Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fun Food Facts

OK, been very busy as of late and haven't had a chance to do much here even though I really enjoy doing this.

So, let's get on to some fun food facts again.

An ear of corn always has an even number of rows because of the genetic formula which divides the cells. I think I have noticed this before. I always thought the corn just had OCD.

Although explorers brought potatoes back from the New World in the early 1500s, Europeans were afraid to eat them for fear that the spuds would give them leprosy. It wasn't until Louis XVI, who was looking for a cheap food source for his starving subjects, served them at the royal table that people were convinced potatoes were safe to eat. I don't find anything to support this, but the potato did have it's bad rep for a bit as it is a member of the nightshade family, so there is surely some thruth to this.

In the Middle Ages, chicken soup was believed to be an aphrodisiac. I see no mention of this, but chicken soup was used as a cure for the common cold as far back as ancient egypt.

Whole wheat bread has more iron, vitamins and dietary fiber than white bread. This one was easy. I just went out in the store and looked at some labels. True enough, but I didn't doubt it to begin with.

The average person ingests about a ton of food and drink each year. Well, let's evaluate this. Doing the math that equates to around 5 1/2 pounds a day of food and drink. Assuming you have 8 - 8oz glasses of water a day that is 4 pounds right there leaving you 1 1/2 pounds of food to consume. 3 half pound meals doesn't sound like much to me, but what do I know? I'm overweight. Most Americans do not drink just water or enough fluids according to studies so this is probably where the difference comes in and I'll bet that number is not too far off for the average young adult or middle aged American. I'll bet a new born doesn't come close to this number, nor do the elderly or all of those people living in third world countries. Just some thoughts on this stat, not really trying to go anywhere with it.

The strawberry is the only agricultural product that bears its seeds on the outside. Sounds good to me.

The above information comes from mindlesscrap.com and the red remarks are my comments.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Couple Apple Recipes

I haven't tried these but they sure do sound good. They both come from recipesource.com and have their original origin as well.

Title: Apple Cider Biscuits
2 c Flour
4 ts Baking powder
2 ts Sugar
1/2 ts Salt
1/3 c Butter; cut into chunks
3/4 c Apple cider
1/8 ts Cinnamon
Recipe by: Inn recipes Heat oven to 450 degrees Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt; cut in butter to make coarse crumbs. Sir in cider mix until soft dough forms. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead into small ball. Pat out to 1/2″ thick with floured cutter - cut biscuits. Place 1″ apart on ungreased sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake 12-15 minutes. Cool on rack. Makes 8 2-1/2″ biscuits.JM. National Pike Inn New Market, Maryland

Title: Apple Johnnycakes -DOTTIE CROSS, TMPJ72B
6 tb Maple syrup
4 ts Unsalted butter; melted
2 lg Apples; peeled, cored and cut into 1/4″ slices
3/4 c Yellow or white cormeal preferably stone ground
3/4 c -All-purpose flour
1 ts Baking powder
1/2 ts -Salt
1/4 ts Baking soda
1 c Buttermilk
1 lg Egg; lightly beaten
1 tb Vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat 2 T. maple syrup and 1 tsp. butter in a heavy 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and saute for about 5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Remove from heat. Using two spoons, arrange the slices, fanning them out from the center of the skillet. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a small mixing bowl, beat together buttermilk, egg, remaining 1//4 cup maple syrup, remaining 1 T. melted butter and oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Spread the batter evenly over the apples and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Invert onto a platter, cut into wedges and serve immediately, topped with more syrup. Nutrition information: 197 calories per serving: 5 grams fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 263 mg sodium. 23% of calories are from fat. Source: Eating Well Magazine, February, 1992

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Little Something About Apples

Who doesn't love an apple? Or a fresh baked apple pie? OK, I assume there are a few people that do not like apples, but since I like them I pretty much assume that most people do as well.
Growing up on a small farm, it wasn't uncommon to just grab one off of the tree while going by on the lawn mower, and eating it as we made the rounds in the unending battle to keep the lawn in check. We had a few types if I remember right as well as a pear tree. The mixture of types as well as throwing in some pears made some of the best cider I have ever had. (Mom, chime in if you know what we had for apples in the comments section please).
OK, so I mentioned apple pie, cider and just eating them by themselves. There are many, many other things that can be done with those apples. Apple crisp, apple sauce, apple cake, apple turnovers, carmel covered apples and apple jack just to name a few.
Apples hold a prominant place in history whether it be Greek, Roman, or Christianity. The only problem with this is, the word apple was used as a generic term covering most fruits as well as some nuts as late as the 17th century. This means that Adam and Eve's apple may well have been a fig or some other fruit and possibly even a nut. This however has no bearing in the story so there is really no need to examine that further.
God: Adam, don't eat that apple.
Adam: But it is a fig.
God: I don't care what it's called for crying out loud, just don't eat it!
See my point? The story is pretty much the same. One last thing about that, is that the Adam's apple is believed to be a term derived from a piece of the forbidden fruit being stuck in Adam's throat.
Data from 2005 puts China at the top of world apple production with 25,000,000 metric tons. The United States, while being the second in production falls far short of that lofty number with less than 5,000,000 metric tons. Third is Turkey with about 2,500,000 metric tons produced for that year. That is a lot of apples no matter where they come from.
If you would like to read more on the history, use and science of apples, here is the link to the Wikipedia apple page.
I was going to give some information on Johnny (Appleseed) Chapman, but found this information such a good read I will just link to it. He was a very interesting character to say the least. There is only one thing that I have a hard time believing about him. That tin pot on his head. I mean, come on. How uncomfortable would that be?
Adios! And remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
EDIT: I can't believe that I forgot to mention dried apples. My mom made lots of these growing up and they were SOOOOOO good.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gravys, Sauces, and Rouxs. Oh my!

Mmmmmm, gravy! Who doesn't love gravy? Well there is one person in town here that doesn't apparently, and even claims that we here at the store, we are addicted to gravy. How about that? Addicted to gravy. We offer out a home cooked reheat and eat meal to customers and there will be some gravy on the mashed potatoes. Occasionally, the main dish will be an open faced sandwich which is of course served with gravy. If we are offering a pasta as the dish that night, it could be argued by our Italian friends, that we are indeed serving gravy whether it be spaghetti or alfredo.

OK! Maybe we are addicted to gravy. What's wrong with that? Gravy gives a good down-home, meal made with love, mother's touch, make you feel warm all over finish to a home cooked meal. Thin, thick, lumpy, creamy, it is just good stuff.

What is gravy? Well the most basic form, also known as "God's gravy", is just the juices from whatever you cooked poured over your main dish or side. Or maybe you prefer to just sop it up with some bread off of the plate that the steaks were on.

Second would be a pan reduction gravy. This you make in the pan from cooking by deglazing the pan with a little wine or broth and reduce until it is the thickness that you are looking for.

Then we have your traditional gravy. It is thickened a bit with corn starch, flour or arrowroot. I say traditional because, it is the version that most people know and recognise. So much so that you can find bottled versions of it on the shelf at the grocery store. These will do in a pinch and I usually keep a couple jars on the shelf in case I end up with too little drippings to make gravy from.

Last, but certainly not least would be the roux. Which is more like a reverse process gravy. You start this in a pan with equal parts fat (butter, oil or renderings) and flour. Typically 2 tblspoons of each and one cup of liquid to equal one cup of finished product. Start with just the fat and flour and cook through and mix well for about 5 minutes to help cook off the flour flavor. Now you slowly add in your broth, cream or what have you until the desired consistancy is obtained. This is the best process to avoid a lumpy gravy unless of course you like a lumpy gravy. I don't mind a lump or two here and there with mine.

Alternate thickeners:

Wondra flour as seen here, makes a wonderful thickener regardless of the temperature. This is my preferred thickener.

Instant potato flakes will do in a pinch to thicken gravy, but go very slow with this. Both potato flakes and wondra flour are good "no lump" thickeners.

That is it for now, but I may have to bring this gravy topic up again. After all, I am addicted to it.

