summer to make a decent blackened steak. So far none of the steaks have been complete disasters (although the butter fire was pretty impressive), but they just weren’t that perfect combination of tasty charred crust and warm, juicy center that I’ve been dreaming of.

So when my dear wife brought home this absolute beast of a ribeye, I knew I had the perfect candidate for my next blackening attempt – solid, compact, well over a pound, and damn near 1 3/4 inches thick. It was a steak that almost demanded to be blackened.

I melted a couple of tablespoons on butter on a dinner plate and rolled this bad boy in it to coat all sides. I then liberally dusted the steak with fresh ground back pepper and ground sea salt. I let the steak sit at room temp while I fired up the grill.

I set the Big Green Egg up for a direct cook at a sub-nuclear temp (600°F). When the temp had stabilized I put my Bayou Classic cast iron griddle directly on the grate and let it heat up for about 15 minutes.

I carefully put the steak on the griddle and let the sizzling begin. I let it go for 2 minutes, then flipped it over and went another 2 minutes. I flipped it again and kept flipping the steak about once a minute until I could feel the meat start to firm up a little under the pressure of the tongs.

A quick check with my Thermapen showed 115°F. I wanted it to end up at a nice, pink medium-rare. With a steak this big I knew there would be a lot of carry-over heat, so only needed to hit 120°F internal. I gave it one more minute on the griddle and then set it off to a plate to rest for 15 minutes.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
My dear wife took one bite and said, “This is the best steak you’ve ever made.”

We have a winner!

In fact, I don’t have enough stars for this one. I’ve made lots of tasty steaks in my life, but this one was perfectly done. There was almost no ring of gray, over-done meat at all –  just a thick, tasty char surrounding a tender medium-rare steak. I was planning on serving it with a little bleu cheese sauce, but it was so good we had it eaten before I remembered the sauce.

New Toy Tool – Thermapen Splash-Proof Thermometer

 

I’ve had the older version of this model for a number of years and swear by it – it’s fast, accurate, and easy to read. There’s no better instant-read thermometer out there. In fact, it’s so good that I often find it missing from my grill drawer because my dear wife is using it inside.

About the 4th or 5th time I had to go searching for it, my dear sweet wife said these magic words, “If you can find a deal on another one of those thermo-thingies, get one just for you.”

Whoohoo!

Thermoworks posts deals and give-a-ways on their site. I signed up for the RSS feed from their blog, and within about a month they announced that they had open-box Thermapens for $69 plus shipping. That’s a $20 savings, so I jumped on it.

Performance
The new Thermapen performs much like the older version, and that’s a good thing. It gives you precise internal temperature readings in 3 seconds flat. There is no on or off button, swing the probe out and it’s on (and yes, it was a hot one the day I got it).  The very thin tip slides right into the meat and gives you a reading at the center of the food. The hole it leaves is so small it usually seals up right away and doesn’t let the juices leak out.

The new version adds a splash-proof seal, which is nice since my grill table isn’t as water-proof as I would like. You don’t want to go scuba-diving with it, but it’ll shake off a rain storm. It also has a new bacteria-resistant case to keep you from getting the gleep.

The new probe doesn’t have the old lanyard, but I didn’t miss it. In fact, one of my frustrations with the old probe is getting the probe caught on the strap.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This is a really nice redesign of an already great product. Thermoworks kept all of the features that made the previous version so handy and added a couple of valuable tweeks that I really appreciate. I’ve lost a couple of cheap timers due to water damage, so if the splash-proof seal works as advertised, it’ll more than pay for itself. 

I also dig the bright orange color – easy to find and hard to swipe from my drawer 😉

 

Cucumber Margarita

I feel a bit like a traitor posting this. When it comes to cocktails, I’m a purist – booze, ice, maybe some more booze, and just enough mix so that the first drink doesn’t kill you on the spot.

But when my dear wife and I had lunch the other day at our favorite Mexican restaurants, they had a Cucumber Margarita on the menu. It might have been the fact that it was 95°F outside with 150% humidity, but damn, that actually sounded good.

“Really?” My dear wife gave me a look when I ordered it.

“No, it’s good.” The waitress assured me. “They infuse Cuervo 1800 Silver with cucumbers and then mix it with fresh lime and a little simple syrup.”

The drink arrived on the rocks. It had a pale yellow color and smelled a little like honeydew melon. I took my first sip – wow – summer in a glass! It was a real margarita alright, but with a bright, fresh, green taste and smooth finish.

I offered it to my wife. she took one sip and said with a smile, “Well, we got some cucumbers at the farmers’ market, didn’t we?”

