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Friday, June 25, 2010

BBQ supply shops

I know, no pictures, didn't happen. But, it did.  Today I visited Jimmy James BBQ Pro Shop in Redding, California, a few weeks ago, I had the chance to swing by Greenleaf BBQ in Livermore, California.  This is of note because of the fact that these shops are located in California, not an area known for BBQ.  These types of shops offer a broader line of smaller production and lesser known BBQ products that are too easily ignored by the larger retail stores.  Until recently, in order to gain access to many of the BBQ rubs and sauces, I had to resort to mail order or accepting less than what I wanted.  Now, I have access to quality charcoals, rubs and sauces when I need them.

This doesn't mean I can abandon the internet for acquiring the latest and greatest all the time, but, it is boon for those of use whose passion is outdoor grilling and smoking.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Classic Rib Steak

Tonight I went with a classic, a steak on the Weber Kettle, something that has happened in backyards all over America for generations. Since I was a kid, the ritual of firing up the BBQ and putting on some steaks was held up as the epitome of the American good life. Today's incarnation was no different, a lovely 1/2 pound Naturewell rib steak.  While not a 'choice' grade, as you can see this meat did not want for marbling, more importantly, I have found that steaks from this company are always of good quality, taste and have a slight chewy quality. Things I look for in a good steak.
I decided to put on a little Simply Marvelous Cherry BBQ rub, this is one of the best tasting pre-made BBQ rubs I have tried and it is a staple for pork and chicken, today it was a light coating to create a little background to the kosher salt and medium grind black pepper I out on as a top rub. Here it that mess.
This was not a very thick steak, and it seemed very little was necessary but a good high heat searing and 2 to 3 minutes on each side. No grill marks, just a little char for looks and taste and to render out some fat. Here is the grill shot.
Hopefully you can see a little of the fire from the combination of lump and oak briquettes that ended up in the kettle.  This is the kettle at full flame, no brakes, burn it up heat.  I really want this steak to cook in just a few minutes. Plated with some peas and pearl onions for the side. Since I am over-eating with the steak, I cut back on the sides.  It really wanted creamed spinach, but, I was too lazy.
And sauteed shiitake mushrooms, that would have been great, some creamed spinach and sauteed shiitake, why don't I think of these things before I eat dinner.  As you can see, using the poke with your finger method, this steak came out just medium rare, right where I want a good steak to be sitting at.
I use the old trick of poking at the meat, yes, this is more exciting when a pile of flaming briquettes are inches under the steak, and your hand, but, you want a properly done steak right?  Getting back to the whole poking at a steak, you poke the steak in the middle and feel for resistance. If the meat is sorta furry and pushes back, you forgot to kill the steer.  What you want for medium rare is a slight resistance than an easy give. A firm feel with hard center is well done (and ruined). If it gives immediately, it is rare, probably too rare.

Tonight's dinner beverage was home made spiced cherry soda. Yes, more of the cherry syrup from the BBQ sauce experiments, this time mixed with sparkling water. Home made soda water is something I highly recommend.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Birthday

An interesting, at least to me, little fact of this world is that tomorrow is the 49th anniversary of my birth.  For many reasons that are not germain to this discussion, I mark this year, the last year of my 40's with a great deal of joy, of genuine happiness, for still being here to celebrate this date.  I will, when I awaken tomorrow miss my mom and dad terribly, for this was really their day, they paid the real price in my birth,  my upbringing and any success I may have stumbled upon along the way. Even more so, for my dad and I shared the same day, June 10 for the first 47 years of my life.

I started this blog to document the journey of my life in food, unlike so many who come to a passion for food in time, I have been passionate about food all of my life.  I have had many things that have drawn my time and energy, but, good food and drink, time with family and friends and the pure joy of sharing something that I find amazing with others has been a joy all of my life. I have come to realize this blog is not an instructional tutorial on how to make the perfect tri-tip, or find the perfect ingredient. It is a way for me to extend my joy of food and life to others that I may never meet.

