Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Smokey Grilled Oysters

Wow, I didn’t realize how long I was away. Please allow me to apologize for my unexpected hiatus. However, I did have some time to think about all the things I was going to grill when I returned to my kitchen. The list was surprisingly small, mostly grilled seafood, considering I have recently developed this unquenchable obsession with oysters. Being from New England I have a great fondness for grilled seafood. I know in terms of real BBQ this is not the ideal, but fresh fish grilled over hardwood coals makes for some great grilled goodies.

One of my favorite foods to grill or not grill is the oyster. It is a rare occasion that I will cook an oyster, but it is always a party when I do. In my travels I have come across hundreds of different recipes some unwittingly complicated and others spectacularly simple. Since I am a fan of all things simple and oysters are never better than when they are prepared simply here is my take on grilling these tasty treats.

Smokey Grilled Oysters
Oysters (as many as will fit on your grill)
Large Handful of Soaked Alder Wood Chips
*I like to use more subtle woods when I smoke seafood, especially oysters.


Heat the grill to high. Toss on the soaked wood chips. Dip the oysters in water (I learned this trick from Bobby Flay he says it helps them to steam open.) and place them with the flattest side of the shell up directly on the grill. Close the lid and cook for about 6 minutes or until all of the oysters are open. Discard any that don’t open. Be careful not to spill any of the liquor when you remove them. Cut the muscle that connects the shell and serve on the half shell.

These are not really smoked oysters; as there will only be hint of smokiness in background of their flavor. For more authentic smoked oysters grill over medium heat (about 250°) until they open, remove the top shell, add more soaked hardwood to the coal and smoke for an additional 10-15 minutes. Watch them carefully they will overcook right before you eyes. Use a heavier flavored wood for this and you’ll have an entirely different oyster experience.

In my world there are 2 aspects involved in serving outstanding oysters. Cooking or not cooking them and topping them. Fresh out of the shell or properly grilled they often need nothing more than a smile to make them perfect. It is, however, always fun to find new way to top these prized crustaceans. For the batch pictured below I simply remove the top shell added a squeeze of lemon and a small pat of unsalted butter and returned them to the heat just long enough to melt the butter. I wish my vocabulary allowed my to explain just how amazingly succulent and tasteful these pacific beauties were. I am lucky they lasted long enough to take this picture. Let's just say not one made it to the table, my wife and I ate 2 dozen oysters standing next to the stairs leading down to our patio table. Anyway if lemon and butter bores you I have provided an abbreviated list of some of my favorite flavors for topping oysters.

A Few of My Favorite Toppings...
Dijon Mustard
Hot Sauce
Malt Vinegar
Margarita Mignonette (minced shallots, fresh lime juice and tequila)
Melted Butter
Mignonette sauce (traditionally minced shallot and red wine vinegar, but I like to use balsamic)
Soy Sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Your Favorite BBQ Sauce
Crumbled Blue Cheese

* Mignonette Sauce is made with 2 tablespoons of liquid for every one shallot

Eat hot, Eat healthy (most of the time) and always EAT UGLY!

PS. I didn’t forget. This weekend I plan to try another brand of lump charcoal…ribs and chicken anyone?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Wicked Good Charcoal: Wicked Good Boston Butt

On Wednesday of last week I managed to buy three racks of spareribs, a seven pound bird and a nine pound boneless Boston butt (don’t get me started on the butt thing again) without notice of the cholesterol cops. On Friday when I thought my bride was too involved with what ever it she does when I am under the possession of the BBQ I quietly brought the meat out of hiding. I figured if I could get the ribs rubbed and the bird and butt brined she would have to let me cook it all. Well, when I went in to office to see what kind of rub I was in the mood for Anthony (my barbecue loving son) sold me down the river. I returned to the kitchen only to find my loving wife and HER son waiting. Anthony had scaled his chair and was standing before my cutting block proclaiming “SPICE, mommy Spice…I want, I want, Help. Spice!” Anthony helps me cook dinner almost every night and is responsible for shaking on the seasonings. If I had only included him in my secret BBQ plans I may have had a shot. I pleaded, “I can’t let my adoring reader down, and I promised I would thoroughly test Wick Good Charcoal’s Weekend Warrior Blend. A valid control group is made up a varied sample that is representative of the entire population”. She didn’t go for it. I had to make a choice, and I really had a hankering for a pulled pork sandwich.

