A Little Turkey Dinner

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving! We traveled to see family, so I had one of those rare meals where I got to be a guest. All I had to do was bring a side dish and carve the bird. It was a very relaxing trip. When we got back, my dear wife wanted just a little Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us, so I decided to try a boneless turkey breast.

1 (3-pound) boneless turkey breast (buy a prepared one, or ask your butcher to debone and net a fresh one)
1-2 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (Tasty Licks Ribit Rub in this case)

I set the Big Green egg up for an indirect cook at 300°F using an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat. While the grill was coming up to temp, I dusted the breast heavily on all sides with the barbecue rub.

When the grill was ready, I added a chunk of pecan wood for smoke, and when the smoke turned from white to blue, I loaded the breast on the grate.

I cooked the breast, turning every 30 minutes, until the internal temp hit 155°F – about 1 1/2 hours total. I moved it off to a cutting board and let it rest for 15 minutes before removing the netting and slicing.

I served the turkey up with some sautéed green beans  and the polenta dressing left over from our big family meal.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
Very tasty – the turkey picked up a lot of the flavor from the smoke and the rub and was nice and juicy. I’m thinking about doing up a couple more of these and then running them through the meat slicer for sandwiches. To keep the costs down, I’m probably going to have to learn to bone and net my own bird. This video shows how to do it with a leg of lamb, but same idea.

The Nutrition:
If we’re just talking about the green beans and the turkey, life is good – 3 ounces of skin-on turkey breast is only 2 Weight Watchers points and the green beans are (mostly) free. Dare not, however, try to figure out the points for the dressing. I did and it made the poor little points calculator cry. Definitely a dish for special occasions.

Pseudo Fries – Roasted Delicata Squash

My thanks to the fine folks over at She Cooks He Cleans for this tasty dish. I love delicata squash, and always buy a couple whenever I can find them, but I had no idea that the skin on them was edible.

3 delicata squash
Olive oil
1-2 teaspoons chili powder (ancho or aleppo works great)
1-2 teaspoons sea salt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Wash the squash off, trim off the ends, and split the squash lengthwise. Use a tablespoon to scoop the seeds out of each half.

Slice the squash crosswise into french fry-sized wedges. Arrange the wedges on a sheet pan and spray them with a little olive oil (the Misto Olive Oil Sprayer makes this easy). Sprinkle with salt and chili powder.

Roast for about 30 minutes, until they brown up a bit and get soft on the inside.

The joy of the new Weight Watchers points system is that veggies like squash are free (like in beer, wait… beer has points? Never mind.). I figure I used about a teaspoon of oil (the sprayer is great for cutting down on the fat), so you could eat the whole dish and it’s still only 1 point.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
While you won’t mistake them for steak frites, they are very, very good and remind me a lot of sweet potato fries. I plan on making these again soon as a side dish and maybe as an appetizer with (just a little) dip.

A McRib it Ain’t


It is astonishing that a company can throw a load of chemical crap together and still call it food.

Well, there’s no restructured meat product, ammonium sulfate, polysorbate 80, or azodicarbonamide here. Just some fine smoked rib meat picked off the bones from the Minimalist Rib cook, shredded a bit, loaded onto an Udi’s gluten-free bun, and topped with a little Honey Hog barbecue sauce.


Minimalist Ribs

Every so often you just need to break a recipe down to the basics. I make some fine ribs (if I do say so myself), but I think I’m starting to get mired down in all the bells and whistles – mustard slather, spice rubs, misting, foiling, 3-2-1, saucing, blah, blah, blah…

In an attempt to pare down the ribs to their smoky/savory/tender essence, here’s my minimalist recipe:

3 racks of baby-back ribs
Fresh-ground sea salt
Fresh-ground back pepper

I set the Big Green Egg up for a raised direct cook at 300°F. I didn’t use a plate setter to diffuse the heat, but did use a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the heat.

While the Egg was getting up to temp, I seasoned both sides of the ribs with the salt and pepper. Yep – nothing but salt and pepper. And just a moderate coating, as you can see, they weren’t caked with seasoning.

I put in a good sized chunk of apple wood for smoke, and when the smoke changed from white (bad) to blue (good), I put the ribs on bone side down for an hour, then flipped them and let them go for another hour.

I figured it would take about 3 hours at 300°F, but when I flipped them at the 2 hour mark they were already showing signs of being done – the slabs started to crack when I picked up one end with a pair of tongs and the meat had also started to pull back from the bones. I left them on, bone side down, for another 30 minutes. By the time they hit the 2 1/2 hour mark they were so done that it was tough to take them off the grate in one piece.

I let the ribs rest for 10 minutes and served them dry with some Honey Hog Sauce on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
I gotta admit, I was surprised at how good these ribs tasted right off the bone – no sauce or anything. They were smoky and tender and very flavorful. They even had a pretty good bark (that crispy crust on the outside) from just the salt and pepper.

Would the ribs have been better if I had slathered/rubbed/basted/foiled/glazed them? Sure, but not necessarily a whole lot better. The ribs and smoke are bringing the majority of the flavor to the party all by themselves. The rest is mostly window dressing. Tasty window dressing, true, but simple recipes like this sometimes show you just how little tweaking and fussing the basic ingredients really need.

