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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tired of Turkey? Spinach-Bacon Twice Baked Potatoes

Thanksgiving is over and friends and family are gone.  You have had a few sandwiches, a leftover meal or two, and you are sick of turkey for the time being.  What to do.  Make yourself twice baked potato and a steak!

This recipe is loosely based upon this one that I found on Pinterest:

First, I took a nice sized potato and baked at 425 for 50 minutes, turning the potato over in the oven after 25 minutes.  Let cool for about 10 minutes, then cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the potato.  

My first change was to add bacon.  I fried up four strips, then pulled out of the pan to cool and crumble.

In the bacon fat, I then caramelized some diced sweet onion and minced garlic.  

Change #2, fresh spinach and garlic.  Instead of frozen spinach, I then added about 3/4" of a one pound package of fresh spinach, placed the lid on the pan, and cooked until tender and wilted.  

Change #3, incorporation of bacon.  I took my smashed potato and incorporated the spinach mixture along with the crumbled bacon, a grinding of salt (not too much) and pepper (a generous grinding), fresh grated Parmesan cheese, and enough low fat sour cream to make the mixture come together.  

Then then stuffed back into the potato skins and topped with more fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  

Change #4, The potatoes then went on the top rack of my smoker at 350 F for 30 minutes.  I had some hickory chips in the ash pan for some flavor.  While the potatoes were getting happy in the smoker.  While in the smoker, two rib steaks were being cooked to perfect medium. The steaks were plainly seasoned with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  

I served the steak and spinach-bacon potatoes with the leftover wilted spinach.  Hope and I loved the potatoes.  This was a nice twist on a traditional twice baked potato.  This is on the repeat list for sure.  

Thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiday Appetizers: Cold Smoked Cheese

One of my favorite holiday food groups is the Holiday Cheese and Meat Platter.  There is nothing better for grazing than a platter piled high with various meats, cheeses, dipping mustard, and carbohydrate based carriers for piling on your protein and dairy of choice.  I like to kick this tradition up a notch by cold smoking our cheese.  This past weekend, I took advantage of the cold weather to smoke some of our favorites: Gouda, Jarlsberg, Mozzarella, and Sharp White Cheddar.

It was a cold a blustery day packed full of lake snow squalls.  Perfect for keeping your smoker at low temperatures.

Keeping your smoker at 100 F or less can be tricky.  For some smokers, this is a good alternative.

It is a maze in which you add finely ground wood chips.  Once you have one end lit, it smolders nice and slow, flavoring your cheese with your wood smoke of choice.  Since I have a gravity fed Stumps, I rely on cold temps and choking off the air flow.  Here is how I prepare my Stretch for a cold smoke.

First, I placed a layer of Stubbs briquettes on top of my charcoal grate.  On top of that I placed four hickory splits, then I covered that with another layer of briquettes.

Then, I shoved a starter cube up into the grate and set up my BBQ Guru.  Once I had everything buttoned up, I lit my starter cube and waited.  To keep the temps at 100 F, I set the choke on the Pit Viper draft fan to the last notch and closed the ball valve till it was 3/4 closed.  Finally, I placed the pit thermometer on the bottom right of the smoker, right where the heat enters the cook chamber.  This will help keep the inside of the smoker below 100 F.

While I waited on the temperature to equalize, I went inside and prepared my cheese.

You don't need to get the best cheese around, but you shouldn't get cheap stuff either.  We just bought the standard size hunks that you can purchase at Costco.  I removed the wax from the Jarlsberg and Gouda, then cut them all into smaller pieces.  You also want to let the cheese warm up to room temperature so that is more receptive to receiving smoke.  Finally, you do want to put the cheese on some clean racks so that you do not get the greasy mojo from the inside of the smoker on your cheese.

Once ready, I placed the cheese on the top rack of the Stretch, and closed it up.  I allowed the cheese to smoke for two hours, making sure that the temperature stays below 100 F.

Nice thin, blue, smoke.

Getting smokey.

After two hours, I brought the cheese inside and let it cool back to room temperature, about one hour. Once cooled, I placed the cheese in plastic bags and placed in the refrigerator to cool over night.

The next day, we vacuum packed in individual packages for long term storage.  Properly vacuum packed cheese will keep for at least six months in your refrigerator.

You can eat the cheese the day you make it, but the smoker flavor can be harsh.  But, if you let it sit in the refrigerator, the flavor mellows over time. The longer you let the cheese sit, the more subtle the flavor becomes.  I recommend a minimum age time of one week.

When ready, cut into bite sized chunks and serve with your sausage and dipping mustard of choice.  Enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit...

...the more you eat the more you, well, you know the rest.

It was time to make some beans.  I love cooked pinto beans.  A bowl of beans, maybe some mac and cheese, hot sauce, and corn bread.  Mmmm.  Good, cheap, full of flavor and protein.  How do I make mine?  Well, here is the recipe that my mom passed down to me.