So tonight, dinner was a very simple affair, eaten at the keyboard.  A beer (Sierra Nevade Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale) and a pizza prepared from ground beef, fresh zuchinni and onion, all cooked on a griddle and broiled to finish. Simple food freshly made, no clever staging, nothing but the food. Here is what it looked like.
Nothing fancy, really a simple, honest, nourishing and satisfying meal, a symbol of what I want from my life from here on forward. Bread and ale, a little meat and veggies, nothing that could not be found laying about in any place, anywhere in the world. You cannot believe how good this meal is. As for the mess, there is always time to clean, this meal wanted attention now, it was of the moment, as are we.

Of the moment, as I sit here, several friends are battling cancer, others are recovering and face that great unknown.  As for me, I was told that I had a good chance of not seeing 30. That is one heck of a thing to tell a 26 year old man who was just beginning to feel his abilities and strengths really blossoming. Many years of illness followed, of physical tests that were beyond any I could have imagined as an athlete or worker. And here I am, almost to the moment that I turn 49 years old, hearing so many I know belabor the crawl of time, and I cannot feel that sadness, for I am of this moment, here and now, alive and looking forward to whatever comes next. Planning my next meal, this simplest of acts is the very germ of optimism, the expectation that I will be here, ready for more nourishment, looking for what next I may take into myself.

And so like knowledge, like love and passion, the depths of our despair and joy of our victory, I refuse to see this coming sunrise, to a new time and place some sort of sentence to death, or excuse to falter and fail. I welcome this time, not for some lame declaration of wisdom somehow absorbed through the grace to time or as no more than an accident of fate, but, as a gift to see all the comes before me. Be it the perfectly cooked brisket or a time when I can sit with all of my family and friends once again to live and relive our lives. Not those glorious times when we shone most brilliant, but, the bread and ale times, when we have the small conversations, about life and how glad we are that we were here together, for this moment.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tri-tip and 'catering'

A long time ago I was a kitchen professional, I gave this a serious thought or two about what kind of life this could be.  In the end, I decided that cooking was not my lifetime career, it has remained a passion, as has the act of feeding others.  This past weekend, I was asked to cook for a small party of 55 or so.  I got a case of excellent wine from Clark Claudon Winery in Napa Valley. I will mention, if you have not tried this little known winery, the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are beautiful expressions of Mountain Wines sourced from just below Howell Mountain along Pope Valley.

Now to the BBQ, I was asked to prepare quite the meat variety pack with burgers, hot dogs, sausages, chicken and tri-tip. I would guess somewhere upwards of 30 pounds of meat.  I was provided 3 Weber Genesis gas units to cook on and a nice kitchen for preparation work. The tri-tips are the subject here, as I have been using a 'new to me' method for cooking tri-tips. Time for a picture...
Would you like tri-tip that looks like this?  I have been working with this method for the past nine tri-tips I have cooked, one four different cookers with every one coming out like this.  It starts with apple and oak smoke, I run the cooker at 250F and I smoke the tri-tip for 2 hours. I will lower the heat if necessary to keep the internal temperature below 120F. After two hours, I will raise the temperature in the cooker to high heat and sear the surface of the meat.  If I have kept the interior below 120F, this works to carmelize the surface and create another layer of flavor while keeping the meat medium rare. Time for another photo, check out the moist texture...
This meat stayed moist even once it was served buffet style. I generally do  not like to serve tri-tip buffet style as it can dry out and cool down quickly, leaving an undesirable presentation and texture. This stays moist and melting tender even when cold. This is now my standard method for preparing tri-tip, replacing my old method of grilling tri-tips over oak fire, the more traditional Santa Maria style I originally learned.  I just really like the ease and repeatability of this method. Here is the parting shot.
Here is a link to Clark Claudon Winery, if you like a California wine with the backbone of Calfornia without the jammy profile, you want to look these folks up.  Clark Claudon Wines