The Brine
I really wasn’t prepared to BBQ. I assumed that I had enough of the basic barbecue necessities on hand. I was wrong, but that has never stopped me before. Hear is my impromptu brine:

¼ Cup Brown Sugar
¼ Cup Dark Molasses
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1 Small Handful Whole Black Pepper Corns
2 or 3 Bay Leaves
1 TBS Old Bay Seasoning
1Cup Jack Daniel’s Whisky
1 Large Spanish Onion Quartered
Ice (I have no idea how much I used)
Water (enough to cover the butt by 1 inch)

Bring 3 or 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the sugar, salt and molasses to the boiling water and dissolve. Add the Old Bay, onion, bay leaves and whisky, stir in and remove from heat. Fill your brining container half way with ice and pour the hot brine over the ice. Be sure the brine mixture is cold before adding the meat. Submerge meat in brine to at least one inch below the surface. If there is not enough liquid add cold water until the meat is fully covered. I usually use a heavy plate to weight the meat down. A 4 to 6 hour soak should be sufficient, but I like to leave it over night.

The Butt
Remove from brine, rinse and pat dry. Don’t forget to remove all of the pepper corns and bay leaves they ruin a good sandwich. Apply your favorite rub. In the essence of time and because it is really my favorite commercial blend I used Pork Rubbers Mary’s Cherry Rub. I have my own recipes and I will share them at a later date, but few can blend a better rub than Mary. I leave the meat out of the refrigerator while I set up the smoker. This short time removes the chill and can take as much as and hour off of the total cooking time.

The Water Smoker
The motivating factor behind this cook is the charcoal. The product of choice today is Wicked Good Charcoal: Weekend Warrior Blend.

Here is my ritual: Two chimneys of unlit lump charcoal into the coal pan. I start this with ¾ of a chimney of lit lump coal. I find this allows me at least 3 hours of cooking time at around 225°. I am planning on ten hour cook and estimate (hoping-because that is all I have) I will use about 11 pounds of coal. If the temp is holding after 3 hours I add another chimney of unlit lump to the pan. If the temp is falling I add a chimney of lit lump to help bring the temp up. It really is a game after the first 3 hours. I have never used this brand of charcoal before, so I am relying on past practice and as always dumb luck.

The lump was all hardwood and I didn’t notice any signs of scrap in the bag. The ¾ Chimney lit very easily as did the bulk of coal in the pan. I used a mix of cherry wood chunks and chips (I thought I had enough chunk left over from last season—I didn’t) for the smoke. I always soak my wood, but again there are two schools of thought here as well. I figure cherry smoke would work well with the cherry rub. To the water pan I added two left over Sam Adam’s Cranberry Lambics, not my favorite brew so I had no trouble sacrificing them to the BBQ gods, and filled the rest with water. The first three hours were great. I didn’t have to open the smoker once as the temp held to between 225° and 240°. I did poke around the coal pan through the dampers just to keep things honest. I have to say even before I added the cherry wood the charcoal had wonderfully sweet aroma. It was unlike any coal I have ever burned before.

After about 3 hours and 45 minutes the temp finally began to slowly drop. I took this opportunity to open my smoker for the first time. At this point I refilled the water pan and added one full chimney of unlit lump to the coal pan and threw on a handful of cherry chips. The embers felt fairly hot and they still looked alive. The ash was minimal so I left everything alone and hoped for the best. The temp was back up to 230° in no time and smoke was pouring out of the top vent. Everything was great except that I was very low on coal. I only had 1 maybe 1 ½ chimneys of charcoal left. Normally I would just finish with the Cowboy and Kingsford that I have in my garage, but I promised this cook was all about the Wicked Good Charcoal. Off to the store I went (don’t worry my wife kept her eye on the smoker).

I said she would watch it and she did, she watched the temperature drop. I returned home just in time to add more coal to the fire. All in all it had been 2 hours and the temp was just over 200°. At this point if figured I would clean everything out and start fresh. My smoker holds temperature fairly well, but I still have to work fast. Someday I will take you through this process more carefully, but this post is getting too long already. Basically I removed the ash from the coal pan doing my best to save the larger embers and added 1 lit and one unlit chimney. Oh, and one final handful of cherry chips. I usually get about 3 hours of uninterrupted cooking time after this, which, in this case, will bring me into the neighborhood of the 10th and final cooking hour. The smoker was back together, the water pan was refilled, the Boston butt had an internal temperature of 140° and the smoker temp was on its way back to 230°.

After about 2 more hours the temperature began to fall. At 220° I decided to add one final chimney of unlit coal to get me across the finish line. The internal temp of the butt was just around 160 and was going to need approximately 2 more hours (total time 9 hours 45 minutes) to reach 190°. Two more hours past, the temp was holding and the meat was at 185° and ready to come out.