Buy a 1 pound bag of dried pintos.  Place them in a pan. pick out any stones, then cover them with water and let them sit overnight.  After the overnight soak, drain the water and rinse 2 times in a colander with water.  The beans then go back into a pot with the following:

1 bell pepper, coarsely diced
2 jalapeños, sliced
1/2 of a sweet onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp of coarsely ground pepper
1 Tbsp granulated garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
Enough liquid to cover.  Water works.  I sometimes use chicken broth (I did this time)
Some people add bacon, a smoked ham hock, or some pork fatback.  This time, I went meatless.

Bring to a boil then gently simmer at least three hours.  I usually go longer, about five hours, because I like my beans softer.

Once you have the bean consistency you are looking for, remove from heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.  Then salt to taste.  WARNING!  Do not salt until the end.  If you salt at the beginning, you will end up with tough, inedible beans.

I just love the flavor from these beans.  Lunch for the whole week.

You can also turn these into refried beans very easily.

In a skillet, add two cups of the bean mixture and heat on low heat.  As they warm and cook down, mash them with a hand held potato masher.  When the liquid has cooked down and the beans are looking like refried beans, add 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and stir until incorporated.  These refried beans will be better than anything you can get at a Mexican restaurant.

Thanks for stopping by,


Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Turkey Idea

Last year I experimented with a smoked turkey that turned out to be the best turkey I have ever made.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to post the recipe again as a service to those looking for some Thanksgiving ideas.

Here is the brine recipe:

Here is the link to the method for cooking the turkey:

If you are looking for some ideas, I hope you find this recipe helpful.  

Thanks for stopping by (and Happy Early Thanksgiving),


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grilled Round Steak Chili

Well, frost was on the pumpkin last weekend and it was time to make something warm for dinner and lunches during the week.  Amazingly, I realized that I did not make chili last year.  So, I decided to rectify that problem.

Usually, for a meat source I use ground round, or sometimes leftover brisket.  This time, I decided to use grilled round steak that my butcher had on sale.  I rinsed, dried, and seasoned both sides with Montreal Steak Seasoning.

I fired up the grill and got it screaming hot.  Then, I just grilled the steak until it had some nice grill marks, about 3 minutes a side.

When done, I brought it inside and let it rest while I prepared everything else.

Here is my base chili recipe.  It usually changes each time I make it, but this is the base:

Base Chili Recipe

1 Small Onion, diced
1 Bell Pepper, diced
2 Jalapeño Peppers, sliced
2 Tbsp Minced Garlic
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Ground Cumin
1 Tbsp Granulated Garlic
1 can ea Dark Kidney and Black Beans, do not drain
1 13 oz container of Crushed Tomatoes
1 15 oz can Tomato Sauce
1 15 oz can of Water
1 16 oz bottle of Hot Picante
1 12 oz beer.  No Crudweiser here.  We use Yeungling Lager (full bodied, brown, complex flavors)

Sauté the onion through the minced garlic in the olive oil.  I do so on low heat so that I start to get caramelization.

When the peppers and onions are where you want them, add the dry ingredients, stir well, and continue to sauté for about 1-2 minutes.  The olive oil and heat will activate the natural oils in the spices bringing out their flavors while simmering.

Then, add the rest of the ingredients and raise the heat to bring to a boil.

While this mixture was heating, I cubed the round steak and added to the simmering pot.

I simmered with the lid cracked so that the chili would reduce and thicken.  For me, I am happy after about three hours of simmer time.

I always serve me chili with a skillet of homemade corn bread.

Chili toppings are a personal thing.  I top mine with cheese, diced onion, a dollop of sour cream, and some crushed tortilla chips.

This is a nice stick to your ribs meal on a cold day.  I can't wait to make my next pot.  Every pot of chili is an experiment in flavor.

Thanks for stopping by,


Friday, November 15, 2013

Smoked Short Rib Pot Roast

I had a request a few weekends ago to make my Smoker Pot Roast.  Here is the base recipe:

1 Chuck Roast.
2 ribs of celery, diced.
4 potatoes, diced.
4 large carrots, peeled and diced.
3 cloves of garlic, minced.
1/4 cup of flour.
Enough beef broth to cover everything.  I used 2 quarts.

But, as I am prone to do, I mixed it up this time.  Here are the changes:

3 x Beef Short Ribs instead of chuck roast for the meat.
1/2 cup of flour to thicken it up a little more.

Here is the method and results.

First, I trimmed the fat off of the short ribs that was easily trimmed.

I then seasoned all sides with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.

Looking for scraps...

Then, onto the top rack of my smoker at 250 F with two pieces of pecan in the ash pan.  Then pull after one hour.

