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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Roasted Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes, and Olives with Feta Cheese for the Smoker

When I go to Germany, this is a go to meal when I am tiring of all that heavy German cuisine.  It is also  a great way to deal with your garden veggies for which you probably have run out of ideas for use and consumption.  In Germany, this is called Shaftkase mit Peperoni and Knoblach (Sheep Cheese with Peppers and Garlic).  I call it delicious!

First, I brought the smoker up to 350 F, no wood in the ash pan for flavoring.  Then, I sliced some onion and jalapeno, then added in some pitted Kalamata and green olives, plus two whole cloves of garlic.  Then, I seeded and rough diced some pickled pepperoncini and mixed everything in a bowl with some sea salt and olive oil.  This mix was placed in a cast iron skillet and put on the smoker for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, I added a slab of fresh feta cheese and Roma tomatoes, sliced into quarters.

Then, I put back in the smoker for 30 more minutes and served hot with crusty Italian bread on the side.

The feta does not melt, but it has a slight brown color on top and is soft enough to spread.  The veggies are tender crisp, the olives are lightly roasted, and so are the tomatoes.  I place a little bit of everything on crusty bread and dig in.  Once the good stuff is gone, make sure you have enough bread to sop up all of that garlic and pepper flavored oil.  This is a nice, light summertime meal.

Thanks for stopping by,


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hudson Valley Ribfest 2013. NEBS Competition

As always at Hudson Valley, Saturday is NEBS competition day.  Categories this year were the usual two traditional for Hudson Valley, pizza and apple dessert.  In addition, the other two categories were Wrapped in Bacon and Shrimp.  Lets move on to the scores and entries.

Here are our scores for this years contest:

As you can see, a mixed bag of results.

As we posted on here before, we came up with a really nice Chicken Fajita Pizza.  So, we decided to enter this pie in the competition this year.

Being made.

Final result.

The above entry was good for a 143.3828 and 22nd out of 26 teams.  I guess people in the Hudson Valley don't like Mexican flavors.  One of the veteran teams said that you cannot go too far out of the box.  They need a baseline for comparison.  Maybe the enchilada sauce was asking too much.  So, this pizza is retired as an entry in competition.

Next up was Wrapped in Bacon.  We decided to use the Country Ribs, Wrapped in Bacon recipe that we posted on the blog a few weeks ago.  Here were the results.

Is that bacon garnish you ask?  Yes it is.  At the last minute, we decided to ditch the lettuce and take advantage of the open garnish rule in NEBS.  Hope put together a bacon weave and we cooked it on the smoker.  Here is the weave on its own.

Truthfully, I was apprehensive.  I was afraid it would crumble after cooking.  But, Hope came through and we scored well in appearance with 5 9's and an 8.  Plus, it was edible!  The above box scored a 166.8344, good for 7th out of 26.

Next up was apple dessert, our past nemesis.  This year, we went with an apple blond brownie.  Here is the recipe we found.  Here are the results.

The brownies were dense and moist.  The light dollop of cream cheese frosting was perfect along with the fried apple slices.  We have finally found an apple dessert that will work in a competition.  All we need to do is work on a dessert garnish.  Any ideas folks?  The above box was good for a 165.7028 and 9th out of 26.  Kudos go to Sandy with All Fired Up and Kicking Ash who took third with a Butterscotch Apple Cheesecake that was to die for.

Last up was grilled shrimp.  We decided to enter a nice grilled shrimp taco.

We prepared a chili lime marinade for the shrimp and grilled for two minutes a side.  Tortillas were grilled to a light crispiness.  Shrimp was layered with grated queso blanco and fresh salsa.  Unfortunately, we finished DAL with these.  We scored a 141.0628, good for 26th out of 26th.  Some of it was taste, some of it was that we think the salsa started to make the tortilla soggy while sitting in the box.  Lesson learned.  Our neighbor team, Ribs Within, entered an outstanding grilled shrimp presented in a shot glass with a horseradish Bloody Mary shot.  I loved it, but as stated before, it was a bit to outside the box.

Overall, we scored a 616.9828, good for 20th out of 26.  Some good, some bad.  We learned and will move on for future contests.

Thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hudson Valley Ribfest 2013. A Breakthrough of Sorts.

This past weekend Three Dogs BBQ competed in the Hudson Valley Ribfest in New Paltz, NY.  We took part in the Saturday NEBS competition and the Sunday KCBS competition.  More on the NEBS later.  Lets get down to the BBQ...

The weather was perfect.  Hudson Valley is known for rain, but we did not have any this weekend...

Chris from Houlihan's Beer Me BBQ

Chris's ribs, just on the cooker.