I don’t think I had the car in the garage before she was in the kitchen cutting and pouring.  For our test run we went with one sliced pickling-sized cucumber put in a jelly jar filled with Sauza Añejo and stashed in the fridge for 24 hours.

2 double old fashioned glasses, filled with ice
4 ounces infused tequila, strained (reserve a couple slices for garnish)
Juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
2 ounces simple syrup (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons orange liqueur

Combine tequila, lime juice, syrup, and orange liqueur. Divide into glasses. Top with a cucumber slice and maybe a sprig of fresh mint.

Simple Syrup
Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Stir in 2 cups of granulated sugar. Reduce heat to low and stir just until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat  and let cool.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Were I you, I’d start investing in the cucumber market right now. I think there’s going to be a run on them.

Just 24 hours of infusing pulled all of the bite out of the tequila and replaced it with mellow hints of melon and mint. Almost like Midori, but not so sweet. Very refreshing. I could see a pitcher of these making a summer day just slide right on by.

For the next batch I’d go with a blanco tequila for a little more bite,  and try a 3 to 5 day soak time. Better start cutting the cukes now.

Asian Chicken Salad

Man, it’s HOT out there! Five days in a row with 100+°F heat indexes has really taken its toll. Everyone is miserable and crabby, and nobody wants anything to do with sweating over a hot stove.

Fortunately, I was browsing  Serious Eats and came upon this main-dish-salad from Once Upon a Chef. It’s light, tasty, quick, and the only cooking involved is boiling noodles.  Talk about a life saver.

2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken (I used the leftovers from a store-bought rotisserie bird)
12 ounces spaghetti, broken in half (I used Mrs. Leepers gluten-free corn pasta)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse well under cold water.

Make the dressing by putting the garlic in a food processor and pulsing until the garlic is minced. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, peanut oil, sesame oil, peanut butter, ginger, and sugar, and give them a whirl until they are well-combined.

In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, noodles, dressing, bell peppers, peanuts, and cilantro. Cover and stick in the fridge for 15 minutes. Give it a shake to coat everything, and refrigerate for another 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with a topping of sesame seeds and a drizzle of siracha.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I’ve made versions of this recipe as a side dish before, but it really shines as a dinner salad. The chicken makes it a light, but complete meal. The sauce is rich, creamy and tangy, and there’s plenty of crunch coming from the nuts and veggies.

Next time I might try using no-cook rice noodles and precooked frozen shrimp to make this a completely “no stove required” meal.

Stay cool.

Huli Huli Chicken

This is the Hawaiian version of the Oil Drum Chicken that I love so much. The original recipe was developed in the ’50s by Ernest Morgado in Honolulu, and it became a big hit at local fundraisers where they grill up tons of this sweet/spicy chicken.

Huli means “turn” in Hawaiian. Since there’s a good bit of sugar in the marinade and the chicken is traditionally cooked hot and fast over open charcoal grills, huli huli is a reminder to keep turning the chicken so it doesn’t burn.

8 bone-in, skin-on thighs
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha Rooster sauce

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple (for the baste)

Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken and the pineapple, and give them a whirl until they are well-combined.

Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and coat with the marinade. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium-high (400°F) heat.

Drain chicken and reserve marinade. Pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and add the crushed pineapple. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook until the sauce has reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Pour half the sauce off to baste the chicken with. Refrigerate the other half to serve with the finished chicken.

Put the chicken on the grill skin side down. close the lid and let cook for 20 minutes. Flip and cook for another 20 minutes. Baste both sides with the pineapple mixture, and cook for 10 minutes. Baste both sides one last time and cook for another 10 minutes.

Check chicken for doneness. While chicken is technically done when the internal temperature hits 160°F, the thighs will still be chewy at this point. I like to let them go to at least 180 to 200°F, depending on how crispy the skin is getting.

When the thighs are done, remove to a plate and let them rest for 10 minutes. Serve with the other half of the reserved  pineapple mixture.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
I had some reservation about this dish, as the ingredient list reminded me a little too much of the one for that nasty sweet and sour chicken I grew up with. Thankfully – this was not that dish.  The chicken was sweet and sticky, but nicely balanced with the salty tang of the soy and vinegar. The ginger and hot sauce gave it a spicy kick as well.

My only complaints were that the skin wasn’t as crispy as I like and that it could have used even more heat. Another 10 minutes on the grill and an additional squirt of Sriracha should fix both of those issues. Also, I might do this with a raised direct setup next time. Cooking it with indirect heat saved me from smoky flareups and charring, but I think this dish could stand a bit of that.