While the short ribs were getting happy in the smoker, I prepared the veggies.  I prefer a coarse chop and dice for my pot roast.

Add the flour and mix.

Add the broth and stir until smooth and incorporated.

Pull the ribs from the smoker, place in the broth, and cover.  Cook for five hours at 250 F.

Come back five hours later, remove lid, and stand back as the herd comes to graze.

Hope actually took the time to pull the meat from the bones.  Believe me, it was fall off of the bone good.  Adding an hour of smoke time to the beef really put this "pot roast" over the top.  Also upping the flour by 1/4 cup thickened the both to the perfect consistency.  This turned out to be a great Sunday dinner on the first real cold weekend of the fall.

Thanks for stopping by,


Monday, November 11, 2013

Grilled Garlic, Thyme, and Rosemary Wings on the Pizza Stone

I've been wanting to try this recipe for a while.  I have noticed that some pizzerias with wood fired ovens are roasting their wings inside their pizza ovens on the stone base.  The wings come out with a slight smoky flavor and nice a crisp, just the way I like them.  One benefit is that you get the crisp without all of the added fryer fat.  I have toyed with building a pizza oven at home, but it looks a bit complicated and a too much work for the occasional use.  So, I thought I would experiment with my pizza stone on a screaming hot grill.  For this batch, I decided to try for some nice Italian flavors: garlic, rosemary, and thyme.

First, I took about 1/3 of a cup of olive oil, the juice of one lemon,  then added 1 tbsp of minced garlic, 1 tsp each of rosemary and thyme, plus a healthy grinding of sea salt and pepper.  Then, I whisked it all together and let marinade in the refrigerator for about six hours.

When I was ready to cook the wings, I fired up my charcoal grill and placed my pizza stone inside while it was heating up.  Remember to put the stone inside the grill as it is warming up.  If you put a cold stone in a hot grill, you run the risk of cracking your stone that you have so loving worked over the years to season properly.

I placed the wings on the stone and started to experiment.

I was shooting for 10 minutes a side.  But, they were not cooking to my satisfaction.  I was starting to get nice caramelization and crispiness.  So, I moved the stone above the coals and started eyeballing the cook process.  Overall, it did work about to about 7-10 minutes a side.  Be careful, I was getting some spattering.

Ultimately, here was my process.

1.  Place pizza stone on direct heat.  I piled up the coals and reached 500 F in the grill.
2.  Place wings on the stone.  Watch for spatter.  Look to flip between 7-10 minutes.
3.  Cook 7-10 minutes more after the flip.
4.  Move wings to indirect heat to bring to 165 internal, if needed.

The final product was outstanding.

The crispiness was spot on and the meat was juicy and tender.  I wanted more flavor, but I will work on the marinade the next time we make these.  Overall, this was a successful experiment.

Thanks for stopping by,


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Baby Backs with J. Wilbur Rub and Sauce

Ok, I lied.  I did not take off the rest of the year from making traditional BBQ.  We had some contractors that were finishing up some repair work to the house after the hot water heater leaked and damaged about half of the house.  Over the time that they were here, they fell in love with our BBQ.  So, for their last day, I made some baby back ribs and took the opportunity to try out some new products from J. Wilbur.

A friend of mine from Seattle, Slow Smoke, sent me the above goodies to try.  He says that these are the preferred BBQ rub and sauce in the Pacific Northwest.  He also said they were a little on the spicy side.  So, with that warning, I tucked them away until after the BBQ season to try in some down time.  Here is our review.

Slow Smoke was right on with the spice level on the rub.  After the finger test, this rub started sweet and ended by grabbing your tongue.  I also liked the salt level: not too salty, just right.

The sauce had a really nice flavor.  It sort of reminded me of the molasses based concoctions that my mother came up with when I was a child.  The apple cider vinegar added depth to the flavor.  Contrary to the rub, this sauce starts with a kick and ends sweet and smooth.

So, I took some baby backs, pulled off the membrane and dusted with a healthy coating of rub.  I then set the ribs aside to come to room temperature while I lit the smoker and brought to 250 F.

No foil for these ribs.  I just smoked them for four hours at 250 F with some hickory in the ash pan.  Here is what they looked like after 3.5 hours, just before I glazed with the sauce.  I like the color and the sheen on these ribs.

Here they are after the sauce and 30 more minutes on the smoker.

Even nicer color with the sauce.

How were they?  Surprisingly, for the level of kick in the rub, they were nice and balanced.  Hope loved them and she does not like any heat on her ribs.  I would not use the rub in competition as there is too much of a kick for judges, but I will definitely be using this rub at home.  The sauce was even better than the rub.  I will definitely be trying this in mid-winter practices to see how it might improve our overall rib scores.

Thanks for the tip Slow Smoke!

Thanks for stopping by,