Starting to see more teams from Downstate NY...

...and some from way Upstate as well.

Shawn with Big Guns BBQ (he was a Artillery Officer in the Army), is a fixture in NY.  Boom! Boom! Shawn.

Time to wake up Hope...

The life blood of any team...

It was a great weekend for us.  We improved our overall score, slightly improved our chicken score, and took a quantum leap with our pulled pork score.  On the downside, our ribs did not improve and our brisket slid just a bit.  I attribute the ribs to some scrawny racks and the brisket was off because it just would not finish cooking.  Here is our score sheet:

For those who compete and have not seen a new score sheet, here it is for you to see.  I like the new system.  It tells you what table you were at, how you ranked at your table, and when you go to the overall and individual categories, it puts to the table number next to each team.  That way, you know how your table ranked against others and how you ranked at your table.

We'll start with our lowest score, our brisket.

The above box was good for a 142.8572, 43 out of 51 teams.  Our problems consisted of a flat that stalled and would not loosen up.  I had to hunt for six good slices.  The burnt ends were outstanding, the slices were mediocre in tenderness.  Plus, I was a bit sloppy getting the bits off the slices.  Just bad presentation and it shows in the scores.

Next up, ribs.

The above box was good for a 150.2400, 41 out of 51 teams.  This pig must have had a crooked spine because I had to hunt real hard for 6 straight cuts.  Plus, 3 out of the 4 racks were not too meaty.  Therefore, we had tenderness problems.  Lesson learned.

Next, chicken.

I am especially proud of this box.  Six scores of 9 for appearance.  That is a first for Three Dogs.  The tenderness was spot on for sure.  The only problem was they were a bit salty.  I will rinse the brine off for the next competition.  The above was good for a 165.0856, 15 out of 51, a five point improvement from Hamburg.

Finally, the break through, pulled pork.

First, I want to thank Mike Cartchine, organizer of the Hamburg contest and fellow competitor.  He was more than happy to let me pick his brain for how to cook Boston Butt.  The tips really paid off for sure.  The above box was good for 169.1428.  That was good for third place and our first KCBS trophy.  We were shocked.  But, we stripped out the fancy stuff and listened to Mike.  No injection, mustard slather followed by Oakridge Secret Weapon Chicken and Pork rub.  The money muscle was spot on tender with nice bark.  We lightly sauced and hoped for the best.  We did not expect a 25 point improvement.  Also, out table was evenly paced with that table scoring between 1st and 29th place.  Needless to say, we were very happy.

The entries above were good for a 627.3256, a 14 point improvement over Hamburg, and 26 out of 51 teams.  Very respectable in a field with numerous Jack participants, a 2011 Jack winner, and the 2012 KCBS Team of the Year.

I would like to thank Rolf and Stephanie for putting on another great competition.  Shout outs go out to Smokin Hoggs, Grand Champions.  They have been on a tear since winning the Jack, and the 3 Eyz BBQ, Reserve Grand Champions, 2012 KCBS team of the year.

Finally, I have to give hard earned kudos to Dr. Pearls Medicinal Smoke:

Their Pitmaster, Mike, sprained his ankle when loading up on Thursday.  He hobbled around on Friday and Saturday, setting up and prepping.  He finally was persuaded to go to the hospital on Saturday night.  It turned out he broke his ankle.  So, the rest of the team stepped up to the plate and picked up the slack.  The result?  A 1st place chicken entry and 6th overall.  I have never heard a roar so loud when they got the first place call for the chicken.  It was also the first standing ovation I have seen for a BBQ team.  Well played sir!

Next up, Oinktoberfest in September.  We can't wait to see how that turns out for Three Dogs.

Thanks for stopping by,


Friday, August 16, 2013

Chicken Fajita Pizza

A few months ago, the siren song of a Costco sampler pulled us in to try some Chicken Fajita Pizza.  I forget the brand name.  But, the sample was delicious and the Costco business model was confirmed: we ended up with a box in our cart.  The pizza was a very thin, tortilla like crust.  The sauce was enchilada in nature.  The cheese was Monterrey jack with grilled chicken, onion, and green pepper toppings.  But, why buy frozen when you can make fresh?  So, we decided to try and recreate at home.

The day before, I made a batch of enchilada sauce from a recipe that I found on the web.  Here is the recipe.  My only substitution was olive oil for the lard.  After a two hour cook down, I cooled and placed in the refrigerator for use the next day.  The finger test told me that I have a nice base sauce for future experimentation.  But, I digress.