I have one steadfast rule when I BBQ. When ever I am ready to take the meat out of the pit I go get a beer. Before I remove the meat I sit down and enjoy that beer, sometimes two, and then I wait another 5 minutes. Then and only then do I take the meat out. If its butt or brisket I wrap it in heavy duty foil and put in the oven or an empty cooler for about an hour, before I even think about serving it.

The Opinion
The Wicked Good Charcoal: Weekend Warrior Blend lived up to expectation. I was hoping it would burn a little longer and I would use less, but it definitely lasts longer and gives less ash than the Cowboy Hardwood Lump. I only had to remove the ash from the pan once compared to the 2 or 3 times when I use briquettes. The Naked Whiz says that the competition blend from this same company is denser and longer lasting. I think this will be the next ember on my journey. Overall Wicked Good Charcoal: Weekend Warrior Blend is wicked good!

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Coal Wars: Hank Hill vs the Ugly Gourmet!

Do you think Charcoal is really better than gas? I am often asked this question by people who don’t know me or have never been to my home for a BBQ. The asker of this much debated BBQ riddle usually already has an answer. They just want an “expert” opinion. Before I continue I feel I must make the following point very clear and offer this disclaimer, to anyone who may stumble upon my humble blog. Although I have hundreds of ideas about BBQ, grilling and outdoor cooking and have this unfounded need to write this BBQ blog, I am far from an expert. I just know what I like. I barbecue large quantities of meat as often as possible with no regard for who is going to be around to eat it. Don’t be alarmed the food never goes to waste. I deliver it to friends and neighbors and bring to work. It is not difficult to find people to eat BBQ, especially when it’s free. Anyway, because of popular demand (my world is small and popularity is relative) I will attempt to decipher the age old riddle of gas or charcoal.

First of all, I believe that this question only applies to what I like to call east coast BBQ or grilling. True BBQ requires the use of hardwoods and by modern convenience charcoal. Gas is shunned by the majority of BBQ gurus and its use is forbidden in BBQ competitions. Yes I am still trying to muster up the confidence to put a BBQ team together and try my luck at a NEBS cook-off. There are gas and electric power BBQ pit smokers on the market. Some burn pellets to create the smoke others are actually set up to burn wood chunks or chips. Gas is mainly used when grilling and this is where many people make the common mistake that grilling is the same as BBQ; IT IS NOT. Anyway, let me get to the question at hand—I will save the grilling versus BBQ debate for a different time.

Second, there are really three different solutions to this riddle. Each in its own right is sound, reasonable and acceptable:
  • Gas requires little effort, heats up quickly and requires virtually no clean up. Sticking to the idea of keeping it simple, gas would seem to me the easiest way to go. In the long run gas is less expensive and offers greater control of heat intensity and level. Perfect for a quick weeknight meal requiring minimal effort or a trip to Gillette Stadium. Arrive home from work, light the grill, throw on a few seasoned chicken breasts some fresh zucchini, and a tinfoil package of thin sliced seasoned potatoes (those of you who are carb-conscious can skip the starch) and in less than thirty minutes you have a healthy meal. Better yet, no pots and pans to clean.

  • Charcoal requires a bit more effort, but is still easy. It appeals to the purest, creates a sense of tradition and imparts a wonderful smoked flavor to the food. You will never have to guess about how much is left and you can buy it at almost anywhere. The 24 hour pharmacy in my neighborhood doesn’t refill propane tanks, but they do sell coal. With no need to store a gas tank or run a gas line outside of your home. Some feel charcoal offers a sense of safety. Arrive home from work and start your coal chimney (I am a firm believer in this tool). While the coal is starting prepare your meal (I love blackened sword fish grilled over coal) and find a cold beer. Grab you food and beer, head outside and dump your chimney into the grill. Drink your beer while waiting for the grill to come up to temperature and throw on your seasoned swordfish and vegetables. The fish will be done in about fifteen minutes and you’ll a have another tasty and healthy meal; again no pots or pans to clean.

  • Why not both? Gas is quick and to the point and is great when you’re in a hurry and don’t want to expend the extra effort midweek. Charcoal offers a more traditional grilling experience and produces flavors that gas just can’t create. To be fair some “experts” say they can taste no difference between gas and charcoal. Whether the taste is perceived or actual I notice a difference. Gas depends entirely on the flavor of the seasonings, rubs and marinades and imparts no added flavor the food. Charcoal enhances and works with the food adding a smoky almost game like essence to the taste. Remember both mean no pots, pans or kitchen to clean.

