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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stuffed Pterodactyl Breasts

A couple of weeks ago, Hope stopped by the local Restaurant Depot to purchase some chicken to replenish the ice cave.  When she came home and we started trimming up the beasts in preparation for the vacuum sealer, I was amazed at their size.

These specimens could not have come from some standard barnyard, corn fed bird.  They were huge, almost prehistoric in stature.  These birds had to have escaped from some government run genetic engineering lab.  My mind started contemplating the possibilities of grilled stuffed chicken breast.  With the last plum tomatoes of the season staring at me from their counter top bowl, a plan came together.  The weather is still warm and our grilling days are few.  Grilled chicken breasts stuffed with tomato, mozzarella, and Italian spices were in order.

First, I grabbed a sharp knife and split the breast almost in half right down the long axis to create a pouch.

Next, I thinly sliced the plum tomatoes and some fresh mozzarella as well.  I set this aside, then rubbed the chicken with some olive oil, then seasoned inside and out with a blend of oregano, basil, thyme, granulated garlic, dried parsley, salt, and pepper.  After seasoning I stuffed the pocket with the tomato and mozzarella.

While I brought the sides of the breast together, Hope inserted toothpicks into place to close up the pocket and hold the breast together.

Yes, we did go a bit overboard with the toothpicks, but I didn't want the cheese to ooze out during the grilling process.

Next, I touched up the Italian seasoning on the outside and headed out to the hot grill to cook these behemoths.

To grill these breasts, I seared them for about five minutes a side, the moved them to indirect heat.  While on indirect heat, I placed them with the cut side up to minimize the amount of cheese that might escape.

I closed the grill lid and came back 20 minutes later and poked them with a thermometer.  Overall the cook time, including the 10 minutes of direct heat, was 40 minutes total to bring the meat to 165 F internal temperature.

One of these was big enough for me and Hope to split for dinner.  The Youngest dusted a whole one.

I was very happy with how these turned out.  To my surprise, the cheese ooze was minimal and probably would have been zero with some butchers twine.  In hindsight, these could be a great base for some sort of healthy grilled chicken parmesan.   I do know that since the Ice Cave is filled with these pterodactyl sized breasts, you might be seeing a few variations on this theme in the coming months.

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cajun Style Baby Back Ribs

It happens to almost everybody who takes part in competition BBQ.  Starting in mid-winter and continuing well into the early fall, after numerous practice cooks and competitions, you run into that wall.  You want ribs for dinner, but you cannot stand the taste of rub and sauce.  The sting of smoke in your eye and the smell that permeates your clothes is too much.  I made it to August this year before I ran into that wall.  I wanted some baby backs and it was time to experiment.  Last year it was Italian style vinegar pepper ribs.  This year, it was Cajun.  The guys at work have found this new Cajun seasoning that they have been putting on everything at lunch.  I was drawn to the smell one day and I strolled over to the table to conduct the finger test.  Good stuff this seasoning.  While I have not been pulled into their Cajun Cult and starting seasoning everything with a dash of blackening powder, I was inspired to try this combination with some baby back ribs.

The rub they have been using is Cajun Foreplay by Dinosaur BBQ.  It is nicely balanced with some heat, some sweet, and other familiar Cajun flavors.  You can get it at the local grocery store they said.  But, our local Grocery Monopoly had other ideas.  In a fit of madness they reset the store shelves and in the process, reduced their inventory.  Cajun Foreplay did not make the cut.  After some aimless wondering through the completely illogical rearranging of the store, I found the spice aisle and settled on a bottle of Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Redfish Magic.  I have used this product in the past and I have been very satisfied.  So, I grabbed a bottle, checked out, and went home to peaceful afternoon of culinary experimentation.

First, I removed the membrane from the back of my baby backs and added a liberal coating of the seasoning to my ribs, front and back.

I briefly considered using the smoker to cook this rack of ribs.  But, at the last minute, I decided to cook these ribs on a hot grill using indirect heat.  On one side of the grill I dumped a full chimney of hot coals, dialed the vents back to about 1/4 open, placed the ribs on the far side of the grill, and closed the lid.  After an hour, I placed some kale tossed in olive oil into a cast iron skillet and placed on indirect heat and moved the ribs above the fire on the top rack.

For a finishing glaze, I mixed equal parts stone ground creole mustard with honey and mixed until spreadable with a grill brush.

For the last half hour of cooking, I moved the kale and ribs over the hot coals and applied the rib glaze in two applications, 15 minutes apart.

Once the glaze had set, I removed from the grill and let them rest for 15 minutes before slicing.  Then I served with the kale and some fresh corn on the cob.

These ribs turned out pretty good.  The heat from the seasoning was nicely balanced with the tart from the mustard and the sweetness of the honey.  I had also forgot how good ribs could taste when cooked slowly on a hot grill versus low and slow on a smoker.  Most importantly, not one hint of traditional BBQ flavor.  Just what the doctor ordered for my acute case of BBQ fatigue.

