Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good Old Smoking Ribs

I decided to take the UDS that I received from the NorCal BBQ Brethren for a spin today, and loaded a few items of meat into smoke. I decided I was going to want some dinner and since I was running smoke, I went with some baby back ribs. This is a pretty unusual smoke for me, as there are no exotic ingredients, no unusual preparations or techniues, just unwrap meat, trim membranes and fat and rub.

Beautiful color and shine

Nothing fancy, I used some Simply Marvelous Cherry and Simply Marvelous Sweet and Spicy, let it sit while the UDS came to temperature. Onto the smoke at 3:30pm, off the smoke at 7:00pm. I used a mix of lump, Kingsfrod and Royal Oak briquettes, along with some apple and hickory for flavor.

Great color and texture

It all ran along at 235F per the lid thermo, I figure closer to 275F based upon cooking time. I went to bend them, the larger rack bent perfectly, the smaller rack split, woops, time to pull and eat.

I think I could compete with these

As can be seen, color was great, I went with some leftover Bart's Blazin' Q sauce from my friend Dave Bart, he is making a great sauce and it worked fantastic on the ribs. I loved the spicy and balanced flavor. This really reminded me of why I learned to cook over a live fire, there is no substitute for pulling these off the cooker and eating from the kitchen counter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More About Pies

So the last post got a little long winded (what? No, you long winded? Never!) So, here is what went into the crusts. In keeping with my tendency to not follow any instructions what so ever (yes, there were detailed instructions in the last post, I left off the detours for, um, the sake of brevity) I made these roughly based upon the written recipes on the black cover sheet of my copy of Joy of Cooking.

For the pumpkin pies, 4 organic free-range Sugar pie pumpkins were split, seeded, roasted in 1/2" of water, scooped out and mashed. I chose to do this by hand, a potato masher works too. For two pies the following was combined:

5 cups roased mashed pumpkin
2.5 cups evaporated milk
1 cups whole cream
1/4 cup XO cognac (it's all I had okay?)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup unbleached organic fine turbinado sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
5 eggs, slightly whipped

I vigouroulsy whip all of the ingredients to thoroughly blend. I use a stiff ballon whisk and a large bowl, really give it a beating. I then filter the custard through I medium fine sieve to remove any egg or solids that did not go smoothly into the custard batter. This is then refigerated while crusts are rolled. Chilled custard into a chilled crust set into a room temperature pie pan, do not put chilled glass into the oven.

For the apple pies, who knows how many pounds of fresh apples were processed for the two pies. I went and bought Granny Smiths, Fujis, Braeburns and one other variety which the name escapes me, there were 1 plastic bag of each, except for the Fujis, where there were two bags. All were peeled and cored, kept in acidulated water and then spiced as follows:

1 very large bowl of chopped apples
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup organic fine grind unbleached sugar
1/2 cup bourbon (single barrel small batch bourbon, it's all I had)
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg, allspice and mace
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

All was mixed together and allowed to sit overnight. This was just to give me more time on Thanksgiving to get the pies rolled and baked.

All pies were baked initially at 425F for 10 minutes, then oven was lowered to 325F and remaining time ranged from 35 to 45 minutes until pies were done. For apple pies, I go by color, for pumpkin, I go by a clean knife test.

These pies were quite good, I really like spiking the pie fillings, it just adds one more layer of flavor to the filling.


For Thanksgiving, I was invited to my sister's in-laws for dinner, so no smoking turkey for me. I did decided to make some pies, in this case, two pumpkin and two apple pies for the dessert. I use an old recipe, I learned from my Uncle Roy, whose dad learned to make the crust while in a WW2 Concentration Camp for Japanese citizens and residents. The chef, according to family lore, had been a pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel just before the war but had been repurposed in life as the head cook for the camp. He had no more idea to cook for hundreds of folks, than my uncle's father had to make pie, but, my uncles father had run a cafeteria in Fresno prior to the war, so agreements were made. And I can make a great pie crust.