Finally, each heat source has its own benefits and faults. It really comes down to personal preference. What do you like? Are you barbecuing or grilling? What is easier for you? What are you most comfortable using? I am a purest and love cooking over charcoal especially hardwood charcoal. I also am all about making my life easier and enjoying every moment. For me the answer is both. When I am at Gillette Stadium and want to keep things quick and simple I use gas, propane to be exact. When I’m at home I only use charcoal. I have in the past used a gas grill at home, but over the past couple of years grilling, barbecue and cooking have become, for me, more about the ritual than the convenience. Forget about what the experts and professionals say. Think about what you like, what makes your life easier and what is most important to you. My grandmother taught me early in life to eat the foods I like, use the ingredients I can easily get and cook the way that I am most comfortable.

If you’re outside watching your son playing on his swing set and dog running around the yard as you share a glass of wine with your bride and cook dinner, does it really matter if you are using gas or charcoal? Just a little perspective to close; charcoal takes longer which means more wine or more whine—gas has its place.

PS. It pains me greatly to attach myself in anyway to FOX TV, but I imagine Hank Hill may be the only intellect with which I am equally matched on the this topic.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Coal Wars:Weekend Warrior Blend!

A few weekends ago I promised a few interested souls I would test different brands and types of lump charcoal. My plan was and still is to use a different manufacture’s product each weekend and write a series of lump charcoal reviews. The recent biblical rains drenched my initial intentions, but last night I set my plan in motion once again. I don’t know how long my research will last (probably until my bride begins notice all the bags in the garage or I realize how much money I’m burning) or even what brands I can get my hands on locally. If anyone has any suggestion or wants to join in the fun, please feel free (contact me). Maybe between us we can come up with a fairly extensive amateur guide to charcoal (check out the Naked Whiz’s Lump Charcoal Database for professional reviews) one that’s from the perspective of the world’s backyard gourmets. Presently I am going to see how many different brands I can find in local or reasonably local brick-and-mortar stores. I know that I will ultimately end up buying from the internet, but I want to see what’s available to the few folks out there that are not obsessed with BBQ.

Most every store in my backyard sells Cowboy brand lump charcoal. Personally, I have been using it off and on for about 2 years. It is not the greatest blend of wood as it made from mainly scrape lumber. It is reasonably priced and easy to get. Recently however I came across an older product review done by, you guessed it the Naked Whiz, and have since decide to stop using it. Admittedly, I haven’t encountered any of the problems mentioned in the review, but until now I haven’t really been looking. I have notice a few unrecognizable coals among the obvious hardwood flooring chunks (my family is in the hardwood floor business if anyone cares) and that combine with the prior has made me uncomfortable with the product. Enough about that, on to this weekend’s first lump charcoal product test.

Wicked Good Charcoal: Weekend Warrior Blend will provide the embers of choice. I gave it a test run last night and grilled up some homemade sausages with grilled turnips and redskin potatoes. I don’t have much to report right now except to say that it definitely burns hotter than the Cowboy or any briquette product on the market. The real test is slated for Saturday when I see how well it barbecues. On the menu is a small 9 pound boneless Boston butt [don’t get me started on why it’s boneless and wimpy, let’s just say I am in the market for a new meatmonger; who refuses to sell a whole pork shoulder to someone because they think the person (customer) is silly? Especially when that someone owns two BBQ websites and is a member of the Chamber of Commerce. He told me, “you don’t know what you are talking about, only those guys who compete in BBQ cook offs use entire shoulders” if he only knew (I’m all talk-- I will never write poorly of a person’s business based on one incident, hence no mention of the stores name. I just needed to rant)] and possibly, if my bride isn’t looking, a couple/few racks of ribs, and maybe a chicken. I don’t want to waste good smoke and this bag of lump is expensive.

Wish me luck; I will post this weekends findings early next week… Eat Ugly—

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Fiddleheads? I remember watching my grandmother walking around our backyard picking mushrooms, ferns and dandelions every chance she got. She would rush back to the kitchen and make some of the most “delicious” soups, pizzas and sandwiches known to man, or at least my family. She was famous among the grandchildren for her love of vegetables and foraging trips into the backyard. I don’t recommend that anyone eat anything they pick out of woods behind their house, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Many ferns and mushrooms are poisonous. I’m not even quite sure if my grandmother new what she was doing or if she was just lucky. Anyway, last week before the local grocery store flooded along with many other homes and business in my town I found one of her all time favorite veggies.

