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.

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.

-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.

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!