The next day, I made a simple marinade for two, boneless chicken breasts:

1 Tsp of Stubbs Chile Lime Rub
Juice of 1 lime
Enough olive oil to become flowable

Into a plastic bag with the chicken for a four hour marinade:

After the marinade, I fired up the grill.  When ready, I carefully grilled the breasts till an internal temperature of 155 F, then I wrapped in foil to rest until ready for use:

Meanwhile, Hope made a batch of homemade pizza dough.  When complete, she spread the dough on a pan, then layered with a thin coat of the enchilada sauce, a thin sprinkling of queso blanco, a layer of Kraft Four Cheese Mexican, sweet onion and green pepper with a small dice, and the chicken breast, diced small.

The pizza went on the top rack of our Stumps Stretch at 425 F.  After 10 minutes, the pie was rotated 180 degrees and allowed to cook 10 more minutes (20 minutes total).  Then, the pizza was brought inside, allowed to cool for five minutes, then sliced.  Here is the final product:

This chicken fajita pizza was very close to what we had purchased from Costco.  The dough was thin and crisp.  The onion and pepper still had some crunch and the chicken was grilled to perfection with a great taste.  The only thing I would do different in the future is to add a bit more sauce, but not much more.  This pie has become a new family favorite.

Thanks for stopping by,


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Bacon and Cream

The first of the Roma tomatoes came into our farmers market last week.  As a nice lunch surprise for Hope, I decided to make a fresh tomato sauce with some added treats.

First, I fried three pieces of bacon, then placed them on a plate with a paper towel to drain.

With the bacon grease, I sauteed 1/2 of a small sweet onion and two cloves of garlic, both finely diced.

After the onion and garlic mix was starting to soften and caramelize...

I added a half of a pint of finely diced Roma tomatoes.

I simmered for 30 minutes with the lid on the soften the tomatoes.  Then, I cracked the lid to let off some steam and allow the sauce to reduce for 30 more minutes.  Then I added a splash of low fat half and half and a pinch of oregano and basil, added the crumbled bacon, and let the mixture come back to temperature.

Then I mixed in some al dente spaghetti, served in a bowl, and topped with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Hope loved this lunchtime surprise.  This was a nice, light, summer treat with sugar sweet Roma tomatoes.  You should try making this with your next batch of fresh picked tomatoes.

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Perfect Brat

Beer and Bratwurst is a summertime tradition around the Three Dogs household.  What makes it even better is that our local butcher, Dave's Country Meats, makes the best bratwurst that I have ever had.  He must have a little German in him for sure.  Anyway, I digress.

My stepfather Mike turned me on to bratwurst.  He lived in Milwaukee and Usinger's was the local brand.  When I first started making beer and brats, I committed two very egregious sins.  One, instead of a nice simmer, I would boil the crap out of the brats, shrivelling the skin and letting out all of the juices. Two, I would grill the crap out of them as well, leaving me with a burnt outside and a dry interior.  Never the less, I did like them.  But, over the years my technique has evolved so that I make, what I believe, to be the perfect grilled beer and brat.  Let me show you how.

First, beer selection is key.  This is one mistake I never made.  I never used Buttwiper or Chick Lite.  It was always a darker, full bodied beer.  Usually it is Yeungling Lager, but sometimes it would be a darker German offering.  For this cook, we used Dogfish 90 Minute Imperial IPA.

I love Dogfish IPA.  The 60 Minute variety is a nice session beer.  Clear, crisp, and sufficiently hoppy. the 90 Minute is not a session beer.  Hope bought me a case, not knowing that I usually buy the 60 Minute.  The 90 Minute is very hoppy, very full bodied, well suited for cold weather consumption, and only good for one or two at a time.  Therefore, this case has been relegated to cooking beer and perhaps some consumption when the pumpkin starts to get frosty around here.

So, I place the brats in a saucepan with the beer and turn the heat on low.  Once the beer starts to simmer, I allow the bratwurst to simmer for about two minutes, then I remove from the heat and sit on the side, keeping the saucepan covered.

You know you are done when the brat takes on that gray look of cooked sausage.  The casing should still be intact.

Next, I take the saucepan out to my hot grill and place the brats on direct heat.

As soon as casing starts to split and it has a nice brown crispy look, about two to three minutes, I flip them over and crisp the other side for about two to three more minutes.  Remember, they were cooked in the beer.  You are just browning them and adding that grilled flavor.

Once done, I place them back in my warm beer bath until served.

This is a good technique if you are making brats for the masses.  I place the warm beer in chafing pans, then the grilled brat goes into the pan.  With your Sterno keeping the pan warm, the brats happily swim in the beer bath until being picked out for a bun and some mustard.  If you are lucky and get the last one, it has sopped up a lot of hoppy goodness from the beer.  A true treat.