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Beef Chuck Ribs

I found some beef chuck ribs at the butcher shop the other day. The butcher had kept them untrimmed so that they could cut them to order for whoever might buy them.  For those unfamiliar with these, they are often cut into short ribs, flanken ribs and gal-bi style butterflied ribs. These were about 12" long and from Niman Ranch, good quality beef. Here they are fresh from the butcher wrap.
As you can see, they are loaded with fat, connective tissue and meat, probably a meal for 5 there. Anyways, ignoring the fact I was cooking these for myself, I rubbed them down with a rub based upon my pork rub, heavy on the chile and savory components and without the sugar I would normally add to this rub. The reason for this later.  I then used my usual 'Top Rub' as a second rub after 10 minutes of letting the first rub cure up.  I had the kettle rolling along at 250F, or so I thought! Anyway, here are the ribs on the kettle.
 Now, it has been a while since I was on the kettle and much to my surprise, I did not set the vents correctly and had the kettle rocking at 400F after letting it run for 60 minutes or so. Bummer!  Still, set the vents for 225F and get the cook under control, this can still be saved. And, indeed, it was. Here they are out of the kettle along with an ear of corn that I cooked on the coals. I had unwrapped the corn, rubbed with a little butter and some BBQ rub. Then wrap and place on the coals. Yes, on them.
Look at that color, that is from the sauce. I dug out the cherry syrup I made for the cake and decided, why not, it was good on cake. I know, flawless, next week I BBQ with buttercream!  Anyway, I glazed with the cherry syrup for the last 15 minutes, at 225F and got this lovely red color. The flavor was excellent on the beef, you get the spice from the aromatics in both the rub and the sauce and then the top note of cherry sweetness and fruit profile.  This would totally kill with Simply Marvelous Cherry Rub, if I had any left. I go through more of that stuff... So here is a cut shot, showing the meat grain, smoke ring and just how juicy these were.  I really could not be happier with these. I also feel that the full length of the rib made it easier to cook and much more moist than the smaller cuts, this is defnieietly that way to cook this part of the chuck.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cherry Sauce Test

Tonight I did not feel like getting out there and firing up the kettle. But, I wanted to try a new idea for a sauce. I had about half a pound of fresh cherries to work with.  I decided to start with boiling the cherries in a quart of water with spices. Then I added some cider vinegar and a little more water to top up the pot to about half a gallon, this was boiled to reduce again by half, to create a syrup. After the syrup was boiled down by half, I decided it needed to be a little bit thicker, so I cooked some cornstarch slurry and added a tablespoon to thicken the sauce a little.

I had seasoned some chicken thighs with a quick home made rub, trying to keep the flavors simple. There may have been too much chile, which affected the ability to taste the sauce in some bites.  I was able to find some chicken that did not have the chile pepper fortunately.

Here is the chicken, on the left is glazed with the sauce in the oven, then sauced upon removal. The chicken on the right was glazed in the oven but not sauced after removal. just checking to see if it would shine.
Here is a close up of the chicken and a splash of the sauce to show the color of the sauce on a white background.  It had a nice red color and a very nice profile, it had a very nice balance of sweet and sour flavors. I think I will be able to use this on meats that I grill with Asian profiled rubs quite well.

Cherry Sauce
1/2 pound cherries, unpitted, stemmed
1 quart water
2 star anise whole
5 whole cloves
8 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
Bring all ingredients except cherries to a boil, add crushed cherries to boiling water and boil uncovered until reduced by half. Drain and squeeze cherries to remove all liquid. Return to pot.

1 quart water
1 pint cider vinegar
1/8 cup brown sugar
Bring pressed cherry sauce to boil, add water, sugar and vinegar to pot and reduce at simmer by 1/4 to 1/2 fluid volume. Determine if the sauce has the appropriate consistency, if not, add two tablespoons corn starch to 1 pint of water and bring to boil for two to three minutes, add a little at a time to thicken sauce while on simmer. Remove when a little thinner than desired as it will thicken as it cools.