Fun Food Facts,

Just a couple. Very busy around here lately and I need to get down to some real blogging.

An apple tree is at its prime when its about 50 years old. The United States produces about 100 million barrels of apples a year. That's a lot of old trees. We are second in production to China

The first cookbook published in the United States was Compleat Housewife, or Accomplished Gentlewoman's Companion, printed in Williamsburg, VA in 1742. This seems to be true, however the first cookbook actually written BY an American for the american market wasn't published until 1796. The previous mentionged one was just a british cookbook reprinted in the U.S.

When potatoes were first introduced to Europe, people were skeptical and only ate the leaves, which made them sick. They would then throw away the rest, including the actual spud. I could not find anything to support this, and am thinking that it may be false.

The cashew nut in its natural state contains a poisonous oil. Roasting removes the oil and makes the nuts safe to eat. Apparently it has a skin irritant toxin that is the same as poison ivy.

The above comes from mindlesscrap.com and the red comments are mine. Go spend some time there if you have some to kill.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fun Food Facts

Apple pie was brought to England from France sometime around 1066 by William the Conqueror. It made it to America when the Pilgrims arrived. I was able to find a recipe dating back as far as 1381.

On average, every American consumes 109 pounds of beef a year. It takes eight pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. Looks like beef consumption hit an all time high of 94.3 pounds in 76 and has declined ever since.

Dolley Madison is credited with inventing ice cream. Nancy Johnson, the wife of a naval officer, is credited for inventing the ice cream freezer. I see nothing to support this at all. Here is a good history in wiki that mentions nothing of Dolly Madison.

Before Columbus, Europe had never tasted cord, potatoes, tomatoes, red peppers, sweet potatoes, tapioca, chocolate, pumpkins, squash, coconuts, pineapples, strawberries, and much more. Why? All these food items are native to America. Sounds logical to me.

The citrus industry started in the United States in 1873 when two Riverside, CA ranchers obtained some orange saplings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Two years earlier, the government had secured a dozen saplings from Brazil. It appears that fFlorida had them beat by a few decades if you read the history section here.

The above comes from mindlesscrap.com, my comments follow in red. Check out the sight if you have some time to kill. There is always some interesting stuff there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

More Alligator Recipes

Well, I just finished putting together a recipe sheet to hand out to our customers. In addition to the grilled alligator recipe from last week, here are a few more.

Fried Alligator Strips

1 lb. alligator meat cut in strips, 1 cup flour, ½ cup milk, 2 eggs, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp red pepper

Mix eggs and milk in small bowl and set aside. Add garlic powder, onion powder and red pepper to flour in a large bowl. Dredge alligator strips through the milk and egg mixture, and then lightly pad each side of the alligator strip min the flour mixture. Pan fry in your choice of oil or grease until golden brown on both sides. Salt and pepper to taste.

Beer Batter Alligator Strips

Same process as above, but substitute the following for the egg, milk, and flour method.

Mix together one 12 oz. can of beer with ½ cup flour. Salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 2 hours before dredging fillets through beer batter.

Baked Alligator

Alligator Fillets, garlic powder, chopped parsley, lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper, lemon slices

Arrange alligator fillets in an ovenware dish large enough to place in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic. Squeeze lemon juice over the fillets. Cut a generous amount of butter into squares and place all over the fillets. Arrange lemon slices over the fillets and sprinkle generously with parsley. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until fillets are cooked through. Serve with French bread.

A little Gator info from Wikipedia.

Alligator farming is a big and growing industry in Florida, Texas and Louisiana. These states produce a combined annual total of some 45,000 alligator hides. Alligator hides bring good prices and hides in the 6-7 foot (1.8-2 m) range have sold for $300 each, though the price can fluctuate considerably from year to year. The market for alligator meat is growing and approximately 300,000 pounds (140 000 kg) of meat is produced annually. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, raw alligator meat contains roughly 200 calories per 3oz (85 g) serving size, of which 27 calories come from fat.

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's Monday! Fun Food Facts

I will try to get some content out this week, but will resort to fun food facts as I have become accustomed to doing on Mondays.

Imperia, Italy is the home of the Agnesi Historical Museum of Spaghetti. I was hoping to find a link to post for your viewing pleasure, but can not find one. I do however find many mentions of it out there.

Forks weren't widely used in the United States until the 1800s. It is true. Click here for the wiki.

Italians in Italy consume a million and a half tons of spaghetti every year. Well I see that as of 2007 there are 58 million people in Italy. That works out to about 52 pounds per person per year averaging one pound per week. Seems like a good number.

The national dish of Scotland, haggis, is made of the heart, liver, lungs and small intestines of a calf. It's then boiled in the stomach of the animal, and seasoned with salt, pepper and onions. Oh, and don't forget to add the suet and oatmeal. I'll pass on this dish.

The brewing of beer is recorded as far back as 6,000 years ago. Until the 12th century (when skilled experts took over), women performed the task of making beer as part of their household chores.

The above all comes from mindlesscrap.com a good trivia site. Red are my comments.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Completely NOT About Food

Happy 50th anniversary to my parents, Jack and Hilda Smith!

We met up with them almost 2 weeks ago for brunch at a restaurant that I used to work at in high school. It has since changed hands a couple of times. While the food was very good, I thought that there were some things lacking to round off the menu.

Ok, it's about food again. Sorry. As I was saying. The food was good, but didn't have the finish to it. They had potato skins on the buffet. I like potato skins. However, these were completely plain with nothing on them. I grabbed one anyway assuming that down the line there would be some cheese sauce, maybe some bacon bits, chives, etc., to top them with. Nope, sorry. No toppings for my potato skin.

Then my niece Michelle gets back from the line. She was depressed that they had ran out of the glazed carrots that she had liked so much. She had a couple of mozzarella sticks on her plate that they had replaced them with. Cool! I love moz sticks dipped in marinara sauce. I find them and grab a couple, and guess what? NO marinara sauce. I've never heard of such a thing.

I think there was something else, but it didn't matter. We had a good time eating and talking. We had to leave early though due to a funeral.

Anywho. Congratulations Mom and Dad on 50 years!

Thursday, May 1, 2008


OK, why is he talking about dandelions in a food blog? I saw something this morning about dandelions as food and since they are everywhere right about now, I thought why not discuss?

I recall a school field trip when I was young that centered around dandelions. I don't remember what all we did, but I remember they made dandelion fritters and I kind of liked them at the time. I think I even remember coaxing my mom into making them shortly after that once.

I assume that it was a simple batter. One cup milk, one egg and about a cup of flour (give or take depending on your batter preference). The open heads (plucked just above the stem) were dipped in the batter and then deep fried. Hmmmm. I may have to try these again. If I do, I will probably add some pepper to the batter and maybe a little maple syrup or some hot sauce.

There are also recipes for dandelion root tea. Here is a little information about that. I think I will pass on the root tea.

Here is another list of various dandelion recipes.

It seems that almost the entire plant is used except for the stem. The roots are used for tea or coffee, the leaves for salad and the head for various things including wine. They say that the stem is very bitter.

I am going to pass on the salad, but may have to try making some wine out of them.

Here is the wikipedia link if you would like to know more about this plant.

I actually think that a yard full of them looks very nice. That is until they go to seed and keep shooting up as soon as you chop them down.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fun Food Facts

Pineapples are classified as berries. I couldn't find anything to support this. But I do love pineapple.

The apricot can be traced back to China at least four thousand years ago, and it first appeared in Greek mythology as the "golden apple."

Two-thirds of the world's coffee comes from Brazil. While Brazil IS the largest coffee producer in the world, it is closer to 1/3rd and not 2.

One pound of tea can make nearly three hundred cups to drink. Yum. I like my tea iced with no sugar or lemon. During the winter I can be found with a hot cup of Eark Grey on occasion.

Whiskey was first brewed in the United States in 1640. It was made from a mixture of corn and rye.

Vanilla is the extract of fermented and dried pods of orchids. I did not know this, but looked it up and sure enough, it is true.

