Monday, December 30, 2013

Ich Liebe Döner Kebab

Once upon a time, in a far away land a young soldier and his hot wife walked the streets of Mannheim, Germany sampling every candy, bread, and meat stand that we came across not knowing what an amazing treat we were about to stumble across.  The Doner Kebab, in America we call it a Gyro, but it is essentially the same thing.  Depending on the location, it could be lamb, a combination of lamb, beef, and veal, or unfortunately ground meat (yuck).

Walking into a real Doner shop there are huge cone shape vertical spits rotating in front of a heating element to cook the meat.  The meat magician would walk over and hand shave off the perfect amount of meat to fill a pita bread with this masterful concoction of meat.  He then coated it in salad and a doner sauce (cucumber yogurt sauce) that would drizzle down your arm as you walked along munching away on this fabulous treat.

So last night as I was packing up the leftover leg of lamb I knew there was only one thing to do, make some doner kebabs for dinner tonight!  It took everything in me to concentrate on the tasks at hand today at work in anticipation of making these for dinner.

I know what you are thinking, its a sandwich, get over it, well it isn't just a sandwich, it is a thousand memories of late night visits to the Doner shop in Worms while on patrol, walking the market in Mannheim, visits to the German version of a Walmart, and so on... Its the little things in life.

Enough reminiscing, I pulled out the meat slicer when I got home and did a couple of different thicknesses to test what would work best for these tasty treats.  Once I sliced all of the meat I cut up some tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and pita bread.  I preheated my cast iron pan and tossed in the meat to heat it up a bit before stacking it.

Once I had all of the components ready I stacked meat, veggies, meat, cheese, and sauce between two slices of pita bread and plated them up for dinner.  Absolutely unreal, fantastic!

And is if that wasn't enough I cracked open a Saint Archer Pale Ale tonight and it was definitely a great compliment to this meal.  This is a true SOCAL Pale Ale that would be a great beer for any afternoon barbecue.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wood Fired Bone-in Leg of lamb

While shopping for my Christmas dinner Pork Rib Roast I came across an amazing leg of lamb that brought a little tear of joy to my meat loving eye.  So naturally I bought it knowing I would cook it up this weekend.

So yesterday I took it out of its cryovac packaging and trimmed it up removing some tendons and excess fat from the lamb.  I patted it dry with paper towels and placed it in a container back on the fridge over night to save myself some time today.  This morning I poured about a 1/4 cup of lemon juice over the leg of lamb, covered it, and placed it back in the fridge for an hour.

After my workout this morning I pulled the lamb out of the fridge, poured off the excess lemon juice, rubbed it in olive oil, and added a rub of tarragon, rosemary, garlic, thyme, and mustard powder to the meat rubbing it into all of the crevices.

I put the meat back in the fridge to set until I was ready to fire up the grill.  We wanted to do an early dinner today so I started my fire at 2pm to allow for the coals and almond wood to get to a constant temperature before I added the meat.  Since I am doing this all in the main compartment of the charcoal side of the grill I set up the wood and coals on the side next to the fire box so that I had an indirect cooking area.

I intended to place the drip pan for the juices in the bottom of the grill next to the coals, but the fire was too hot for that to work, so I placed the drip pan on the main cooking surface and placed the lamb on the upper rack above the pan.  I was able to get a fair amount of smoke rolling, in the hopes that I would impart some smoke into the lamb while it was cooking.  I started cooking at 400 degrees.

I checked the internal temperature of the lamb after the first hour and it was 87 degrees.  I closed the lid and let the meat continue to cook for another hour.  At the end of the second hour the internal temp was right at 142 degrees so I pulled the meat from the grill.  I set it on a cutting board loosely covered in foil while I finished up the side dishes.

For my sides I made smashed new potatoes and garlic paprika asparagus with a piece of garlic cheese bread.  I also used the drippings from the lamb to make red wine sauce to drizzle over the meat and potatoes.  For the smashed potatoes I placed the whole boiled potatoes in a bowl with 1/4 cup of unsalted butter with salt and pepper and smashed them with a fork until they were blended together. AMAZING!

I wanted center cut pieces for dinner tonight, so I cut three 1/4 inch slices to share between the two of us for dinner tonight.  The rest will be thinly sliced for doner kebabs tomorrow night for dinner.

Needless to say, the lamb soaked up the smoke from the almond wood like a sponge, and the medium rare center cut portion was like meat butter with a hint of smokiness.  We both cleared our plates and if it wasn't for the fact that we were stuffed, I would have gone back for seconds!