Fiddleheads are the curly top of the Ostrich fern and are a bit difficult to come by if they aren’t harvested in your region. They are only available in early spring and are very perishable. A bit or controversy surrounds these asparagus tasting spouts. When not cooked properly they have been known to cause food-born illness. If they are cleaned and cooked thoroughly they are perfectly safe. Illness has only been reported to occur when fiddleheads are eaten raw or lightly cooked (parboiled, sautéed, or “microwaved”) Just be sure to brush out and remove the brown scales, wash them well, and either boil them for 10 minutes or steam them for 20. They can eaten countless ways and the New Englanders “in the know” often freeze and pickle them for use in the later months. Personally I love them in salads, soups and sautés (sauté only after boiled or steamed).

If you can find them buy them; for they are cheap, simple and tasty. My favorite way to enjoy them is below…My grandmother always taught me simple is best.

Fiddleheads Sautéed with Garlic and Red Onion

1 to 2 lbs of Fiddleheads
½ ++ Cup Diced Red Onion
2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 TBS Unsalted Butter
3 or 4 Cloves of Garlic Minced
Juice of ½ a Lemon
Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to Taste

Brush out and remove the brown scales, cut off the very tip of the curl and wash thoroughly.
Boil fiddleheads in lightly salted water for 10 minutes.
Remove to an ice water bath to stop cooking, drain and dry well.
Add olive oil and butter to a hot sauté pan
Sauté red onions until soft and lightly browned about 4 minutes
Add Garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes
Add fiddleheads and sauté until coated in oil and hot (3 or 4 minutes)
Remove from heat and toss with fresh lemon juice
Season to taste with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Serve with hard crust Italian bread and a cold larger

Old Lady this one’s for you…

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Nature of Food

If you live anywhere in or around Boston you have probably noticed that is has been raining since Monday night. My son has spent the last three days staring out his bedroom window at his brand new swing set. He is pictured to the left in this season’s latest chef's apparel. His expression reminds me of how Ralphi probably felt when came down the stairs in the pink bunny costume his aunt made for him in the movie A Christmas Story. Bruce the Ugly Pug is curled up in his bed in a deep depression fearing his next trip out to the bathroom. I think I may have heard the tip-toeing of his little paws coming out of the bathroom after the toilet flushed late last night. My wife just stares outside wishing for her house to be quiet again. I find myself repeatedly exclaiming "I just want to BBQ", every time I notice my BBQ pit sitting alone in the backyard. Anyway, because of all the rain I have found time to catch up on some grading and lesson plans, write a paper for school, build a pillow fort with Anthony and blog hop.

Last night I came across a great little local blog called Curiosity Killed the Cook. There is something wonderfully comforting about this spot. I don’t know if it is the recipes from around the globe or the little stories that accompany them. What ever it is it goes beyond just cooking and eating and gets to the heart of what food is really about (read “Why the Blog” and hopefully you will understand). For me food has always been about the adventure of trying new things, experiencing different traditions and cultures, and most importantly spending time with family and friends. Food brings friends as well as strangers together to celebrate, grieve, share and laugh. Food is at the center of every person’s life. I revive the happiest memories of my life when I cook and eat certain dishes. My favorite part of the day is making dinner for my family. Knowing that my food brings us together at the end a day and helps us to become a stronger family makes me content in my world. Tonight, when Anthony and I cook dinner (yes, my two year old cooks dinner with me almost every night) I will teach him a new recipe. I’ll call it ugly bananas (really called Arbuan Bananas) and tell him that I learned it from a kindhearted stranger who enjoys ugly food too.

Eat Hot, Eat Healthy and Always Eat Ugly…. The Ugly Gourmet!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Super Easy Grilled Chicken and Balsamic Salsa

What is the first thought you have in the morning? You know, after your coffee. Do you think about work, hitting the driving range after work or getting all of you errands done before the family gets home? Me, I think about dinner. In fact everything I do seems to revolve around food. I grew up believing my family should gather together every evening around the dinner table. In reality, today's world is often too fast paced to spend a couple hours a night in the kitchen preparing and cleaning up. Anyway, during the week I do everything I can to make simple, quick and clean meals. And above all I do my best to cook everything outside on the grill. There are few things better than watching Anthony play in the yard (and now on his new play set) while I cook dinner.

The Chicken: The beauty of owning a store that specializes in gourmet BBQ and fiery foods is my endless supply of flavored filled shakers and jars. I use every product I sell, especially during the week when I don't have time to make my own.