Chewing gum was created by the Mayans over 300 years ago. They boiled the sap of the sapodilla tree and chewed it. The Mayan civilization ended about 1200 years ago. While they did have this for hundreds of years before they met their demise, the greeks beat them to it around 2,000 years ago or more.

Milk is actually considered to be a food and not a beverage. I can buy this one.

The above all comes from mindlesscrap.com. Stop in and check it out if you want to kill some time and pick up some trivia. Red comments are mine.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Grilled Alligator Tail Roast

I got this from my partner Billy.

1 Alligator Tail Roast
1 jar Italian dressing
2 lemons
4 limes Marinate alligator tail roast overnight in Italian dressing in a zip lock bag.
Slice lemons and limes.
Prepare a grill for medium low cooking
Lay out the lemon slices on the grill and place alligator tail roast on lemon slices to cook for 12-20 minutes depending on the thickness. Before you flip the roast, lay out the lime slices in the same manner. Flip roast onto lime slices and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 135. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More Fun Food Facts (yet again)

Sorry I haven't posted in a little while, but I can whip out a fun food facts with realitive ease. Today's post is in momory of Roy Kroener. I'll miss you Roy.

Dry wine is a wine that has been completely fermented, meaning that only 0.1% of the sugar remains.

Jim Delligatti, a McDonald's franchise owner in Uniontown, PA, invented the Big Mac in 1968. He originally named it the Big Mac Super Sandwich. The following year McDonald's sold it nationwide.

Peanuts are salted in the shell by boiling them in a heavily salted solution, then allowing them to dry.

There are 1,218 peanuts in a single 28 ounce jar of Jif peanut butter.

The canning process for herring was developed in Sardinia, which is why canned herrings are better known as sardines. OK, this one sounded like bunk to me, so I looked it up. While a can of sardines may indeed be herring as well as dozen other types of fish, the terms are not interchangeable. Sardines. Herring.

Americans use about 100 million pounds of tea leaves every year.

A quarter of raw potato placed in each shoe at night will keep the leather soft and the shoes smelling fresh and clean. Um.....I don't think I will try this one.

When the English colonists sat down for their first Thanksgiving dinner on February 22, 1630, an Indian chief named Quadoquina offered a deerskin bag filled with freshly popped corn. Thus popcorn made its first appearance to non-native North Americans.

There is no difference in flavor or nutritional value between brown and white eggs. Aside form color, they are identical. Most white eggs come from White Longhorns and browns come from a commercial cross of Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks.

The above all comes from Mindlesscrap.com

Sorry. That's all I have time for today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Review Dr. BBQ's---

Barbecue All Year Long! Cookbook.

Ray lampe is Dr. BBQ. Truck Driver turned Author and BBQ afficianado from the Northern Illinois area. My only experience of ever rubbing elbows with the stars would have to be Ray Lampe. I have met him a few times and he is the best ambassador for BBQ that the hobby could have.

On to the book. Well for starters it is a good read. I've said it before that even a cook book should be a good read. This one does not dissapoint on that level. It is filled with stories and tidbits of information that are fun to read.

The concept of the book, Barbecue All Year Long!, breaks down the book into seasons. It then further breaks down the seasons into holidays and events. Each holiday or event has a list of recipes. The recipes covered are far from just grilling or BBQ recipes for meat. There are lots of sides and desserts to go along with them. There is even an occasional cocktail thrown in for good measure. I have tried many of the recipes and have yet to be dissapointed by any of them.

After all those "seasons", Ray talks a little about the tools and gear that he finds useful. He then gives up a bunch of seasoning and marinade recipes to finish it off.

What really rounds out the book in my opinion is the photos. They are taken from all around the country at various competitions and such. I even recognise a few people in there. I saw Jim Minion twice with a hat that I had made and sent to him. Chris Lilly whom I have not met, but lots of fellow BBQ-brethren have, several faces that I have met at various competitions around the area, and oh, that's me on page 297 standing behind Phil Rizzardi when we cooked against Ray in Long Island. So there we have it, my 15 minutes of fame.

Get the book you won't regret it. You can order this one or his others, here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

More Fun Food Facts (again)

Boiling the cork for a few minutes makes it easier to place it back into a wine bottle.

The flavor we think of as bubblegum is a combination of wintergreen, vanilla and cassia, a form of cinnamon.

Almost without exception, cows are milked from the right side. The reason is because most farmers have been right-handed since the start of the dairy business and it's easier for a right-handed milker to work from the right side.

The Aztecs of Mexico roasted and ground up the cacao bean, mixed it with water, added peppers and other spices, stirred it up to a froth and drank the pungent mixture they called "chocolatl."

The banana is the most prolific of all food plants with as many as 300 bananas growing on the same stalk.

Cheese closes the stomach and should always be served at the end of a meal.

The above all comes from Mindlesscrap.com

The tomato: One of the strangest things about the history of the tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) is the fact that, although it is of American origin, it was unknown as food in this country until long after it was commonly eaten in Europe. Until hardly more than a hundred years ago it was generally thought to be poisonous in the United States. Long before it was considered here as fit to eat, it was grown only as an ornamental garden plant, sometimes called "love apple."
The mistaken idea that tomatoes were poisonous probably arose because the plant belongs to the Nightshade family, of which some species are truly poisonous. The strong, unpleasant odor of the leaves and stems also contributed to the idea that the fruits were unfit for food.
Our word "tomato" is but a slight modification of tomati, the word used by the Indians of Mexico, who have grown the plant for food since prehistoric times. Other names reported by early European explorers were tomatl, tumatle, and tomatas, probably variants of Indian words.

The above comes from here and has much more info on the tomato.

This one is for Mom and Dad and comes from this website. I'll just include one paragraph, but it is an interesting read and only takes a couple of minutes. For whatever reason we were discussing margarine at the Easter dinner table and I stumbled upon this today. The laws that were passed in regards to it's sale is quite interesting to say the least and they weren't all repealed until 1996.

Although it has been around for over a century, margarine was not always the preferred tablespread in the U.S. In 1930, per capita consumption of margarine was only 2.6 pounds (vs. 17.6 pounds of butter). Times have changed for the better, though. Today, per capita consumption of margarine in the U.S. is 8.3 pounds (including vegetable oil spreads) whereas butter consumption is down to about 4.2 pounds. Research studies have shown that the shift within populations around the world - from the highly saturated fat content of butter to vegetable oil-based margarines - have contributed significantly to the reduced risk of heart disease. Check out the timeline below to learn more about the history or margarine.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Charcoal or Gas? What kind of grill to buy?

Ah, the age old debate. Well maybe not age old, but for some time. I am not sure who made the first gas grill, but according to this timeline, Weber made their first one in 1971. Their first kettle was made in 1952. So, a decision that every grilling guy has had to make since 1971, gas or charcoal?

I have both and don't use either as much as I want to. I do however use them both about the same amount probably over the course of a year.

Let's examine the aspects of grilling and the pros and cons associated with each type.

I'm hungry, let's cook something outside for dinner. Well, how much time do we have? Getting the grill started and ready to cook on takes at least a half an hour or longer to get up to temp. I like to fire up my charcoal in a chimney then when lit transfer to the grill. From there I put the lid on it because I want to sterilize the cooking grate. With the gas grill I turn all the burners on high for about 5 minutes to sterlize the cooking surface and then turn it down to where I want it and voila! The gas grill wins this contest.

Off-set cooking. My gasser has three burners from left to right. I can turn on just the left or both the left and right and cook in the middle at indirect temperatures. My Weber has 2 baskets under the grill that hold a nice pile of lit coals and allow me to cook in the center as well. Both do a great job of off-set cooking so this one is a draw.

Direct cooking Goes pretty much the same way as that is exactly what they were both designed for, so I will give them a draw on that one as well.