I knocked off half a point because the doneness across the ribs was a little uneven – the leaner flat end was pretty crispy while the fatter curved end could have used another 30 minutes on the grill. This might have been from using raised direct heat, but it also might have been from using smaller ribs that showed a big difference in thickness from one end to the other.

The Nutrition:
While ribs won’t ever be diet food, these weren’t that bad – 460 calories for 8 ounces of meat (4 to 6 bones worth), 12 Weight Watchers points. Leaving out the sugary rubs and serving them dry with the sauce on the side helped to cut a lot of carbs. Rather than the traditional sides, we lightened it up with corn (frozen from this summer) and cauliflower fauxtatos – look for a pre-Thanksgiving post on this great (borrowed) idea.

Shrimp & Chicken Fajitas

I had really hoped to make this dish on the Big Green Egg using a cast iron griddle, but the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. I ended up cooking it on the griddle (highly recommended) on the stove top (not so highly recommended).

It looks like there are a lot of moving pieces here, but if you are organized you can put this on the table in about an hour and a half.

The Chicken
4 boneless/skinless chicken thighs, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce

Put the garlic cloves and salt in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the lime juice, pepper, cumin, chili powder, soy sauce, olive oil, and hot sauce and give everything a whirl until it is well-combined.

Pour half of the marinade over the chicken, toss to coat, and stash in the fridge for at least an hour, but not longer than 4 hours. Reserve the other half of the marinade in the fridge for later.

The Shrimp
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon achiote oil
1 tablespoon Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce

Pour the  oil and hot sauce over the shrimp and toss to coat. Stash in the fridge while you prep the veggies.

The Veggies
3 large bell peppers (assorted colors are pretty) cut into strips
1 medium onion, chopped
3 gloves garlic, crushed and chopped
3 scallions, roughly chopped

The veggies will pick up plenty of flavor from the griddle, so I didn’t season them at all.

The Cook
Think of the griddle as a flat wok – you want to get it hot and move the food on and off it quickly. So have all of your ingredients, and a large (pre-warmed if possible) serving platter arranged in front of you before you start.

Center the griddle over your largest/hottest burner on the stove (or across 2 burners if you have a large rectangular griddle) and heat over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.

Swirl a couple of glugs of peanut oil on the griddle and let heat until it starts to shimmer (about 2 minutes). Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from the marinade and arrange it on the griddle.

Let the chicken sear for about 2 minutes and then flip it over and let it cook for another minute or so until done (I like using a set of tongs for this).

Remove the chicken to the platter and put the veggies on the griddle. Cook these until they soften and start to char a bit, about 5 minutes (or until your smoke alarm goes off like ours did). Pour just a couple of tablespoons of water on the griddle to de-glaze it and steam the veggies a bit. Use a spatula here to scrape up the brown bits and work them into the veggies.

Remove the veggies to the platter and add the shrimp to the griddle. Cook these just until they turn pink and start to curl (about a minute), flip and cook the other side for another minute.

Remove the shrimp to the platter and drizzle the whole thing with the reserved marinade. Serve with warm tortillas and guacamole.

Lean meat and tons of veggies, what’s not to love? Just watch how many glugs of oil you use and go light on the tortillas and guac. Makes 6 (1 1/2 cup) servings. 270 calories. 6 Weight Watchers points.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
An outstanding weeknight dish. The griddle gave everything a nice char and the Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce added a little heat with a lot of slightly sweet smokiness. Th achiote oil was subtle, but it added a richness that helped round out all the flavors.

While the griddle did its smoky/searing job, it was a little too much for the vent fan in the kitchen. Between the smoke and the splatter, this would have worked at lot better outside on the grill.

Achiote Oil

Why does some Mexican food taste so much better when we have it dining out versus making the same dish at home? Part of the secret may be achiote oil.

Annatto seeds (achiote in Spanish) are deep red seeds with a great rich earthy/nutty taste. They make up the base of achiote pastes and sazón seasonings that give many Mexican dishes a wonderful depth. Cooking the annatto seeds in a hot neutral oil for a few minutes infuses it with all that wonderfulness and gives you and easy way to bump up the color and flavor of a dish.

1 tablespoon annatto seeds
1/2 cup peanut oil

Heat the oil and annatto seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat until the seeds just start to sizzle. Hold the sizzle, swirling the oil often, for 1 minute and then move off the heat and let it cool. Don’t cook the seed much longer than this or they will burn, turn bitter, and make the oil green (yuck).

Carefully strain the oil (annato is used as a food dye, so it will stain just about anything it touches) into a glass jar (I use an old hot sauce bottle).  Store on the counter top for up to 4 days and in the fridge for at up to a month.

Use a little achiote oil to  add a deep flavor and color to almost any dish. It’s traditional in yellow rice, but it’s also a nice base to sauté some garlic and onions in for veggie dishes, or I like to use it as part of a marinade for seafood.

One Fire – Many Meals

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.

Not bad for a little extra work.

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