Saturday, September 7, 2013

Birth of a Foodie

As a child I had three favorite foods, pizza, chocolate, and french fries.  It was a well known fact at family gatherings that Matt was a chocoholic, I was often found dipping into the fudge that had been set aside for desert.  My palate was pretty limited well into my teens as I evolved to hamburgers and chicken sandwiches.  I thought I had really broken out of my shell when I consumed Chili Mac in basic training for the Army. Turns out that was just hunger, and my body's desire to consume anything to survive the constant running and push-ups I was subjected to daily. I was a slow learner....

When I met my wife Mandy she introduced me to what would later be her worst regret (or mine) spicy foods.  The first time she made me enchiladas with a mild Old El Paso sauce I thought my tongue was going to melt out of my mouth.  I believe I downed a half a gallon of milk that night.  As the weeks passed and my desire to impress my young wife continued I tried more and more dishes that I would have once walked away from, but realized I loved.

When the Army sent me to Germany I thought, I hope they have a Burger King or I am going to starve.... Turns out the Germans knew I was coming and perfected the art of fried pork and Sausages of all kinds! It was in Europe that I fell in love with my other passion, beer.  Nothing in the world goes better with greasy fried pork than a Pilsner, and no I am not referring to the mass produced King of all watered down beers. As I moved through Europe on deployments I was introduced to a whole new world of food and experimentation (not by choice, but out of necessity).  On a deployment to Bosnia I was blessed with the opportunity to escort the higher ranking personnel out into the city for social engagements at restaurants. Pointing to items on a menu written in Serbo-Croatian is like playing roulette in Vegas, you either win, or you really lose.... Fortunately 9 times out of 10 I got something amazing.   My favorite dish was from essentially what we consider a street vendor and was called burek, which is a pastry stuffed with meat, cheese, fruit, or any number of items.  Delicious. Nothing breaks you out of your food shell like mystery dishes in a foreign country.  Over the years I have tried to expose myself to new foods making it increasingly hard to narrow down one dish as my favorite.

A few years ago I started making homemade chili at home, because canned chili really looks like dog food.  On my second or third iteration I decided I needed to take it up a notch (refer back to my earlier statement with regards to Mandy introducing me to spicy food) and added in a couple of chopped up habanero peppers into the mix.... About three bites in I was sweating but still going full bore into the bowl, Mandy on the other hand was downing milk and cussing me out for not telling her how hot it was before she ate it.  It was at that point I realized I had an insatiable appetite for spicy foods.

At some point I realized there was a whole world of food I had yet to discover, but in order to continue my expedition I needed to find a physical activity that would allow me to continue to enjoy food without having to buy new clothes every week.  So I took up running and completed my first marathon in 2010 at Big Sur.  While it won't be my last, I have had some setbacks but I am steadily getting back on track to do another one soon.

I am not sure when my barbecue obsession started, it could have been when I was a child, or late teens, but good barbecue has always been one of my favorites.  I have tasted a lot of "BBQ" recently that just didn't hit the mark (shoe leather or ketchup covered, parboiled meat) in my book so I have spent a lot of time reading and testing recipes as well as cooking methods to find ones that truly measure up to barbecue I've had in North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Texas.  Taking from the best of all of the styles of barbecue I try to produce cuts that represent those styles, with a twist of my own.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fig and Prosciutto Pizza on the Grill

On a recent trip to Bellingham, Washington I was treated to an awesome Pizza experience at my Aunt and Uncle's house.  Pizza cooked on the grill using a pizza stone.  The decision to make Friday a "Pizza Night" is modeled after a tradition at their house that we are adopting at ours.  Of course when you go looking for a Pizza Stone on the day you want to make Pizza, you will never find one... So in an effort to salvage Pizza Night I decided to try it a little differently this time while Amazon processes my order for a stone...  I pulled out the trusty old Cast Iron skillet since they are great for use over an open fire and can handle the high temps needed to cook a pizza.

I rolled out the pre-made dough I picked up at Barons Marketplace on a CLEAN counter top that I lightly floured to keep it from sticking.  It gets a little messy so be prepared for some clean-up.  Once the dough was rolled out and I placed it in the lightly oiled pan.  I warmed up some fig preserves and spread it over the dough. I then placed slices of prosciutto over the preserves and spread Manchego cheese over the top.