Fuel cost. I think right now a 20 pound bag of kingsford goes for around 8 dollars. Depending on what I am cooking on the grill I am probably going to get up to 6 cooks out of that bag. That would be for just some quick grilling. The last time I filled my my propane tanks, I believe the price was 12.50 each. For some quick grilling I am looking at probably in the neighborhood of at least 25 cooks, maybe more off of one tank. So price wise, The gasser wins out in this round. You will have people say bad things about running out of propane, but guess what, you can run out of charcoal as well. I have 5 tanks. When I get down to 3 empty ones, I fill those up.

Here is the big one, the cooked product. You definately get some good flavors coming off of those briquets (or hardwood lump or what ever type of charcoal you are using). To combat this, grill makers are using flavorizer bars or a similar type of item. In essence, it is a plate that gets nice and hot over the fuel source. The drippings from whatever you are cooking hit this and put off smoke that helps to flavor the meat. In my opinion they both put out a pretty good product, but I think I am going to have to give a slight edge to the charcoal grill on this one.

Well, it looks like they stack up fairly close. I'd call it a tie even. Except for one missing category.

Nostalgia. When it comes to nostalgia, the charcoal grill is going to have to win over the gas grill. I don't remember when dad switched to a gas grill, but I do remember him firing up the charcoal grill. I remember an old black plastic container with charcoal in it that we had around the house that had to be fetched when it was time to fire up the grill. If anyone knows where I can find one of these, I would love to know where I can get one. It was designed specifecally for that purpose.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's in a rub?

Well, first things first. What IS a rub? From Wikipedia.com we get the following.

Spice rub is any mixture of ground spices that is made for the purpose of being rubbed on raw food before the food is cooked. The spice rub forms a coat on the food. The food can be marinated in the spice rub for some time for the flavors to incorporate into the food or it can be cooked immediately after it is coated in the rub. The spices are usually coarsely ground. In addition to spices, salt and sugar may be added to the rub, the salt for flavor and the sugar for caramelization. The simplest rub is just coarsely ground black pepper as in Steak au poivre.

Spice rubs can also have ingredients like herbs, crushed garlic or oil added to make a paste. The spice rub can be left on or partially removed before cooking.

OK, now we know what a rub is, let's look into what makes a good rub. When I am doing pulled pork, I use a very basic rub consisting of fairly equal parts salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne. Probably about half a part on the cayenne now that I think about it. I do it this way because we give it a sprinkle of seasoning salt as we make up sandwiches for selling and that completes the complex flavors typically found in a rub.

When I do my ribs I use a very complex rub that has a very nice finish. I don't use sugar in the rub itself, but rather apply a rub of just brown sugar prior to my final rub. For other cuts I tend to use a rub that contains some or all of the following in no particular order. Sugar (a must) salt (just a bit, too easy to over do), celery powder, garlic, onion, cayenne, MSG (yes MSG, it's fantastic stuff), paprika (mainly for color), black pepper (maybe white), thyme, oregano, cinnamon (a must in my rib rub), various dried peppers (depending on how much heat I want), and the list goes on.

If you are interested in making your own rubs I would suggest getting a book with lots of rub recipes as a starting point. It will give you a good idea of what goes good together and what spices compliment what meats. And may save you time and money rather than completely throwing out batches and starting over again. Start with something very basic and build from there. You will have your very own signature rub before you know it.

These days there is no shortage of rubs available to the consumer who knows where to look. I usually have a handful of these in my kitchen at all times, because I know how good they are and will get consistant results with them. What's on my counter right now that gets lots of use? Spicewine's Hen and Hog dust, Spicewines Heffer dust, and Plowboy's yardbird rub to name a few. There are others, but I know these guys, their product is good, and I'll get a plug in for them whenever I can.

Applying a rub. Well, there are two types of rubs. Wet and dry. Wet normally is the consistancy of paste to much thinner and you simply slather it on and rub it in. Such as this Walker's Wood jerk seasoning. I was in Jamaica in January and had the pleasure of visiting their factory. It is a great set up. Most of the ingredients come from a co-op of local farmers and they put out some great product.

Dry rubs are just like they sound. A mixture of dry spices and ingredients. In many cases you can sprinkle on evenly or pour it on and rub it in. You can also apply a wet ingredient before applying the rub. I typically don't do this, but occasionally will slop something on there first. With ribs I will use a splash of cider vinegar. Brisket I may use a little terriyaki, a pork butt may benefit from some pineapple juice. These can be slathered on first, or mixed with the dry rub and then applied in essence making a wet rub. Other slathers that I have heard of being used may include mayonnaise, salad dressing, olive oil, mustard or a whole slew of other imaginative compounds. I recommend against the mustard. Some say they can't taste it, but I can taste when it was used and I don't like mustard.

Thanks for looking.

Monday, April 7, 2008

More fun food facts

The strongest any liquor can be is 190 proof. This means the drink is a little more than 97 percent alcohol.

The original filling in Twinkies was banana. It was replaced by vanilla-flavored cream during World War II, when the United States experienced a banana shortage.

If Jell-O is hooked up to an EEG (heart monitor), it registers movements virtually identical to the brain waves of a healthy adult.

Honey is believed to be the only food that does not spoil. Honey found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs has been tasted by archaeologists and found to still be edible.

Popcorn has been a food product for over 6,000 years.

A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continually from the bottom of the glass to the top.

The French cooked fish soup in a kettle called a chaudière, and from it comes the word chowder.

The above is all from mindlesscrap.com

FROZEN PIZZAThe earliest print reference we find to manufactured frozen pizza (in the USA) is patent 2,688,117, "Method for Making Frozen Pizza," filed by Jo Bucci, Philadelphia PA, August 10, 1950. We also find evidence of refrigerated pizza products penetrating grocery stores. It was just a matter of time before frozen pizzas were competing with TV Dinners for space on the consumer's ubiquitous living room feeding tray. Source: The food timeline

Who would have guessed that the idea for "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies was born in the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War? Legend has it that on a trip to Spain, Forrest Mars Sr. encountered soldiers who were eating pellets of chocolate that were encased in a hard sugary coating to prevent them from melting. Inspired by this idea, Mr. Mars went back to his kitchen and invented the recipe for "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies.
First sold to the public in 1941, "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies became a favorite of American GIs serving in World War II. Packaged in cardboard tubes, "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies were sold to the military as a convenient snack that traveled well in any climate. By the late 1940's, they became widely available to the public, who gave them an excellent reception. In 1948, the packaging changed from a tube form to the characteristic brown pouch known today.
Source: M&M


Well I did a mess of ribs yesterday. Forgot to get any pictures until they were ready for wrapping in foil. The next time I do some I will get more pictures and do a step by step.

I now have a photobucket account and can include more pics with any stories or instructionals.

I definately have a learning curve on this new cooker and I will need to get that straightened out before I can reliably use it for any potential catering jobs. I figure one more time should get me pretty close.

I used my signature rib rub on these and for some reason, the flavor did not come out as strong as it normally does. I'm going to have to figure that one out. I just mixed up the batch from all fresh ingredients. I am thinking that it is quite possible that the temperatures were higher than I am used to and it may have changed the flavor profile of my rub. I know it went higher than I usually try to maintain a few times and for longer than I cared to.

I smoked them over apple wood. The apple wood came through very nice and lent a pleasant sweet smoke to the end product.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Introducing the Spicewine Cooker

We bought this last fall for possible catering jobs. It got stashed in the garage until today. As you can see from the picture, I have it running. I plan on doing up a mess of ribs tomorrow. But today, I'm just giving it a test run. Going to feel it out for the hot spots, etc.
We haven't named it yet, but rest assured we will at some point. It is made by Spicewine Ironworks and is pretty darned heavy duty. Jay (one of the owner's) makes three standard sizes. Small, medium, and large. We opted for the large. We have 4 racks that measure 34 x 25. That's a lot of cooking area.
I just went outside and checked it. It's humming along quite nicely. The double walled insulated construction, helps it maintain temperature with very little fuel burn. This also allows for custom colors. No more of the theory that your BBQ pit needs to be black. When I ordered it I went to my truck and gave him the paint code off of it and the cooker matches my truck to a T.
Here is a listing of some of it's features.