If you have ever walked by a leg of lamb in the store and wondered if you could do it, you can, and it will be amazing.  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hot Damn Wings

While wings are not the most complicated of meals to prepare, they are time and labor intensive, but the end result is worth every bite!  On recent batches I was told by Mandy that they were not hot enough, so knowing what her limit is, I have slowly cranked them up a notch the last to times.  The last batch had her sweating, this one, well, she didn't cry but I think I found the sweet spot for her "hot" range.

These are triple dipped oven baked hot wings with an added kick of habanero sauce. To start I separated the parts into three sections, drumlets, wing, and tips.  Most people toss the wing tips. but that is my favorite part.

I placed the pieces on pans, coated them in garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper, the placed them in a preheated 475 degree oven for 25 minutes.  While they were cooking I mixed up my sauce using Franks Original mixed with butter and a few splashes of  habanero sauce.

First Dip:

After the first 25 minutes I dipped the wings in the hot sauce mix and placed them back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

Second Dip:

Same as the first, using more of the same mixture of sauces and butter. Back in for another 15 minutes.

Third Dip:

Same as the last, except I turn off the heat in the oven and place them back in for 5 minutes just to let the sauce cook into the wings.  We don't like overly wet wings.

Finally, I plated these bad boys up and we devoured them in a quarter of the time it took to prepare the feast. But that is ok, it was well worth the wait!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Dinner at Casa de Crews

So this afternoon has been an amazing trip through several bottles of Prosecco, some with an extra kick of Amaretto.... so to put a bow on the end of the day I cooked us a pork rib roast that I picked up at Sprouts Market.  This is my first pork rib roast, I did a beef standing rib roast for Thanksgiving, but never a bone in pork rib roast.

If I had to compare this to any cut of pork, I would say it is like a center cut pork chop.  Juicy, tender, just enough fat to make it tender, but not enough to make it too fatty.  Pork is one of those meats that alone is good, but when paired with a sauce or other topping, is pretty fabulous.

In the case of my rib roast, I paired it with apple, and made it awesome.  This was a 3lb rib roast so I preheated the oven to 350 degrees while I prepped the meat.  I coated the roast in a light coating of flour, caraway seeds, ground mustard, salt, and pepper.  I wrapped the ends of the bones in foil to keep them from burning (more of a personal preference for aesthetics).

I put the roast in a lightly greased pan and placed it in the oven for an hour.  While the roast was cooking I mixed up the coating by chopping up 2 granny smith apples and combining them with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of mace, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

After the first hour, I added the apple mix to the top of the roast and stuck it back in the oven for another hour.  Once the roast reached an internal temp of 160 I pulled it out of the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking I started the potatoes and green beans.  For the green beans, I let them cook for about 15 minutes. I sauteed mushrooms, bacon, savory, and lemon juice in a pan with some butter and added the green beans at the end and mixed it all together.

I sliced the pork roast into 1/2 inch thick portions and plated it up with the potatoes and savory green beans for an amazing Christmas dinner.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Breakfast!

Merry Christmas to all! Today started out with a couple of cups of coffee to get the engine going, but it didn't take long to get the party started.  Since we have a day of Prosecco and relaxation planned I decided to start the day off with a Crews family traditional breakfast of Sausage Gravy with biscuits.

Growing up there was one day of the week I always looked forward to for breakfast and that was Sunday.  My dad and mom would get up early and make sausage gravy which was a surefire way of getting two growing boys through a morning of church without gnawing our arms off.

So to carry on the tradition I have occasionally made sausage gravy for Mandy and I on Sundays (or whenever...) to get the day started off right.  Only, I do it a little differently.... Traditionally it is made with breakfast sausage, but I prefer hot Italian sausage to add a little kick to the mix.

I start off by browning the sausage in a pan.  I used a pound, but only use 1/2 for the gravy, the other will go on a pizza, YEAH!!  I also preheated the oven to 450 degrees for the biscuits.  Once the sausage was cooked I removed it from the pan while the biscuits (can be made with any mix or, God forbid, from a tube...) were cooking.

While the biscuits were cooking I made a simple rue of 2 TBS flour and a cup of milk (Organic) to use as a base for the gravy.  I added it to the pan with the leftover bits of sausage and juices.  Now the rest of the process really depends on how thick you want your gravy, or how much sausage you want to add. I like my gravy to be thick enough to stick to the biscuits, but not too thick.