I placed my brat on a sausage roll with some diced sweet onion and a generous squirt of spicy brown mustard.  I like our local brand, Steel City Spicy Brown Mustard.

There you have it, the perfect grilled bratwurst.

Thanks for stopping by,


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bacon Wrapped Country Style Ribs

For our next competition, we have to prepare an "Anything Wrapped in Bacon" entry.  After some thinking, I thought, what better to wrap in bacon than pork.  So, we bought some country style pork ribs this past weekend and experimented.

First, I trimmed any bone, gristle, and excess fat away from my ribs.

Then, I marinaded for about five hours in a bottle of Stubbs Pork Marinade.  Stubbs pork has a nice blend of vinegar, citrus, chili, and mustard seed.  I really like this marinade when I grill pork steaks.

After the marinade, I sprinkled both sides liberally with Oakridge Secret Weapon Pork and Chicken Rub.

Then, I wrapped in bacon.

Then, onto a 350 F smoker with peach and hickory in the ash pan.  Here they are after 45 minutes.

Then, I dunked in a mix of Blues Hog Regular, Blues Hog Tennessee Red, honey, and apple juice.  Then, back on the smoker for 15 more minutes to set the glaze.

How were they?  Well, the meat was tender.  But, the Stubbs marinade does not play well with the BBQ sauce.  The tasters that I had on the side that were just rub and marinade were good.  But, for this competition, I believe we will be leaving the marinade behind.

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Grilled Vegetable Stack with Two Cheeses and Fresh Tomato Sauce

The inspiration for this creation comes from a place called The Hollow in downtown Albany, NY.  They alternated layers of fried eggplant with grilled squash, then covered with crushed, slightly cooked Roma tomatoes.  I decided to create using all grilled veggies.  So, here we go.

First, I cleaned and thickly sliced some fresh eggplant and zucchini for grilling.  I used an Alton Brown trick to remove the moisture: liberally rub kosher salt on each side of the sliced vegetable, place on a cooling rack suspended over your sink, and let chemistry do the rest.

As you can see, the salt pulls the moisture out of the sliced veggies fairly quickly.  Pulling the moisture out allows for a firmer vegetable slice when grilling and keeps them from falling apart.  I flipped the slices after about 45 minutes.

See all the water that has been extracted after 45 minutes?

After an hour and a half, I pulled the slices off of the rack and plunged in a cold water bath to remove all of the excess salt.

This is the first time I had tried this technique and I was pleasantly surprised.  It really did firm up the eggplant and zucchini.  Also, the slices were not salty at all.  The water bath was excellent at removing the salt.  To dry out the washed slices, I layered between paper towels and placed some weight on top to be sure to draw out the remaining liquid.  This worked very well in producing a veggie slice I could work with on the grill.

While the slices were dehydrating, I mixed up the sauce and some marinade.  The marinade for the veggies was a basic Italian style mix.  I took olive oil and whisked in some oregano, basil, thyme, garlic , salt and pepper.  Then I poured over the vegetables in a plastic bag and let marinade for 1 hour, flipping the bag after 30 minutes.

One of the cheeses I used for topping was an aged provolone.  The other was ricotta that I infused with a small amount of olive oil, thyme, oregano, and basil.

For the sauce, a friend of mine in Italy told me how her grandmother makes their basic red.  Basically, you just slow saute garlic and onion in olive oil with some salt and pepper.  Once that mixture starts to get soft, you add in your diced tomatoes, add a pinch more salt, and simmer slowly.

Her grandmother would slow simmer this all day long, then add pasta with some fresh basil and Parmesan cheese on the side.  I wanted some texture to my tomatoes, so I only simmered for about one hour.  Here is the end product.

While the sauce was finishing, I started grilling my vegetables.  I grilled them about five minutes a side, or until I started to get that nice caramelization on each side.

After I was happy with the char on my veggies, I place them on indirect heat and added the cheese.  this was a thin smear of ricotta, followed by provolone cheese.

Once the cheese was melted and starting to brown, I stacked up the grilled vegetable goodness, alternating between eggplant and zucchini.  Then, we smothered with the fresh plum tomato sauce and added fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  We also had some grilled sweet Italian sausage on the side.

I was in such a hurry to try, I forgot to get a picture with the tomato sauce on top.  How was it?  Outstanding.  Packed with Italian flavor and cheesy goodness, this dish tasted like a grilled vegetable lasagna.  Hope loved it and requested that this be made at least once before the summer is done.  I have the eggplant at the ready for our next grilled vegetable stack.

Thanks for stopping by,