-Fully Insulated (up to 1200 degrees) Double Wall Construction
-Extra Large Multi Rack Cooking Area
-Large Water Pan with Drain
-Easy Clean Out Ash Pan
-Easy Slide Adjustable Shelving
-Pop-out Cooking Racks for Easy Cleaning
-Fully Adjustable Damper Vents
-Your Choice of Colors
-Heavy Duty Casters
-Spring Loaded Heat-Proof Door Handles
If I can figure out how to show you more than one picture per entry, I will get some more pictures of the cook tomorrow.
Jay also has a very good line of seasonings, rubs and sauces that sell fairly well in our store. If you get a chance, check them out sometime. If in the store, just ask to try a sample.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

BBQ A Wood Overview

Real BBQ isn't anything with out the flavor passed on to the finished product by the sweet smoke from the wood that is being burned as a heat source.

Let's examine what can be used. There is a general rule of thumb with wood selection that any tree that produces nuts or fruit is acceptable and safe for smoking with. Just look at some of the most popular woods used and you will see that this is the case. Hickory, oak, apple, and cherry are among the top picks.

Among those woods that can't be used would be any pines, spruce, fir, cedar or elm. When in doubt, don't use it unless you can verify it's safety.

Here is a rundown of some of the preferred woods to use. This is just a partial list.

Personally, hickory is my favorite. It is a one of the stronger flavors and goes great with beef. Being of a stronger flavor, it is easy to over do it with hickory.

Oak is very good as well and has a medium amount of flavor. It pretty much goes good with everything.

Apple and cherry and other fruit woods have a lighter, more mellow flavor that really shines on things such as fish and chicken.

Pecan. I really like cooking with pecan. It lends a sweet nutty flavor and goes well with pretty much anything. Unfortunately, living in Northern Illinois, I rarely get any. I was down south about 2 years ago and brought home about a third of a truck load, but alas, it is all gone now.

Mulberry is fairly new to the scene as a flavor wood. I'm not sure why, when it is everywhere and people are glad to get rid of them. Talk about a mild sweet flavor, throw a hunk on a fire and you will swear you just walked past a cotton candy stand.

Mesquite is probably the strongest regularly used smoking wood and the most popular in Texas. It is very strong and has a distinctive taste. I will use it sparingly on occasion as it can be easily over done.

There are some others that are different. I have heard grape vines are good to use, but have no experience with them myself. Some people will also use the wood from wine or whiskey barrels. While the smell may be a bit different when burning, I have never noticed a distinct difference in using these over just regular oak like the barrels are made from. Someone else may be able to tell a difference.

Mixing wood will give great results. I especially like to mix hickory and cherry. Oak lends itself well to mixing with fruit woods.

Those are the basics of what types of woods to use or to not use. I'll go a little more in detail soon as far as methods and techniques of cooking with wood.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A little food trivia

A little bit of misc. food trivia gathered from around the net.

According to the Kellogg Company, in 1952 they held a contest to see who would represent their new cereal called 'Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes of Corn.' The contestants were Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant, Newt the Gnu and Tony the Tiger. It was a close race with Katy and Tony sharing the front of the box at first. Eventually Tony was the clear winner and in 1953 became the sole spokes-person for the cereal. Tony Jr. (originally referred to as 'boy', and later as 'son') made appearances along with Tony Sr.
Source: foodreference.com

TRIVIA QUESTION: Thought to have originated in India, I was probably introduced to China during the Han dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 220). My arrival in the New World came somewhat later, as Columbus introduced me to Haiti in 1494. I am a popular addition to salads in western cooking, and am the main ingredient in a type of English sandwich. However, the Chinese normally do not eat me raw, preferring to add me to stir-fries. I am also quite popular pickled. What am I?
TRIVIA ANSWER: Cucumber, or Cucumis sativis to use its scientific name. Cucumbers have long been a favorite with many cultures, including the ancient Romans. The expression "cool as a cucumber" apparently comes from English physicians advising patients to lie on cucumbers, in the mistaken belief that this would lower their fever. Nutritionally, cucumbers are an excellent source of Vitamin A.
Source: about.com

-Grapefruit got its name because they often grow in bunches on the tree. Typically, fruits are scattered throughout the tree.
-Choking on food is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
-Besieged by customer requests, Cleveland restaurant owner Hector Boiardi decided to bottle his famous spaghetti and meat sauce. With local success came an offer national distribution, but, fearing that Americans would have trouble pronouncing his Italian last name, he marketed and sold his food under the phonetic spelling, "Boy-ar-dee."
-Eighteen ounces of an average cola drink contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.
-The candies most likely to cause tooth decay are dark chocolate and fudge. Those least likely to damage the teeth are nut- or coconut covered candies.
-Popcorn pops because of the moisture content inside the shell. Each kernel of corn consists of a soft starch inside and a hard shell outside. As the kernel is heated, the moisture inside the kernel expands, the soft starch is cooked, and it bursts the outer shell with a pop. The kernels must contain at least 13.5% water in order to explode.
-Peanut butter was invented by St. Louis physician Ambrose Straub, who, concerned about the nutrition of his elderly, toothless patients, concocted a health-food product that was high in protein and easily digestible.
Source: mindlesscrap.com

Monday, March 31, 2008

Let's Talk Coffee

I absolutely love coffee. I drink it on a daily basis. Period. I can't remember the last time I went without using it to start my day. If I didn't I was probably sick. I drink mine black. That's it. Nothing else. Oh, unless I am having an iced coffee on a hot summer day then I will add some cream or milk to it.

First a little history. This will all be from wikipedia. Coffee is a widely consumed stimulant beverage prepared from roasted seeds, commonly called coffee beans, of the coffee plant. Coffee was first consumed in the 9th century, when it was discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia. From there, it spread to Egypt and Yemen, and by the 15th century had reached Armenia, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Italy, then to the rest of Europe and the Americas. Today, coffee is one of the most popular beverages worldwide. Much more can be read by following the link above.

Coffee in the U.S. In 1999 there were 108,000,000 coffee consumers in the United States spending an approximated 9.2 billion dollars in the retail sector and 8.7 billion dollars in the foodservice sector every year (SCAA 1999 Market Report). It can be inferred, therefore, that coffee drinkers spend on average $164.71 per year on coffee. The National Coffee Association found in 2000 that 54% of the adult population of the United States drinks coffee daily (NCA Coffee Drinking Trends Survey, 2000). They also reported that 18.12% of the coffee drinkers in the United States drink gourmet coffee beverages daily (NCA). In addition to the 54% who drink coffee everyday, 25% of Americans drink coffee occasionally (NCA).

The bean itself. Coffee right from the bush is not palatable. Go ahead and try a green coffee bean if you don't believe me. It needs to be roasted first. There is a lot of process that goes into the bean before it it gets roasted. There are many levels of roasting as well. French roast, city roast, medium roast, light roast, etc. All are based upon length of time in the roasting process. I won't get into the full details of coffee roasting right now, but there is plenty of information at wikipedia as well as coffee roasting forums that can be found all over the internet.

My coffee loving history. I'm not sure when I actually decided that I liked coffee. I know that by the time I went to college I was drinking it regular. So it happened sometime before that. My parents always made coffee everyday and I remember dunking chocolate chip cookies in my dad's mug and leaving crumbs in it. So somewhere between those chocolate chip cookies and by the time I went to college is when it all started.

How I came to really appreciate coffee the way I prefer it now is a bit clearer. I always hated the amount of time I had to wait to get a pot of coffee. That is until the day that I discovered the BUNN pouromatic. It keeps the water hot and ready to go. Now I am getting my coffee fast. Cool! But I want better as well as faster.

It was shortly after I got my first BUNN that I decided to get a coffee grinder and grind my beans fresh right before brewing. There was a definate difference. I'm sold on grinding every morning now.