While I was putting the pizza together, I preheated the grill to 550 degrees.  I placed the pan on the grill and closed the lid for about 6 minutes.  This allowed the bottom of the pizza to get golden brown and start to crispen up.  I then moved it to the top rack to allow the heat at the top of the hood to cook the top giving the cheese and edges of the crust a good golden brown finish.

Cast iron pans will hold heat for a long time so ensure you have a good silicon mit  that can handle 500+ degrees.  I took the pizza off the grill and transferred it from the pan to the counter to stop the cooking process.

After a few minutes I cut in into slices for my wife and I to enjoy.  She commented that it was like eating desert for dinner.  I enjoyed my slices with a Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale.  Perfect combination!

Thanks Phil!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Pork Loin

I often find that when cooking on the grill I end up with way more than what 2 people can normally eat in one sitting.  This leaves me with left overs to use in another dish the next night, or to take to work with me and torture my co-workers with the smell of awesomeness :).  I had a jar of Raspberry Chipotle Sauce that has been in the pantry for a while waiting for a night like tonight, I decided to try it out.  I have about 2lbs of meat candy, I mean bacon wrapped pork loin, but I am only using about 8 ounces tonight for this dish.

To get started I put on a small pot of boiling water and threw the carrots in to soften up a bit. Just before they were ready I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an oven safe pan on the burner at medium heat.  Once the oil was warmed up I placed the pork loin in the pan and let it heat up for a couple of minutes until the bacon was starting to soften up in the pan.  I added half a cup of Red wine, in this case it was some Pinot Noir I had left over from another night, and threw in the carrots once they were starting to soften.  I didn't fully cook them in the boiling water so they would not turn to mush in the pan. I also spooned about a tablespoon of the Raspberry Chipotle sauce over each piece of meat.

I left it on the stove top for about two more minutes (mixture was starting to bubble) and then placed it in the oven.  I reduced the heat to 250 since I didn't need to cook it per say, just get all of the flavors to meld, and to soften up the carrots.    After 30 mins I removed the pan from the oven, removed the meat and carrots from the pan to rest for 5 minutes while the rolls I placed in the oven were heating up. I put the pan with all of the liquid on a burner over high heat to reduce the liquid in the pan by half.  I added  2 tablespoons of the Raspberry Chipotle Sauce to the mixture and let it reduce and thicken up.  Once it was ready I spooned the mix over the pork loin on the plates.

This meal paired well with a Black Market Brewing Co. Brown Ale.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin

Tonight I decided I would do a bacon wrapped pork loin with a twist.  I am going to cook the loin over a pecan wood fire to impart the smokey sweat flavor of pecans.  The prep time for this cook takes some planning in advance to ensure the loin has time to soak up the flavors of the rub for about 4hrs.  It also takes about an hour to get the fire going and the grill to the right temp to maintain for the hour long cook.  I have set up the grill to allow for an area to do direct cooking and room for indirect cooking. This is important as it ensures you have adequate room to adjust if needed to ensure the meat does not burn.

This morning I pulled out the pork loin and 8 slices of bacon.  I rubbed the loin on all sides with my pork rub.  I then wrapped a slice of bacon around the loin lengthwise folding the ends of the bacon under the loin.  Then starting at one end I wrapped 6 slices of bacon around the circumference of the loin until I got to the other end.  I then flipped the loin over so the bacon ends were showing.  I wrapped another slice of bacon along the bacon ends folding the ends of that strip under the two end pieces of bacon to hold it all together.


I wrapped the loin in foil and placed it back in the fridge until I was ready to cook.  I pulled the loin out of the fridge about 30mins before I was ready to cook to allow the meat to return to room temperature before cooking.  This allows the fibers in the meat to relax (chemistry is not my area of expertise) and provides a tender cut of meat.

Once the grill is at the right cooking temperature, I used the side burner to sear the meat and crisp up the bacon a bit before moving it to the grill to cook.  This will prevent the bacon from contracting and unraveling from the loin.    