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Feeling Clammy

At Hudson Valley this past August, our some of our friends on another team have some New England connections and as a result, they had a lobster and clam boil at their site that I was lucky enough to sample.  I love lobster, there is no doubting that.  But it is pricey and I usually only buy one a year when it is on sale at the local grocery store for $9.99 a pound.  My second seafood addiction is fresh littleneck clams.  They are more affordable in these parts, usually running $0.49 a piece or less.  In some ways, I think a perfectly steamed clam is better than lobster.  The day after I had partaken in the clamfest, were were preparing for our pizza turn in that day and an idea popped into my head: White Clam Pizza.  A plan was coming together.  Here is the result.

My mother makes this simple white clam sauce that is quick and easy.  I have tweaked the recipe over the years to fit our tastes.  This would be the base for our pizza.

White Clam Sauce and now White Clam Pizza Base

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white table wine (not too sweet and not too dry)
1, 6.5 oz can of minced clams, juice included
1/3 of a sweet onion, diced medium
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine
1 tsp of dried parsley plus more for sprinkling
1/2 tsp of dried thyme
1/2 tsp of dried oregano
1/4 tsp of dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste (you could also use red pepper flakes for some heat if desired)

Add the olive oil to a deep sauté pan on medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until it begins to become soft and translucent.  Next, add the parsley and garlic and sauté until the garlic starts to brown and become fragrant.  At this point, add the wine and the can of undrained clams to the mixture and reduce your heat to low.  Let the mixture cook until the volume is reduced by one half.  There you have it, your white clam pizza base.

At this point, you can choose to stop and toss this sauce with hot cooked pasta and top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  This is my recipe for Pasta with White Clam Sauce.  But, I had pizza in mind.  On to that step.

Hope whipped up a batch of homemade dough:

Pizza Dough

3 1/4 cups AP flour
1 tbsp yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 cups warm water

Put it all in a bread machine, yeast on the bottom, and let it sit through one raise cycle on the white bread setting.  Then pull out of the bread maker, place in a bowl, and cover with a clean towel for 15 minutes.

When handling the dough, spray your hands with cooking spray.  You'll thank me later...

While Hope was working on the dough, I took a second can of clams and drained the juice.  Then, I built the pizza.

On a stretched out pizza skin, I evenly distributed the white clam sauce.

Then, I topped with shredded mozzarella cheese, the can of drained clams, and a sprinkling of dried parsley.

I placed into the oven at 450 F for 20 minutes, or until the crust was brown and the cheese was brown and bubbly.  Once cooled I sliced and served with Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper for topping.

Crispy crust, browned cheese, lots of clams.  Yep, this pizza satisfied my pizza and clam addiction for  for at least a few weeks.  I was happy with how this turned out.  If you wish, you could add to or substitute shrimp into this recipe if clams are not your thing.  Either way, you will not be disappointed.

Thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Keystone Classic State BBQ Championship - Harrisburg, PA

This past week, the Three Dogs road show packed up for the last time in 2015 to attend the Keystone Classic State BBQ Championship in Harrisburg, PA.  This is one of our favorite contests for many reasons, number one being that the contest also takes place during the International Livestock Show.

We have been lucky this year with weather over contest weekends.  Well, it was time to pay the piper this past weekend.  Rain.  Lots.  All weekend.  Cold too.  I forgot how many times I said I was freezing.  It was so bad at times, duck hunting gear was in order to stay warm and dry.

The weather was perfect for a judge to join us for the weekend.  A friend of ours and her husband, Tammie and Rich, cooked with us for the weekend.  Tammie cooked with us to receive her master judge certification with KCBS and Rich stepped up and cooked the ancillary categories that consisted of turkey and chicken legs.  Tammie was a huge help with all aspects of the cook.  Her insights into meat placement and flavor profiles while preparing boxes were most helpful.  If you are a team and have a chance to have a judge cook with you, I recommend doing so at least once.

Rich started off with the turkey legs.  He turned in these beautiful looking legs that scored a second place overall.  Good work for a judge!

Rich's call turned out to be the highlight of the weekend as we were shut out in the standard KCBS categories.

The turn ins above netted us a 31st in chicken, a 13th in ribs, a 46th in pork, and a 50th in brisket for a total of 41st overall out of 57 teams.  Not a good weekend for sure.  Overall, I thought it was one of our better cooks for the year.  But, we hit two tables of death which did not help with scoring.  What can you do?  That just means we have some practicing to do over the winter to get back to our early 2015 form.  Congratulations go out to Checkered Flag 500 BBQ, our Grand Champion and to Meat Wagon BBQ, our Reserve Grand Champion.

Thanks to all that have supported us this year.  We hope to see everyone back again next year when we hit the road in 2016.

Thanks for stopping by,