4 Large Chicken breasts
4 Tbs Mary's Cherry Rub
½ Cup Ole Ray's Apple Cinnamon BBQ Sauce

1. Clean, dry and trim chicken
2. Coat liberally with Mary's Cherry Rub
3. Light charcoal and preheat grill for 10 to 15 minutes
4. Grill chicken over high heat for approximately 7 minutes
5. Turn over, brush with BBQ sauce and grill for another 7 minutes
6. Turn over, brush with BBQ sauce and grill for another 2 minutes
7. Turn over, brush with BBQ sauce and grill for a final 2 minutes

8. Serve with Balsamic Salsa Salad and a little extra sauce on the side.

Cooking times will vary. The chicken is done when NO PINK is visible when the chicken is cut.

Balsamic Salsa Salad: Believe it or not this is one of Anthony's favorite dishes. When he is around I leave out the walnuts and when he is not around I like to add a mince of jalapeno or a shot of hot sauce.

½ Cup Red Onion Diced
1 Pint/Package Grape Tomatoes Halved
½ Cup Each Yellow and Orange Bell Pepper
½ Cup of Apple Diced
¼ Cup Diced Carrot
¼ Toasted Walnuts
Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper to Taste
Pinch of Cumin
¼ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Toss everything together and let marinate for 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Great in sandwiches and for a quick lunch.

Sometimes There is More to Life Than BBQ...

Last night was it. Anthony's new swing set finally arrived. There are few things better in life than a child's amazement (Thank your Nanna, Pappa, Grammy and Grampa). He spent three hours watching two strangers construct his newest acquisition and had no idea what they were building until the slide went up. At that point the neighborhood began to echo with cries of "OH, MOMMY, LOOK! Mommy SLIDE...." and so one.

PS- For those who care (and I can think of one person who will) The time stamp on my camera is wrong, I think it was more like 6:15.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Southwestern Grilled Flank Steak with Fiery Apple BBQ Sauce

I was at class the other night and during dinner break we got to talking about household responsibilities. Well some of us were talking and others were complaining. Personally, I never complain- I just feel lucky to have met someone foolish enough to marry me (I guess my beautiful bride didn't wear a helmet as a child either). In my home we share the majority of the work (Nicole actually does a fair bit more than me). There are however two cardinal rules that exist within our happy abode if either is ever broken severe civil strife will soon follow. I am never, under any circumstance, to touch the checkbook and Nicole, no matter how hungry, is forbidden to cook anything other than French toast, pancakes and the occasional omelet... Our discussion revolved around the usual domestic duties that we all find so dreadfully daunting. Banter relating to yard work and housework and the gender responsibilities for each overshadowed the majority of our time. The conversationn was actualy quite calm; until Dave stopped the dialogue dead in its tracks with a statement that could get a man flogged in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts "Men don't cook they BBQ. Women cook, right Jon" he said with a smile. His attempt to blame me for this enormously erroneous comment thankfully backfired, albeit this gave me a much desired opportunity to add my two cents it was nonetheless very uncomfortable.

Finally, as with all conversations that I am involved in, the topics of cooking and BBQ surfaced. My friends all looked at me, rolled their eyes and waited for me to chime in. They know how much I love to talk about how I cook for my wife every night and how Nicole would only eat cereal if it weren't for me. Not wanting to disappoint I proceeded to preach about how BBQ is not just cooking and how anyone can barbeque as long as they keep it simple. The usual ration of grief from my more traditionally minded companions soon ensued.

Thankfully, by this time our dinner hour had come to end and I was finally allowed to take my head out of the smoker. I did however promise the group I would post two of my wife's favorite recipes. The first is braised artichokes, but since this recipe is best accompanied by pictures I will share it at a later date. Today I will leave you her favorite recipe for fiery grilled flank steak (London broil, skirt steak etc.). Actually, I don't think it is the steak as much as it is the marinade and BBQ sauce she enjoys.

The Meat
1.5 to 2 pound piece of flank or skirt steak or London broil

The Marinade
3 or 4 Key Limes
Zest of 1+++ Lime
¼ Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 tbs Sesame Oil (this is my secret and may be omitted-- and will be removed from this post very soon)
A Handful of Fresh Chopped Cilantro
One Bottle of Your Falagere Lagar Beer
Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
½++ tsp Ground Cumin
½ ++ tsp Chipotle Powder
½ ++tsp Garlic Powder
½++++tsp Hot Paprika
1 Cup Chopped Red Onion (any onion will do I like red)
3, 4, or 5 Cloves of Smashed Garlic
2 or 3 Bay Leaves
1 Shot of Jack Daniel's (another secret, optional)
A Couple Shots of Hot Pepper Sauce (use a real pepper sauce, not one that is just about heat or made from purely extracts)

Mix all ingredients together in a 1 gallon zip lock type bag. Add meat, squeeze out as much air as possible (over the sink, trust me). And put in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, I recommend over night.