I placed the loin on the grill to cook for 1 1/2hrs at 350 degrees.  I left it in the pan since the smokiness is what I was going for more than grill marks.  Plus this will allow for the loin to cook in its own juices and stay moist.

Don't Open the Lid!!

I pulled the loin when it reached an internal temp of 145 degrees and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing it.  I paired it with rosemary roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli. The rest of the Mt. Palomar Shorty's Bistro Red went well with the combination.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Smoked Brisket Stew

Brisket Stew and Mt Palomar Bistro Red Wine

3 to 4 lbs of smoked brisket
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1/2 large onion sliced
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
2 Tablespoons of Worcestershire
2 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar
1 Teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons of unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup of red wine
3 sprigs of fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
1 Teaspoon of rosemary
2 cups of beef broth
3 carrots diced
1 1/2 lbs red or golden potatoes cubed
1 cup frozen peas and corn
1 dark beer (porter, stout, or dark ale)
1 cup water (2 if beer is not used)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large dutch oven or soup pot heat oil over medium heat
Add in cubed Brisket, onion, flour, and garlic.
Cook until onions are browned and rue is thickened
Except for water, add remaining ingredients
If needed, use water to thin stew until desired thickness
Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1hr to allow ingredients to blend
Check potatoes and carrots for tenderness, cover, and continue in 15 minute increments until fully cooked

I do not recommend using a Hoppy Ale as it can overpower the other ingredients creating a bitter aftertaste.

Grills and Smokers

                                                       The Basics

No matter your skill level or experience with cooking, the basics start with a grill, fuel, and flame.  For the purpose of this discussion a grill can be any container fabricated for the purpose of retaining heat to cook meat.  The world over barbecuing is a pastime that brings friends and family together, whether cooked over an open pit, on a spit, conventional smoker, grill, or kalua (Hawaiian traditional earthen oven used for cooking pork) where there is meat and flame you will always find good friends gathered to pay homage to the gods of barbecue.

Depending on your addiction or pursuit to amaze your friends and family with mouthwatering cuts of meat, identifying your conveyance is the first step.  For most beginners, or even the experienced pit master, deciding on what method to use is often of much debate. Will you chose electric, gas, charcoal, wood, pellet, or lava rock (yes, lava rock, we will get to that later in a future post). Deciding what to pick often depends on where you live, how much space you have, your skill level, and even local HOA rules or City ordinances.  With the right preparation great mouthwatering barbecue can be achieved using any of the above mentioned methods.

                                                           The Grill
The most commonly recognized grill found in backyards across America is the kettle style grill. It provides any user with the most basic controls to allow for amazing food preparation, and its round construction allows for the knights to circle the round table and consult the king of the grill while consuming their favorite brew.  Kettle style grills are relatively abundant and can be found in any big box store from most notably Webber.  This style of grill’s primary fuel source is charcoal and based on the model, may include a separate metal box that can be used for wood chips when indirect cooking to impart smoke on your meat.  A major consideration when looking at charcoal grills is the type of charcoal available in your area, and the safety concerns over the use of lighter fluid in the process of getting your fire started.  I prefer natural lump charcoal and I use crumpled up paper under a charcoal chimney starter.  It takes a little longer for the coals to heat up, but it avoids imparting any aftertaste on your meat.  Natural lump charcoal will also burn hotter and faster than compressed briquettes, so ensure you have enough on hand for an extended cook.  If you love the taste of meat cooked over charcoal, and only have room for 1 grill, then this is where you should start.

For those who love propane and propane accessories, there is the gas grill (which most can also be adapted to CNG to forgo a refillable tank).  Gas grills come in all shapes and sizes and range in price typically from $89 to several thousand dollars.    Gas grills are great for beginners and experienced alike as they provide a wide range of heat that is easily adjusted and requires little time or effort to set-up and get cooking.  Some considerations that must be taken into account when selecting a gas grill are BTUs (British Thermal Units), this refers to a unit of energy that is needed to cool or heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit, grilling surface area, and materials used in the construction of the grill.  Don’t be sold on a grill that boasts high BTUs without considering the cooking surface, and materials as an oversized grill that is poorly constructed will no effectively provide heat or retain it for consistent cooking performance.  Realistically for every 100 square inches of cooking surface, the grill should be capable of providing 100 BTUs (500 square inches of cooking surface = 50,000 BTUs). The bigger the grill, the more BTUs needed, and the more fuel consumed to maintain heat (this is true for any type of grill/smoker). 