Not too long after that, my first BUNN got all clogged up on me. I followed someone's instructions on running vinegar through it and voila, coffee pot fixed. Then it kept happening more frequently. It would take a good bit of work to get it decalcified every couple of months and I am not a big fan of hot vinegar wafting through the house. Eventually it died on me completely and was in need of replacement. I bought a new one and went and bought some bottled so as not to mess up the BUNN. Not only did this end up not clogging the pot, but kicked my coffee drinking experience up another notch. That second BUNN lastest me for at least ten years until it finally had to be replaced due to the warmer burning out.

Then it happened. I was walking through the mall and I stopped at Gloria Jean's to get one of those iced coffees that I like to drink on a hot Sunday afternoon. I am looking at those coffee's behind the counter with the names of various countries and trying to get a grasp on why people pay so much money for them. This was also about the time in my life when I first had disposable income. I decided to grab the Kenya AA for $12.99 per pound and give it a try. BINGO! My love for coffee just kicked up yet another notch. Who would of thought that possible? Certainly not me. Now I have a problem. I like expensive coffee. Well I resigned myself to drinking the $10 and over per pound stuff on the weekend when I could drink it more leisurely and enjoy it better, and drink the $4 a pound stuff (8 o'clock brand) during the week when I was rushed.

Sidebar. There are many coffees that are more expensive than my favorite Kenya. Jamaican Blue Mountain curently sells for $35 per pound and up. I have had some here and there, and grabbed 2 pounds of it while I was in Jamaica this past January (for just $20 per pound). While it is a good coffee, it's not $35 per pound good. Not in my opinion. There are many good coffees in the $10 to $15 range that are fantastic. Side Sidebar Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee there is ranging anywhere from $120 to $600 per pound. Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The civets eat the berries, but the beans inside pass through their system undigested. This process takes place on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, and in the Philippines (where the product is called Kape Alamid). Vietnam has a similar type of coffee, called weasel coffee, which are coffee berries which have been defecated by local weasels. In actuality the "weasel" is just the local version of the Asian Palm Civet. I think I will pass on this coffee.

Back to me and my coffee. I have been introduced to a new hobby by a BBQ friend who is affectionately known to us as our official coffee geek. That would be roasting my own coffee beans. He buys beans through an internet co-operative and he included me in on an order for 10 pounds of Kenya AA green coffee beans. They were excellent and delivered to my door for $4 per pound. Granted they loose a small percentage of weight during the roasting process, but now I have my good coffee every day of the week for the cost of the cheaper coffee. Now I have it made. Great coffee at the price of average coffee and the only expense to roasting is a used pop corn popper that I picked up at good will for $2 and the electricity to run it. We just spend about a half an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning outside (makes a mess with chaffe flying everywhere), and we have fresh roasted coffee for the week. I back off of this during the winter as the roaster doesn't work outside in cold temperatures.

I know I am not done with my coffee explorations as there are many more brewing techniques available to me other than my BUNN drip coffee maker. I know there are, but just can't get myself to try them. I don't want to elevate to full coffee geek status because that is reserved for Ron the coffee geek.

One last word on my coffee drinking experience. I went through a period of about one year with all of the flavored coffee. Those along with all kinds of sprinkle on and add on stuff. OK, maybe it lasted about 2 years, but that was it. Back to black and never turning back.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, March 28, 2008

Food Safety And You

Just for the heck of it, I wanted to post a little something about food safety for your reading pleasure (or displeasure).

First some statistics gleaned from wikipedia.

In the United States, there are approximately 76 million foodborne illnesses annually.
325,000 are hospitalized.
5,000 people die.
Major pathogens from food borne illness in the United States cost upwards of US $35 billion dollars in medical costs and lost productivity.

Most of these cases it is believed come not from restaurant food, but from home cooked meals. That last bit was quoted from Alton Brown not from wikipedia.

If I were to break that down by state that is 100 deaths per state annually on average. Obviously some states are more populated than others, but I am making a point. That equates to 100 deaths per year per state on average. I have 102 counties in my state so that pretty much equates to 1 death per county annually from foodborne illness.

If I do the same math with the number of hospitilized people, it equates to about 64 people per county.

OK, enough of my rant and the importance of food safety. If that doesn't get you to realise the importance then nothing will.

I am going to go over a few basics and rest assured this is not a complete list of food safety rules and regs by any means. The best thing you can do if wanting to SELL food is contact your local health department and sign up for a class. This is just some basic stuff for the home owner to provide a relatively safe food invironment for their family.

First thing to cover is the danger zone. The danger zone is temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F. Cold foods need to be stored below 40 while hot foods need to be held above 140.

Meat needs to be cooked to a proper INTERNAL temperature. Not the outside surface, but a reading from the center of the object in question. A basic chart is as follows, but there are still degrees of variance from state to state on what some of these should be.
Fish 140
Whole pork 150
Ground beef 155
Ground pork 160
Poultry, game birds, stuffed meats 165
Ground turkey 170

About that holding over 140. If you are reheating an item it needs to be reheated to 165 and THEN held over 140.

Proper cooling is important as well. You need to get that temperature from 140 down to 70 within 2 hours and the rest of the way to below forty in another 4 hours.

Proper hand washing is a must. A good scrubbing with hot soapy water for 20 seconds while paying attention to areas between the fingers and around the finger nails. It also helps if you have a faucet that you can turn of with your elbow because, guess what? If you washed your hands and then turned the faucet off with those same hands you just contaminated them.

Disposable gloves go a long with with sanitation as well as ease of cleanup. I recommend them for every home kitchen.

Have a sponge in the sink? Throw it out! Get something that can be sanitized or use disposable items for cleaning. That sponge is full of cooties. The university of Arizona researchers tested household sponges that were being used in homes around the country and found that about two thirds of them contained salmonella, E. Colli, stapholycoccus AND other bacteria that can make a person extremely ill. Notice the word AND, and not the word OR. Go throw it away now. Seriously, stop reading and go throw it away. I'll wait for you to come back.

......................................................OK, now don't you feel better about throwing that nasty sponge away?

A spray bottle with a mixture of 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water is another execellent tool. Label it as sanitizer and use it all the time. One more thing that is important to mention here. It is fairly easy to poison someone by over contaminating them with sanitizer. Higher concentrations do not equate to better in this case.

Well those are some bare basics, but in my mind the two most important things about food safety is proper temperatures and cleanliness. To find out more I am sure there is a ton of on line infromation as well as from your county health department.

Oh, one last thing. You know that 5 second rule thing about dropping food on the floor or the ground and it being safe for 5 seconds? Forget it. Throw it away unless you JUST bleached the floor.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book Review: Alton Brown's Gear For the Kitchen

By none other than Alton Brown

Sorry for another book review so close to the last one, but I just finished reading it today and It's pretty darn good.

If you don't know who he is, Alton Brown is a food network personality. His show entitled Good Eats is geared toward the scientific side of cooking. The great part about it is, he makes it interesting. I distinctly remember one episode when he was talking about thermoses, and spent a good few minutes explaining how they worked and why crappy ones were crappy and good ones were good and what to look for if you want true functionality in a thermos. He further goes on to actually explain why things are done a certain way scientifically and creates neat cooking gadgets that actually work, like a smoker made out of clay pots and a hot plate.

The book pretty much follows those lines dealing with all of the items that you have (or shouldn't have) in your kitchen. It is an excellent resource for someone starting out building their kitchen equipment as well as plenty of good information for the seasoned veteran. If your kitchen is a little (or a lot) cluttered, then this book is the place to start.
One of the big things that he warns about is buying "sets" of things (knives, storage containers, etc.). You may pay a little more buying them individually, but when you buy the set, chances are that you are buying pieces that you don't need. It makes perfect sense to me. I have a nice set of henckel knives in the kitchen. I think there are 7 of them. Guess what? I only use 4 of them. There are 3 knives that I pretty much have no use for, or the specific use that they do have only pops up once in a blue moon and can typically be performed by another knife.
He is also big on substitute items such as a mortar trowel that he bought at the hardware store that is cheaper and just as good as any pie server that he has used.
Functionality and cleanability are two keys in most of his items. If it doen't clean easy, don't use it. If something else does the job better than what you are using, then use the something else. Even if it wasn't designed for that purpose.
He has a strong aversion (and reasonably so) to uni-taskers. Items that have but one function and one function only. He sticks to that fairly strongly unless of course you go to his website and buy a salt cellar. I must admit that I bought one from him a couple of years ago, but it just looks so good setting next to the stove. Right next to the big granite mortar and pestle that I have but rarely use, but it looks cool as well so both are staying. I don't care what Alton says.
He even throws a few oddball recipes in there that sound pretty good. Another plus is a short chapter toward the end dealing with food safety and handling that should be at the top of the list of everyone that likes working in a kitchen.
I didn't even realise that I had this and ran across it going through a cabinet looking for something else. There is a price tag on the back that says $27.50. I am pretty sure that I got it off of a clearance rack or a garage sale. But it can be purchased at Amazon for $18.15.
Over all rating? Great book no matter how much you think you know about your kitchen gear. Chock full of good information. I highly recommend it as a good read.
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pork! The other white meat?