The last step is to butter the biscuits and pour on the gravy!! If you have never tried it, I hope you will.  This is no ordinary Shit On a Shingle (SOS)...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Morgan's in the Desert

Last night we drove out to the Coachella Valley  to have dinner with my aunt and uncle at Morgan's in the Desert.  We have eaten here before on a previous trip and it was as amazing this time as it was last year.  Morgan's is a Fine Dining restaurant located on the grounds of the historic La Quinta Resort.  This diamond in the desert is a mission style resort with casitas spread across the property connected by sidewalks, swimming pools, tennis courts, and quiet seating areas spread across the grounds.

We started off with cocktails in the bar area of the restaurant, I had a Speakeasy which contains what has become one of my favorite Rye Whiskeys, Templeton Rye.  The drink was extremely tasty, I am not usually one for mixed drinks, but the lemon and honey were nice accents to the whiskey.

Once we were seated the hard decisions had to be made... Do I want lamb, duck, pasta, or even steak.   But even before that, what do I want to start with, soup, salad, or some other amazing treat..  SO MANY DECISIONS!  I have found over the years that if I narrow my selection down to a couple of choices, then whatever rolls out of my mouth when it is my turn to order, is what I will go with for dinner.

I ordered the Farmers Market soup for a starter, which was made up of delicious roasted red peppers, onion, and corn in an amazing broth.  I followed it up with Apple Cider Cured Duck Breast over an apple ginger salad.  We also ordered a bottle of Lange Estate Pinot Noir to  complement our meal.  Mandy and Jennie ordered the seasonal lamb, and Phil ordered the Artisan Linguine.

This duck was unlike any that I have ever had before, if I hadn't known that I was eating meat, I would have never guessed, cause this was melt in your mouth amazing!  The apples and ginger added a depth of flavor that was both sweet and fresh, the crunch of the skin was just right and paired with the wine, this was an amazing dinner.

If you make a trip to the area, this is the place to eat!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cowboy Ribeyes

                  These are some serious steaks for two extremely hungry carnivores!

I am not sure what is going on with drivers in SOCAL but the idiot factor is definitely in effect on the freeways.  In the past week our average commute to and from work has been at least 2 hours each way.  Add the rain today and you would think someone covered the road in ice...

Nevertheless, we needed a little foodie comfort to take the edge off of what can only be described as a moronathon.  So as I perused the isles of the grocery store grabbing some quick items for dinner I saw some bone in ribeyes that I could not take my eye off of so I grabbed them for dinner.

When I got them home, I trimmed the meat and fat from the end of the bone to create a nice handle.  This style of ribeye is known as a cowboy steak since the bone handlebar makes it a nice meatsicle for a real man (or woman) to chow down on for dinner on the range, or in the comfort of home....  OK, got a little carried away there, but this is a pretty awesome cut of steak.

I preheated my cast iron skillet(rainy day alternative to the grill) with a little oil until it just started to smoke a little, and threw in the steaks.  I seared them on each side for 2 minutes and then placed the pan in the oven with 2 pats of butter and some parsley for 7 minutes at 425 degrees.  Once they were done I let them set for 10 minutes before serving them up for dinner.

Obviously there were leftovers that will be used for a tasty lunchtime treat tomorrow!  This steak was amazing and it went great with my Long Hammer IPA curing my commuter blues, at least until tomorrow...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What does that food label mean???

Every time I go to the store I see a new label on the packages in the meat case that claims to be natural, all natural, grass fed, free range, cage free, hormone free, no antibiotics, USDA certified organic, pastured, what the hell does all this mean!!!

For the most part is all a load of crap that has been crafted by the meat industry to make us, the consumer, feel better about the products we are consuming.... Other than USDA certified organic, which is regulated and requires farmers to follow specific guidelines in order to maintain the certification.  The guidelines that have to be followed, for instance no human sludge in fertilizer, no unapproved synthetic substances, etc...  REALLY, so if your food isn't "USDA certified organic" it could have stood in, ate, or was grown in fertilizer that contained human waste... Not to mention all of the chemicals that could be added to make it bigger, fatter, and more profitable without any regard for the consequences. Maybe....

So what do all of the other labels mean?  Anything from nothing at all to the small farmer that actually raises humanely treated animals.  So how do you know what you are buying? ASK! While it is nice to think that the steer is roaming free on the farm, the pig has a large mud pit to wallow in, and the chicken is pecking around in the farmer's backyard, that is not always the case.  We have all seen the footage of chickens stacked on top of each other, cows standing in pens tightly packed with others up past their hooves in feces, and pigs living in concrete floored barns for their entire lives feeding on garbage mixed into their feed.

I used to work at a casino many years ago, and a local farmer would come by once a week and pick up barrels of grease and food waste that he was feeding to hogs.  Now, while pigs are omnivorous, I don't think eating greasy waste mixed with different feeds and garbage is healthy for the pig, or us, as we will ultimately consume the pork byproduct at some point down the road.