The materials used to construct the grill are very important and can be the difference between a grill that lasts a lifetime or one season.  Grills constructed of metal and coated with high temp paint are relatively inexpensive and if maintained, can last for a number of years. Over time these grills will form surface rust which has to be sanded down requiring a new coat of high temp paint.  While not a major issue, it is a condition of ownership to extend the life of your grill.  Stainless steel is a great material for constructing grills and not only holds up to extremely high temps, it can handle just about any weather that comes its way with minimal maintenance.  Stainless Steel grills are typically in the mid to high range for cost, but are low maintenance and will last a long time.  I highly recommend investing in a cover for either style if it is exposed to the elements.

Electric Grills….. Yes, I said electric.  This is not a new concept, they have been around for a number of years and typically consist of a heating element and ceramic plates or blocks that are used to retain the heat.  The heat is regulated in much the same way as an electric cooktop.  I KNOW, I KNOW, you are asking yourself why… The revitalization of many downtown areas and multiple story condominiums, hasn’t restrained the desire of grillafants to cook outdoors, but  many local ordinances or HOA rules prevent sparking up a fire on a balcony (with good reason…).  Electric Grills still allow for a great grilling experience, but without the risk of shooting flames (as long as you don’t dose the heating element in grease).  There are a number of manufacturers that offer electric grills and smokers that are affordable and will provide years of grilling satisfaction.  If your community has regulations with regards to grills, I would recommend seeking approval for use before purchasing a unit.

This next category is my favorite and in my opinion is as natural and primal as cooking meat can be without wearing a deerskin loin cloth at the opening of your cave…. Hmmm…. Naw, not sure the wife will go for moving into a cave, but maybe she will let me construct one in the backyard… Ok, wood fired grills and smokers, are in a category all their own, and most would not consider it, but should.  Whether you are cooking over direct heat on a Santa Maria style grill or using an offset smoker wood imparts an indisputably distinct flavor to anything you can imagine.  Meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables are all candidates for imparting the flavor of wood smoke.  

The list of woods that are available and the flavors they impart are a post all their own and will be covered at a later date.  Starting a wood fire takes some patience and strips of extremely dry kindling to help get the fire going.  I know the urge to douse the wood in lighter fluid will cross your mind, but I don’t want you to ruin your food with the afterburner taste of jet fuel… If you want to speed up the process heat up a chimney of lump charcoal and dump it on top of the wood ensuring there is enough airflow to feed the flames.  Commercially available wood fired grills and smokers have to be constructed to withstand the high temps generated by the burning of wood, so in terms of cost, they are in the mid to high range.  If you have the space and are thinking of building your own pit, the possibilities are limitless.     

Pellet smokers are gaining in popularity due to the “set it and forget it” design of the units.  These smokers are not cheap, but for those desiring to smoke a cut of meat while they play a round of golf this is a good option.  They require very little fiddling and as long as there are pellets, it will continue to cook.  The pellets are pressed wood material that come in many varieties of wood to impart different flavors. 

Future posts will describe information on specific makes/models as well as what type of grill should be used for a specific style of cooking.  Hope you have enjoyed this introduction and will tune in for future posts.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Welcome to Small Batch Barbecue

Whether it’s grilling or barbecuing, the art of searing or slow cooking marvelous meat is my passion.  From the first time man held meat over a fire our desire to create masterfully tender perfection has been in our blood and passed through the ages.  Growing up in Southwest Virginia and traveling the world has provided me with access and exposure to a multitude of cooking styles.  Of all the different types of preparation, smoke and fire are what drive my obsession.

Whether it was North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, California, or Europe, meat is king, and all styles have their place in the world of barbecue.  Small Batch Barbecue is an exploration of what drives my fascination with smoke, fire, and the sizzling sounds of meat.