I don't think think so. If it hasn't been said before, I grew up on a small farm where we did lots of our own butchering. There was also a period in time while I was in 4-H that we participated in meat judging. From both of these experiences, I was always tought that beef and pork was red meat. Needless to say, I was a little curious as to how the pork board was getting away with this. I checked some dictionaries back around that time and sure enough, the definition of red meat is meat that is red before it is cooked. Same went for the definition of white meat as well. I knew that pork was red before it was cooked and also that it was a bit lighter in color because of an increased amount of fat in the muscle tissue.

Fast forward to now. Being tired of repeatedly running into this everywhere, I decided to put some cold hard facts here in my blog and straigten this out once and for all.

My first stop was a couple of online dictionaries. It would seem that they are on the fence about the subject. The ones that I looked at gave the basic definition as I stated above and cited examples of both white and red meat. However, none of them placed pork under either definition.

Need to move on further I guess. Time for my favorite resource of all. You guessed it, wikipedia.com.

There seems to ba a little bit of "on the fence" type difinitions there as well. It vaguely calls young pork white, but further says the following, and in my opinion is the most accurate of descriptions.

Red meat does not refer to how well a piece of meat is cooked or its coloration after cooking. A steak or hamburger is a red meat whether it is served rare, or cooked until it is well-done; pork is also red, though it turns to a whitish color when cooked. According to the USDA all meats obtained from "livestock" are "red meats" because they contain more myoglobin than chicken or fish.

By definition, the USDA says that pork is red meat based on scientific criteria. That must be the truth. After all no government entity would ever think of lying to us right?

My work is done here and the pork board should be ashamed of themselves for trying to tell the country that pork is as healthy as chicken. While there may be some cuts that are leaner than chicken, as a whole it is probably a less healthy alternative than chicken. Did I just say that? Yep.

Now I want to see the chicken council sue the pork board and make them stop using that slogan. Or better yet, let's see their CEO's dish it out in a pig slop mud wrestling match and let the winner take all.

Don't get me wrong. I think pork fat rules as much as the next guy, so eat up and enjoy, just don't fall into the hype.

I think I will go and get me some peppered pork sticks right now. YUMMS!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some of my favorite BBQ side dishes

Hash Brown Casserole

This is one of my favorite side dishes. It goes great with BBQ and is suitable for any meal of the day. In a pinch you can add some chopped up ham or other meat and call it a meal.

It is a very close variation to the hashbrown casserole that you get at the cracker barrel restaurant. YUMMS!

1 cup onion, diced. I keep dehydrated onion chips around the house and use these for most of my onion cooking needs. They rehydrate very easy by just setting in a bowl with water. A definate no tears solution
1/4 lb. of butter thinly sliced. The BUTTER CUTTER is nice for this. Available at our store.
1 can of condensed cream of chicken soup
1 8 ounce container of sour cream
8 oz. of shreddad cheddar cheese Colby probably fits this the best
2 pounds of frozen hash browns thawed
1 cup of crushed corn flakes. Other toppings go nice as well such as potato chips, cheetos, pork rinds, etc.

Mix the whole mess up well and pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish reserving the crushed corn flakes to spread on the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about an hour or until done.

Deep fried corn on the cob

This is more of a procedure than a recipe. When I was traveling to St. Loius for work on a regular basis, there was a BBQ joint there called bandana's. They put out some good que and I ate there frequently. They were the first place that I ever saw deep fried corn on the cob. It is excellent stuff and I have made it now for several occasions where we are feeding lots of people and it is always a huge hit.

Get yourself some good sweet corn. Preferably at the peak of sweet corn season when it is the best. Clean all husk and hairs from the corn. We use a turkey fryer and deep fry it in peanut oil. Preheat the oil to about 360-375. It is safest to use a basket that you can lower into the oil and a hook to retrieve the contents. It takes about 3 minutes or so to fry the corn. The kernels will get a nice golden brown coloring to them when it is ready. Basically, when it looks done, it is done.

Allow to cool just a little bit as they are piping hot when they come out. Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy. No butter needed.

We have tried in oil other than peanut oil and the result is not as good. I have also since seen recipes using batter or breading, but don't see the need.

Pineapple Rice

This is just a regular white rice. I always use broth to make my rice. Chicken broth with a chicken dish, beef with a beef dish. Take your choice. Either way, it will be a much more flavorful dish than just boiling it in water. Add a small can of crushed pineapple to this when you throw the rice into the boiling broth.

When finished, you can add a small amount of soy sauce and terriyaki if you care to as well as a small amount of whatever rub that you used on your main BBQ dish.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book review: Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades by Steve Reichlen

Thought I would give a book review for the heck of it. Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades is one of the first BBQ books I bought when I started to get real serious into BBQ. I had wanted to make my own BBQ sauce and this looked like a step in the right direction. It has been some time since I first bought it, but I can remember clearly sitting down to look at it and ended up reading the thing from cover to cover. I'll tell you one thing, there aren't too many cookbooks that you can say that about. You can do that with Steve's books as well as Ray's (Dr. BBQ) books as well. I think that any good cookbook worth it's salt (pun intended) should be similar in nature. I finally came across a basic bbq sauce that sounded like your traditional BBQ sauce. I checked over the list, and ended up going to the grocery store the next morning to get what I was lacking. These days that would rarely happen, but at the time I didn't have as full a stocked pantry as I do now.
OK, I'm back home with everything and make the small batch size that the recipe was for. Fantastic! This is what I have been looking for! It was excellent! I immediately multiplied the batch size by 10 and went back to the store for more ingredients. This was around the end of November I believe as I was also trying my hand at smoking cheese as well (something that could only be done on my cooking equipment when it was cold). I made a couple of large batches and canned the whole mess. Everyone in the neighborhood got BBQ sauce and smoked cheese that year for Christmas.
The recipe was called sweet and smokey BBQ sauce. I have since changed it up quite a bit and the version I now make is something pretty much my own, but would not have known where to start without this book and the vast amount of information in it. There are lots of other good starters as well. Flipping through it just now I see some things that I bookmarked and never got around to trying, but will probably do so shortly. I have my eye on the pineapple garlic glaze.
Pick it up if you get a chance. You'll be glad you did. http://www.barbecuebible.com/

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Just a funny poster I saw somewhere.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The evil MSG

Let's take a look at MSG today. Monosodium glutamate, sodium glutamate, flavor enhancer 621.

The following is from Wikipedia.com: EU food additive code: E621, HS code: 29224220 (IUPAC name 2-aminopentanedioic acid. Also known as 2-aminoglutaric acid), commonly known as MSG, Ajinomoto, Vetsin, or Accent, is a sodium salt of glutamic acid. MSG is a food additive and it is commonly marketed as a "flavour enhancer".

There is a lot more to read at wikipedia by following this link. Especially if you want to see more technical information.

Why is there such a phobia of this wonderful flavor inhancer? It is basically a natural product.

Modern commercial MSG is produced through fermentation of sugar beets, as well as sugar cane or molasses.

According to Wikipedia, this is a sampling of where you will find MSG.