Grandpa Sahara's pie crust:
12 cups AP flour
6 cups shortening (I use 3 cups each butter and shortening)
1/2 tablespoon fine salt (I use sea salt)
8 tablespoons sugar (I use fine organic unbleached sugar)
2 cups iced water (this measurement is wrong, by the way)

1. Cut shortening into small pieces, I actually like to use my hands and pinch it into flakes.

2. Place shortening in freezer to cool for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Blend dry ingredients, I use a ballon whisk to make sure it blends thoroughly.

4, Pinch in the shortening into the flour. I use two spatulas to cut it in initially, then pinch the granular mix to create the final mixture. It needs to remain cold. Chilling everything, including tools, helps a lot. I am going for an appearance of fine gravel with some coarse sand texture.

5. Start adding small amount of water, folding or stirring with a silicon or wetted wood spoon. Eventually, there will be some gluten that develops, fear not, get it all moistened until it will form a crumbly ball. It should not hold to a ball shape.

Note: It often takes more than two cups, sometimes more than three cups. It matters how old your flour is, how dry it is, how much moisture is in the air etc... I chill three cups of water, add one cup to begin with drizzled over the entire mixture then add 1/4 cup at a time until I get the gravel appearance I want. Oh, I don't always do this in a bowl. If you have a large stone or concrete counter, it is a better surface.

I know divide the dough into 6 to 8 pieces, form them into disks using a sheet of plastic wrap for each piece, a flattened disk works best. If the dough seems dry, a spritz of water is not a bad idea. Wrap tightly, I double wrap. Then into the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. I then use a technique called 'frisage' to create large flakes of dough, which I then laminate back into a single dough disk, by combining, compressing back into disk form and back into parchment paper and into the fridge for several more hours, This creates streaks or layers of fat and flour, leading to a more flaky crust.

Frisage Flakes


Wrapped for long rest

I did overnight this time, really great, as the dough moisture evens our, the flour hydrates, the glutens relax and you end up with silky, elastic dough to work with. Done right, this dough is a dream to work with, rarely sticks to the pin and never tears.

I prefer rolling dough out on a floured rolling cloth, I had to use baking parchment this year, as I ruined my cloth by using it to strain hash browns and it never got clean again. A little sprinkle of flour onto the cloth, onto the dough disk and onto the rolling pin. Roll, rotate, roll, rotate, you get a round circle for the pan.

Rolled and ready

Here is the reason I like the underlayment of a cloth of parchment paper, I can slide the pin under the underlayment and pick the dough up easily, it then drapes over the pie plate or filled pie shell easily. Actually, when I really get it right with this dough, I can handle it like pizza dough almost. I doubt you can see it in this photo, but, there are actual flakes of shortening visible in the rolled dough. In the following photo, you can see the drape and elasticity of the dough much better.

Dough in place

This post had gotten a tad long, but, this really makes a great forgiving dough, a flaky and tender crust and that is, for me, what pies are all about.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

UDS and Pork

As mentioned in another post, this past weekend, I was cooking at a gathering called a Brethren Bash. As it happens, these fools actually trusted me to organize the Bash last year and this. Amazingly, it happened again and I think it worked out great. One of the great plusses and a real surprise was the gift to me of a custom UDS (ugly drum smoker) with beautiful wood handles from AML Woodart. Marty at AML Woodart makes some beautiful handles for various Weber and BGE products, has is also a master wood worker who I will eventually hire to make me a custom cutting board base. But, for now, here is my new UDS.
It actually has my name carved into the top handle and the phrase Itadakimasu in the handles. Many younger Japanese and non-Japanese who have been taught stateside think this phrase means let's eat. It actually mean 'I humbly receive'. And I can tell you, I am humbled that they gave me one of these, I consider these UDS cookers to be amazing for smoking meats, especially briskets. And the UDS was already seasoned, so I was good to go. I was planning on cooking three racks of baby backs and 2 pounds of pork steaks, so, I had meat and a cooker. Let's take her for a run. I loaded about 3 pounds of charcoal into the basket, fired up the coals with a weedburner and let it settle. Every UDS is a little different, the first fews cooks can be problematic, this one locked in at 235F and ran there for 5 hours.