I have really pushed this idea around for a while and contemplated if I really wanted to even acknowledge or discuss the topic, but if we don't acknowledge it or discuss it at some point then it will never change.  Do I think that my thoughts will have a major impact on a multi-billion dollar a year industry? No, but if enough people feel the same way, and decide to change the choices they make, where they shop, and demand to know where their food is coming from, then change can occur.

But realize, just because something says natural, local, or sustainable, unless you really understand what it means and who is saying it, they are just words.  Ask your meat supplier if they have visited the farm they receive their meat from, or the processing facility, and how far away it is from the farm.  If it is beef, and they are claiming grass fed, what type of grass, is it grass fed, grass finished or grain finished.  Was it grain finished on the farm or at a stockyard, if so did the feed contain antibiotics or other hormones. If the beef is labeled hormone and antibiotic free, was the animal raised without both, or weaned off prior to slaughter?

Mega farms use antibiotics to not only prevent the spread of diseases, but to increase the size of the animal prior to slaughter.  Big win for the corporation, not for you and me...  I am not a doctor or a scientist so I will not proclaim to understand the impact the last 20+ years of consuming meat that has been raised in this manner will have on us, but I think it is evident based on the increase in obesity, early puberty in children, and countless issues that continue to arise that it isn't good for us.  Not to mention the impact on the environment from runoff and soil contamination.

I know this is a food blog and I am supposed to be providing tasty treats for everyone to drool over, but the issue is one that deserves discussion, and demands our attention.  I am also a realist and I know that we can't all run out and just start buying pastured beef, mainly because the supply will never keep up with the demand.  Not to mention the availability of meat, poultry, and eggs that are responsibly raised doesn't exist in many locations.

There are also those that believe grass fed and finished beef is tough and not as good as conventionally raised beef.  That really is based on how you cook it.  Trust me, I have ruined my share of steaks trying to cook it in a way that was not intended.  Granted there is a different flavor, and there is nothing wrong with grain finished beef, the issue is how the animal was raised and the crap that it is fed to achieve maximum poundage and profitability. Don't get me wrong, profit is great, but not if it is not going into the communities that support the industry.

So what is a person to do, where will I find a 12lb brisket or 10lb pork shoulder to smoke if my local grocer can't assure me of the origin of the product?  Good question...  If it means I have to drive 30 minutes to a location that can assure me of the quality of the product I am buying is it worth it to me? Yes, I guess that is the answer, is it convenient, no, but I think that is the point.  Convenience is great when done responsibly, but if I have to sacrifice my health for a hamburger (ok, not the best analogy.. but its the truth) then I should at least make the effort to ensure I am eating something that is not going to do even more damage based on the crap that was ground in with it... (Side note: commercially ground beef can contain meat, and other things, from multiple cows that came from different parts of the country. Not a pretty picture, and why I now grind my own.)

The FDA recently imposed "stricter" regulations on the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food.  They are "asking" drug makers to change labels on the products so that the use of them by feed producers that currently use antibiotics for the purpose of aiding the animals in gaining weight would no longer be an acceptable use of the antibiotics, and in a sense be illegal.  The regulation is voluntary and gives a 3 year phase out for use of antibiotics.  So in a sense, it is a veil for them to hide behind to assure the public they are "doing their best" to regulate the industry...  

I promise I am not going to go down a rabbit hole with this blog and rant about all of the injustice in the world, but as a consumer, and a foodie, I thought it was important to at least mention it.  In the future, when possible I will provide as much information as possible on where the meat I use comes from and if it is locally sourced, as well as recommendations on where to buy your meat.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Steak, Fries, and Hakushu

The last couple of days have been interesting as my curiosity built over a package that Mandy ordered for pickup at a nearby UPS service center.  The package was originally supposed to be delivered to our house, but because it required a signature from an adult over the age of 21..... it was not delivered.  So instead we set it up for pickup at a location about 15 miles north of Murrieta.

While I deduced that it was some form of alcoholic beverage based on the requirement for delivery, I had no idea what it was, plus she refused to drop any hints.  So when the time arrived for us to make the trek north to retrieve this mystery package my anticipation built to a small frenzy as I went over in my head what I thought it could be, without getting overly inquisitive and ruining the surprise, believing I would have to wait until the 25th to find out what mystery surprise was hidden under the brown veil of cardboard.  