The BBQ Sauce (I adapted this recipe from recipegal.com-- Great Sauce! Great Site! My version is here, the original is not spicy)

1 Cup Ketchup
¼ Cup Apple Cider
¼ Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
¼ Cup Soy Sauce
¾ tsp Garlic Powder
¾ tsp White Pepper
½ tsp Chipotle Pepper
¾ Cup Apple Peeled & Grated
¼ Cup Grated Red Onion
2 tsp Grated Hot Chili Pepper (I use Habanero for the guys/ Jalapeno for the family)
Peri Peri Hot Sauce to taste (I like African Rhino, Hot)

Mix all ingredients in a heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. If the sauce is too thick add beer or beef stock until it reaches the desired consistency. If too thin reduce until desired consistency. Most of these style sauces will keep for up to a week in the refrigerators.

How to Grill (Barbecuing is not grilling)

Remove meat from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.
Light the grill. I only cook over gas when I am at Gillette Stadium on all other occasions I use lump charcoal.
Preheat for 15 minutes-- get the grill as hot as possible.
Place meat directly on the grill and cover for 4 minutes
Turn meat over and cook 4 more minutes
Brush with BBQ sauce, turn over, brush other side and cook for 2 more minutes
Brush steak again, turn over, brush other side and cook for 2 minutes
Brush both sides one more time with BBQ sauce and remove from grill
Cover with foil tent and let rest for 10 minutes
Slice thin, against the grain and on the diagnal
Serve with Fiery Apple BBQ sauce

Next time I'll take picture--- Enjoy, The Ugly Gourmet.

Friday, May 05, 2006

My Spice Cabinet...

At work the other day a friend of mine made the mistake of asking me what was in my spice collection. I am not saying I use all these spices, herbs and seasoning blends regularly, but during BBQ season anything is fair game. Donna, this post is just for you.

My Spice cabinet : Allspice, Basil, Bay leave ground, Bay leave whole, Cajun Seasoning, Cardamom Whole Green, Caribbean salt, Cayenne Powder, Celery Seed Whole, Chili Powder, Cinnamon, Coriander Seed, Crushed Red Pepper, Cumin, Garlic powder, Grey Salt, Ground Chipotle, Habanero Cajun Seasoning From Hell , Hot Hungarian Paprika, Ionized Salt, Kosher Salt, Mace Whole, Mary's Cherry Rub, Mustard Seed (Brown/Black) Whole, Mustard Seed (Yellow) Whole, Nutmeg Whole, Old Bay, Onion Powder, Oregano, Parsley, Pork Powder Dry Rub, Red curry, Sage, Savory, Sea salt, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric, White pepper, Whole Black Pepper, Yellow curry... TO BE Continued

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

BBQ, Backyards and Kids

I sat in my kitchen last evening and stared out into my soon to be marvelous backyard. As I sipped a homemade beer and watched the rain puddle in the dips of my dirt lawn I was overcome with envy. Envy for all that people in the world who are smarter than me with green grass lawns, patios made of more then crushed gravel, and BBQ pits ready to go for the season. I began to think that I have bitten off a bit more than I can chew.

Let me give you some insight into my little world. Every two year old boy needs a backyard to play in. That backyard could be Harold Parker State Forest, Boston Common or Arcadia National Park. In my world however, my bride felt the need to turn our backyard into what could appear to be any of these places in the eyes if a two year old. I really shouldn’t place blame on my lovely wife, but she knows how I am. She knows I am never happy with anything less than extraordinary. She also knows that bringing me to a store that specializes exclusively in the creation of children’s play sets is not a spectacular idea. Inevitably we would leave with the biggest play set my wallet could carry and that’s just what happened. I forgot who the play set was for and I got carried away as usual. We ended up buying a recreational apparatus (swing set is no longer an applicable term) that needs a 27 by 30 square foot level area to call home. Did I mention level? My backyard is not level or should I say was not level.

As if all of this is not bad enough. I wasn’t happy with bringing in two ten wheel dump trucks of crushed gavel for the base and two more of river rock to go on top of that to create a kid friendly play surface. No, not me, I needed to have two patios dug in. One for each side of my deck, you know a nice sitting area and (this is the part where BBQ fits in) my very own outdoor kitchen. Yes that’s right a special home for my BBQ pit, water smoker and kettle grill. Every pit master’s dream is now my nightmare.