I was trying a new rub out, with a goal of ultimately leveraging this rub into a completely different dish. The rub mix is based upon the spicing of Islamic Chinese traditions, except I used pork, which means this is more Turkish Chinese ribs. I used a variety of spices, including:

allspice berries

whole black peppercorns
whole white peppercorns
5-Spice (yes, I am lazy)
fennel seeds
cumin seeds
coriander seeds
cinnamon stick
Harissa mix
Kosher salt

Toast and grind to a powder. Coat the ribs, wrap tightly and allow to sit for an hour. Then recoat with Santa Maria rub and a second coat of the Spice rub.

These went onto the top rack for 3 hours, then the pork steaks went on and another two hours passed. I decided to go with Simpy Marvelous Sweet and Spicy rub for the pork steaks. This is one of my favorite rubs for making good BBQ with pork. It is truly my go to product. The meats came off at the same time, looking like this.
There were, oddly, no cut rib shots. But, the rubs is really what I was looking for. Ultimately, the rub will be used on lamb ribs for a brasied and smoked dish. For proof of concept though, these ribs had a great balance, complex spicing and a real kick on the finish from the Harissa and white pepper. Both meats did not disappoint for the first run on my new smoker.

Parking Lot Bread

Last weekend found me attending an event called The NorCal Brethren Bash, wherein a bunch of us who have met on a BBQ forum called The BBQ Brethren gather, meet each other face to face and cook and eat ridiculous amounts of food. One of the interesting things that happen at these events is that folks who might otherwise stick to regular meats and preparations start to experiment, learn new techniques or just get new insights to what other folks are doing. It also happens, that we end up cooking in a parking lot. I decided to make bread, sausage bread (the test run was posted here).

I started a week ahead of time, by making a simple poolish of commercial yeast, 1/2 cup honey pale ale, 1 cup warm water and 1/2 cup AP flour. This was allowed to sit on the counter for a week, lightly covered with plastic wrap to prevent flies and dust. I feed 2 tablespoons of flour to the poolsih every day, along with 1/4 cup chlorine free water. Something about cooking at remote sites when you are not organized or thorough, you forget things. Like yeast, measuring cups, spoons, scales and a pizza stone. No matter, who needs to measure?

So, I arrive and start to prepare the dough, realize I have only 2 cups of one week old poolish and loads of flour, a large bowl and some bottle water and kosher salt. I do have a recipe, but, of course, since I do not have a scale or cups, what does that matter. I start with what I think is 2 cups Bread flour, 1 cup AP flour, 1 bottle of water and the poolish. Mix until stiff, add a little water, little flour, more water, more flour, soon I have been mixing and kneading in the bowl (apparently the only piece of equipment I felt I needed, that and an oven pan). Eventually I end up with what looks like bread dough. Proof for 15 minutes. I retuen to see it is rising, time to really knead. I use a method that requires kneading for 5 minutes, resting for 2, repeat 4 times. Yes, 20 minutes of kneading, in a parking lot, on a folding table. I then let it rise, in a cool spot, covered in an oiled bowl for 4 hours.

Meanwhile, I started the smoking of 1 pound of Italian sausage. I also diced up a couple green and red bell peppers, a medium yellow onions and many cloves of garlic. These all went into the oven pan and got smoked for an hour. Low and slow veggies get so sweet and aromatic. I crumbled the smoked sausage and mixed with the vegetables.

After four hours of the second rise/proof, the bread dough was spread out, a healthy layer of stuffing and cheese were added and the dough was rolled onto a loaf. A stupidly large loaf that was nearly 3 feet long. It was beautiful, excpept it would not fit onto the cooker. Dang! I had to hack my perfect loaf in two.
It was cooked on a Big Green Egg Large, at 350Fish, since I am not really a baker, who cares about perfect temperature, it was somewhere around there for most of the cook. It did take a while, almost an hour until I got a couple of these off the cooker.
It sure looks like bread, it sure smelled like bread. I wonder...the biggest issues I have seen with stuffed breads is that the stuffings add a lot of moisture inside the loaf, which can affect the texture, often giving bread a sense of being undercooked. Not desirable. The particular process, even horribly mangled like I did this time, results in a very elastic texture, a crisp skin and a moist interior that seems to not be affected by the stuffing. I actually love this type of bread, it reminds me of the best San Francisco breads of my youth.
This bread was really a successful cook for me, despite rampant lack of organization, the bread was perfect in texture and had a wonderful flavor.