When we arrived at our destination and retrieved the box it resembled the shape of a typical box that contains a bottle of goodness... When we got to the truck Mandy told me this was no Christmas present and to open the box. YAY!  Having forgot my knife at home I used the next best thing, my truck key, to rip through the packing tape.  As I opened the box and removed the top layer of foam I recognized the familiar shape of a whiskey bottle, but this was no ordinary bottle of scotch or even bourbon, this was Japanese Whiskey!! A 12 year old Hakushu to be exact!

 Attached to the box was a message that stated "I love you.  I hope you enjoy this, Love Mandy!"
Well baby, I DID! Of course when we got home I waited until after I had changed out of my work clothes and started dinner before I broke the seal on the bottle.  But once I did, I smelled that old familiar aroma of peat and smoke that are commonly found in Scotch.  As it rolled onto my tongue the whiskey was light and crisp, but had a good mouth feel, and a nice sweet finish.  This was a very nice surprise that will definitely be a welcome addition to my growing collection.  This was my first ever Japanese Whiskey, but it won't be the last...

Bet you thought I forgot about dinner, but I didn't.  Tonight, based on the truly amazing  gift from Mandy I decided to make her a New York Strip and sweet potato fries.  I typically would grill a Strip, but it was late, and cold, so I decided to put a good pan sear on the cut of meat and finish it in the oven.

I started the steak when there was about 10 minutes left on the fries.  I lightly coated the steaks in olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper then placed them in a pan over high heat for 2 minutes on each side.  I then placed the pan in the oven for 8 minutes.  

I let the steaks rest with a pat of butter and some parsley for 5 minutes before slicing them up for plating.  I only used one of the steaks for dinner tonight, the other will be used for sandwiches tomorrow.  Steak is always an amazing treat, but when paired with a great whiskey, it makes it even better.

A special thanks goes out to the magical elf that assisted Mandy in the selection of this bottle of Hakushu!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hump Day Smoked Tri Tip

What day is it!! Smoked tri tip day, YEAH!  On the drive home from work yesterday I was talking to my brother about smoking some meat this weekend and remembered I still had a chunk of leftover smoked tri tip in the freezer.   That led to another conversation about reheating cooked food that has been frozen.  Ever since I bought my Food Saver vacuum sealer reheating frozen leftovers means they taste just as good as they did the first time around.  The vacuum sealing locks in all of the juices and when reheated you don't lose any of the moisture since it is sealed into the packaging.

I always prefer to reheat using a pot of water that is brought to a boil vice using the microwave.  Honestly, the only thing I like out of the microwave is popcorn... And even that is better out of a popcorn popper.  Depending on the size of what you are reheating, and if it is frozen or refrigerated, it usually takes about 20 minutes in boiling water to thaw and reheat the meat.

While the tri tip was reheating, I heated up some carrots with a pinch of sage for some savory carrots.  I also toasted up some cheese bread to accompany this smokey dish.  Out of the oven in 10 minutes, and plated in less than 5 minutes, we were enjoying a home cooked barbecue dinner in less than 30 minutes. LOVE IT!

While my smoker is my favorite appliance, the food saver is a close second since it allows me to enjoy the product of a day of smoking weeks later.

Best part about using up leftovers is I know have more room in the freezer to smoke some meat.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hot Wings

I am not the biggest fan of chicken, but when it comes to hot wings I will always make an exception.  Realistically the wing is just a delivery device for the hot sauce and spices that are cooked into each of the tasty morsels of meat.

I like them hot, probably hotter than my body wants to accept, but the more it makes me squirm the better. However for Mandy, she is a medium hot wing type, so when I make a batch for the two of us I compromise for her level of heat so I don't accidentally give her some of my mix.  (Been there, and it was not pleasant...)

I always take the time to  break down the wings into the drumsticks and wings, while removing the wing tips.  This aids in getting a more even cook, as well as making them easier to eat.  Some people toss the wing tips, but I prefer to cook them in a separate pan as they are a yummy appetizer before dinner.

Once I had all of the pieces cut up I tossed them in a mixture of garlic, cayenne pepper, and paprika and spread them evenly in a pan.  I placed the pans in the oven at 425 degrees for 45 minutes.  Some people prefer to deep fry them, but I eat enough fried foods that baking these is more than sufficient and still has an extremely tasty result.

After 45 minutes I tossed the wings in a mixture of hot sauce (Franks) and butter with a tinge of beer and then placed them back in the oven for 15 more minutes.  After the timer went off I gave them another roll in the hot sauce and another ride in the oven for 5 more minutes just to crisp up the wings and coating.

I eat wings with one of two things, beer or milk.  Since these were relatively mild for me, I enjoyed a Long Hammer IPA with mine.    The milk is only for when I decide to really kick them up a notch!