Canned soups
Pre-prepared stocks often known as stock cubes
Common snack foods
Most fast food
Instant meals such as the seasoning mixtures for instant noodles

It is almost impossible to live in this country without having MSG in your diet, so why all the hooplah? Some people even claim to have allergies to it.

Here is where it all started as far as I can tell. The following is an exerpt from the link.
In April 1968, Ho Man Kwok wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine where he said, "I have experienced a strange syndrome whenever I have eaten out in a Chinese restaurant, especially one that served northern Chinese food. The syndrome, which usually begins 15 to 20 minutes after I have eaten the first dish, lasts for about two hours, without hangover effect. The most prominent symptoms are numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitations...". This comment began a global health scare about monosodium glutamate and "Chinese restaurant syndrome" was born. However, research has failed to prove that monosodium glutamate affects a large percentage of the population, and Chinese restaurant syndrome is largely resigned to urban legend status. However, monosodium glutamate is still thought of as suspect by a large proportion of the general public, and many foods continue to be labeled "MSG free". [4]

The following list also from wikipedia.com pretty much covers all of the regulations and findings on MSG.
The 1987 Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization placed monosodium glutamate in the safest category of food ingredients.
A 1991 report by the European Community's (EC) Scientific Committee for Foods reaffirmed monosodium glutamate's safety and classified its "acceptable daily intake" as "not specified", the most favourable designation for a food ingredient. In addition, the EC Committee said, "Infants, including prematures, have been shown to metabolize glutamate as efficiently as adults and therefore do not display any special susceptibility to elevated oral intakes of glutamate."
A 1992 report from the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association stated that glutamate in any form has not been shown to be a "significant health hazard".
A 1995 FDA-commissioned report acknowledged that "An unknown percentage of the population may react to monosodium glutamate and develop monosodium glutamate symptom complex, a condition characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
Burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest
Numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back
Tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms
Facial pressure or tightness
Chest pain
Rapid heartbeat
Bronchospasm (difficulty breathing)
Sweating." This list of mostly very non-specific and common symptoms was compiled from anecdotal reports[5

Looks like varied findings and not enough proper testing to me.

I just walked throught he store and picked 15 items off the shelf, 10 of which had MSG in their ingredient list. None of the products were oriental even though we have some oriental products in the store. I purposely did not look at those.

I looked around the web and found some PRO MSG websites, but the number of ANTI MSG websites far out numbered the pro. The funny thing is that when looking at the anti msg websites, they all misquoted the research articles that are posted above as well as left out key information in the studies.

My use of MSG. I see nothing wrong with it, and I'll bet that when I go home, almost all of the seasoning mixes I use have it in their ingredient list. We use it here at the store. We don't use hardly any salt at all, but when something calls for it, we instead use half salt and half MSG. It cuts down the sodium and helps enhance the flavor.

My verdict? Use it until it all runs out. Which doesn't look likely any time soon.

What is cooking today?

Jerky. I have a batch of terriyaki jerky in the smoker. Started with some eye of round. I trimmed the fat from the outside and cut it on a slicer for uniformity. I guess about an 1/8th of an inch.

I have a basic recipe that I start with and always go from there. It is something that originally came from my mom and I stripped a bunch of stuff out to get down to my basic.

Standard wet jerky base
Equal parts soy sauce and worchestire
A good bit of granulated garlic powder, granulated onion powder, and fresh ground black pepper.

Standard terriyaki wet jerky base
Same as above except substitute terriyaki for the worchestire.

That is just the start. Depending on the mood that I am in will determine what else goes into the batch. But for starters here are some of the other things that I may or may not add in no particular order.
Cayenne (or many other types of pepper)
sesame oil
brown sugar
pineapple juice
chinese 5 spice
hot sauce
That is just a start. Get the picture? What ever you want to make of it. If you screw up, don't do the same thing next time.

Liquid smoke is not on my list as I cook it in a smoker and get real smoke flavor to it. If I want mesquite flavored, I will use mesquite wood. In fact, you will rarely see me mention liquid smoke as the only thing I use it for is an ingredient in BBQ sauce.

Whatever concoction you come up with, marinate the meat over night. Make sure that the meat is well coated on both sides before leaving to set.

I have this batch going at about 180 in hickory smoke and will be about a 3 hour smoke. I am not trying to make real jerky, just a tasty similarity. It is not dehydrated, nor is it shelf stable. It still needs to remain refridgerated. The picture shown is an almost finished picture, otherwise it did look a lot more full when I started it this morning.

Yums! I just went and had a piece. It's all coming out now.

Go and make yourself some jerky!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BBQ and Grilling

Since this is my very first blog post, I am going to set out to clarify the difference between BBQ and grilling. They are terms that I will probably use quite a bit, but are NOT interchangeable. Not in my vocabulary. I have looked them both up many times in my life and will give my condensed version here for a definition.

BBQ- The cooking of food, typically meat, at low temperatures over an indirect fire either of wood, charcoal,or gas.

Grilling- The cooking of food, typically meat, at high temperatures over a direct fire either of wood, charcoal, or gas.

Now that that is settled, we can go on. I prefer doing BBQ , but love to grill as well. It's just a matter of how much time I have to dedicate to supper that night. For the most part, I reserve BBQing for the weekends during the summer, and grilling is for weeknights during the summer and most of the time during the winter months. Grilling is NOT a season, it is a year long event. I'll admit though that I will typically resort to the gas grill for those winter evening cooks, otherwise it is a good old Weber kettle.

Now that the winter weather is finally showing signs of breaking, I will post some pictures of my gear as I get outside and get the time to clean everything up for summer use. Besides the grills mentioned above, my backyard sports a very nice BBQ pit made by Dave Klose from Texas. He makes a quality pit that will last more than a lifetime. I also have an FEC100 made by cookshack that is in the kitchen in the back of our deli, and a spicewine cooker that we bought for possible on-site catering gigs. We haven't put the spicewine through it's paces yet, but I have used one before and they are a fantastic pit as well.

OK, that is the basics for outside. I have a pretty nice indoor kitchen as well, but nothing as nice as the one we have at the deli, that's for sure. I'll spend a day talking about that kitchen as well and posting a few pictures.

What I will be talking about on a regular basis? Well, I don't really know for sure myself, but rest assured there will be some BBQ and/or grilling talk. I will probably throw lots of other food adventures into the mix I am sure. I roast my own coffee beans and may have some info in there about that coming down the road. I have also just started to make my own wine, and that may crop up once in a while. I also don't know how often I will be posting. For now, it will come as often as I feel like spending a bit of time writing.

Don't expect to get any healthy eating tips here. You will have a hard time finding them. You never know though, they may just crop up unexpectedly.

My cooking background? Well, let's see, I would have to say it comes from both my mother and my father. Not sure why, but I always gravitated toward the kitchen and mom was always more than willing to share her cooking expertise if she wasn't too busy. I believe my first foray into baking was probably a sour cream coffee cake that mom had a recipe for and I know I made that quite a bit. It didn't stop there. Pancakes were one of my favorite things to eat, and I know those were made lots of times after I got it right (story about that later down the road). I just always liked being in the kitchen and it shows.
We always loved it when it was grilling time. Dad was of course the grill master of the house as is the way of most households across America. I picked up all of the basics from him and more. But besides the grilling, he also gave me my first peak into BBQ and smoking. We had a walk-in smokehouse on the small farm that I grew up on. I don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do remember some of the smoked fish that was produced out of it. Oh man was that some good stuff. The smell of sweet smoke was present in that building looooong after it was turned into a tool shed. So, my dad was where I got the smoke thing from.
I eventually started doing this stuff on my own and wound up finding a nest of chuckle-heads on the internet called the bbq-brethren. They have become a second family to me and a crutch for my addiction called BBQ.

More info before I close for today. I also dabble in competition BBQ and will probably post about those during the year. I haven't hit the formula completely solid yet, but have done well in every category at least once. Just can't put them all together at the same time. Oh well, that will come eventually. If not, it is still fun and I will do it as often as my schedule and finances allow.