Now, don’t be mistaken. I am not a wealthy man and my version of an outdoor cooking area is much grander that my wife or wallet will let me have. There will be no stone countertops, running water or outdoor refrigerator. The brick oven and fireplace are down the street at my parent’s neighbor’s house. Bobby Flay will never be envious of me. My yard’s culinary corner will be just that, a cooking corner. It will probably take me two or three years to make it look like anything resembling a kitchen. When all is said and done I will have a 12’ by 12’ stone patio with a small bar that will double as a prep table. That will be all for this season. It will be just enough room for my three favorite lawn ornaments and maybe a small fire pit from Target.

I think I have lost my point. In fact, I have no idea what the original intentions of the post were. I have figured out one thing. When I do finally get the chance to cook in my backyard again I will be able to look out over the BBQ pit and watch my son playing on his new play set. I know that when he is older all of his friends will want to hang out at our house. I know about a ½ hour ago I was freaking out about all the work that I have to do in the backyard. I was complaining because I can’t afford to build Kitchen Stadium. I was complaining because I am not going be able to have a family BBQ for at least one month. I was complaining because I have a backyard, a son and a loving wife.

Wow am I selfish. I don’t have any right or reason to complain…


Monday, May 01, 2006

Eat BBQ and Wear a Helmet...

Ok, I know I said yesterday that this blog was going to be devoted to gourmet BBQ and fiery foods and it will be. I'll tell you what. After this ramble I'll give you a great recipe for unbelievably tasty and simple barbeque ribs. Actually now that I think about it- this post is more about BBQ than any recipe I can share. The way I see it BBQ is less about cooking and eating than it is about spending time with family and friends. Don't be mistaken food is the foundation of all great gatherings, but it is only the beginning.

A few days ago my cousins, Roy and Noel, lost their grandmother. We are all in our thirties, some closer to 4o and ucky enough to have had our grandparents around for much of our lives. Anyway, last evening was her wake and as with most events of this nature it was the first time we have been together in a long while. Now, as far as wakes go this was not a particularly difficult evening. Helen was not well and is definitely in a better place. The odd thing about these times, in my family anyway, is that we find comfort in the humor of our childhoods. I would imagine this is similar in most families. Our conversations seem to begin with the formalities of how's work, the kids, cousin Paul's new shoes and end somewhere around why if we wore helmets as children we would not be married. Yes, we managed to blame the fact that the mandatory dawning of helmets, not being a concern in our childhood, on all of our current situations. I know the notion of marriage, our mortgages and careers as punishment for mistakes made in youth sounds terrible, but lets be honest everyone has these thoughts. I would not trade my bride or child for anything in the world and most days I love my career. For those of you who don’t know me gourmet BBQ and hot sauces are only a respite from my real job (someday I will share what it is I really do with the rest of the world). Anyway, we decided that had we been forced to where helmets as children we would not have had the courage or lack of sense that allowed us to ask our wives out on that very first date. Yes, not wearing helmets made us tough, brave and stupid.

Tough, brave or stupid I love my wife, son and family and next weekend I am going to have the first family BBQ of the season. I plan to cook too much food, eat too much meat and have conversations about helmets, shoes and hot sauce. At the next wake I want to have more than just childhood memories and Paul' shoes to talk about. Now for that recipe...

Keep It Simple Oven Ribs...
The first thing that everyone looks for when they come to my house for a BBQ are my smoked ribs. For you purest here's a link to my recipe for real slow cooked barbequed apple smoked ribs...click here. For the rest a simple version can be found below.
  • Directions for Cooking:
    1. Remove the membrane from the ribs. If you don't feel like dealing with this step or have no idea what I am talking about, don't worry. Simply place the ribs bone side up on a cutting surface and score the back of them (diagonally in each direction) gently with a sharp knife.
    2. Generously coat the rack (both sides) with your favorite rub.
    3. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
    4. Place in refrigerator over night.
    5. Remove ribs from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.
    6. Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
    7. Leaving the plastic wrap on wrap the ribs in heavy duty aluminum foil.
    8. Place on sheet pan.
    9. Cook for 4.5 hours.
    10. Remove foil and plastic Wrap and place on a sheet pan.
    11. Brush Generously with favorite BBQ Sauce.
    12. Cook for another 15 minutes.
    13. Turn ribs over and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes.
    14. Eat, Drink and Enjoy!!!!!