Diced Potatoes on the Grill

potatoesAfter

Now that warm-weather grilling season is here in Michigan, I thought I’d focus a little more on BBQ/grilling side dishes. Here’s one my dad used to make when he grilled in the backyard. I’ve added to it but the principal of cooking the diced potatoes in foil is the same as when he did it back when I was a kid. It’s a great-tasting side that’ll go with anything you’re grilling or barbequing. Simple, and a nice change of pace over plain old whole potatoes wrapped in foil and grilled.

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium-sized potatoes, skin-on, washed and scrubbed
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • Sweet red, orange or yellow peppers (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons granulated garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt

 

Special Utensils:

  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil

 

Serves 2-4

Pull out a long piece of foil from the roll. I usually pull out a 3-foot long piece and fold it in half for extra strength. Dice up the potatoes into around one-inch squares. I leave the skins on, but you could peel the potatoes first if you like. Dice up the onion and peppers (if you’re using peppers) and add it all to the foil sheet. Then drizzle the olive oil and apple cider vinegar over and add the salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme. Grab both ends of the foil sheet and kind of roll the potato mixture back and forth to help distribute the spices. oil. etc. This is what it should look like at this point:

potatoesBeforeNow take the top and bottom of the foil sheet and wrap it together carefully, rolling the top of the seam down to make a good semi-airtight seal. Do the same with the sides. Get the charcoal going or turn the gas burners up on one side. Now here’s the trick to making the potatoes really good– lay the foil package right on top of the heating-up coals, or put them where the gas flame is the hottest. Turn over at regular intervals. The idea is to brown the potatoes just enough to carmelize them and increase the flavors, to get that hash brown flavor– not enough heat and all you’ll get are steamed potatoes.

Get the potatoes sizzling away nicely on the high heat first, and when you start to grill you can back off on the heat to the potatoes. By the time your BBQ is ready you should be able to open a perfectly cooked pouch of potatoes. Enjoy!

Slow-Smoked BBQ Pulled Pork

pulledPork
We had family coming over for a birthday party for our kids, and I wanted to make something special. Though I’ve done a lot of barbequing, I’ve only tried pulled pork once or twice, and just winged it, figuring things out as I went along. Turned out pretty good, as I recall (how bad could slow-smoked pork turn out?). But this time I wanted to try something more authentic. I did a lot of research into different styles of rubs and sauces, which vary widely from region to region. I finally settled this time on a western-side of North Carolina style rub and sauce, with a few of my own variations.

North Carolina favors a vinegar-based barbeque sauce. The eastern variety has no tomato at all, it’s pretty much vinegar, sugar and pepper. The western side of the state likes a similar thin vinegar-based sauce too, but with some ketchup added. I used tomato paste instead of ketchup because I thought the sauce recipe already has plenty of vinegar and brown sugar, and ketchup is pretty much just tomatoes, vinegar and sugar– seemed redundant to me. Plus I wanted to get the sauce just thick enough to adhere to the pork without just running off.

My attempt at western North Carolina style pulled pork turned out really well, and everybody seemed to enjoy it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 5-8 lb. pork shoulder (also known as a Boston Butt)

 

(rub):

  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons paprika

 

(sauce):

  • 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons rub from above recipe
  • 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoons Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons Worchestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme

 

Special Utensils:

  • Smoker
  • Meat Thermometer
  • Grinder (if using whole spices)

 

First, mix the rub. I start with whole peppercorns, mustard seed and celery seed, so I use an old blade-style coffee grinder to grind up the spices along with the oregano and thyme (I like it powdery to help the flavors absorb into the meat). then I mix the spices from the grinder with the rest of the rub ingredients. But if you have pre-ground spices just mix them all up in a bowl.

Pat the rub all over the pork shoulder, preferably the night before, at least an hour before cooking. wrap up the rubbed shoulder and put it in the refrigerator until time to cook.

Be prepared for an all-day project. This can take as long as 12 hours, depending on how you cook it, so plan ahead and set the alarm to get started early enough for it to be ready in time. If you need to speed things up, I have a tip a little later on how you can do that.

When it’s BBQ time, fire up the coals and get the smoking wood ready. I won’t get too much into prepping the smoking wood because I covered it in the Smoked Barbequed Turkey post. I will say, since I wrote that post, I’ve read a lot about NOT soaking wood chunks for smoking, that it affects the quality of the smoke. But when I use dry chunks of wood I get fire flare-ups which cause temperature spikes. Another alternative is to make a separate fire with the smoking wood and use the embers for cooking. But when you need to slow-cook for 8 or more hours this approach isn’t too practical unless you have a lot of spare wood to use. What I do is get the wood chunks wet, but I don’t soak them for a long time. This keeps them from catching fire too quickly. Then I have  a spray bottle handy and I keep an eye out for temperature spikes– that means a wood chunk has caught on fire, and I give it a shot of water to put it out. This approach keeps the temp low and constant, and the smoke flavor turns out great.

Put the shoulder on the grill fat side up. Keep the smoker temp around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a long slow cook, so no need to put the meat thermometer probe in for about 5 hours or so. At around the 5 hour mark, insert the probe in the center of the shoulder, away from any bone. After the probe is in, keep adding coals every 2 hours or so , and the occasional wood chunk, until the internal shoulder temperature reaches 190 degrees– that’s the magic number that will cause the collagen and connective tissue in the meat to dissolve and melt, causing the fall-apart shreddability you want for pulled pork.

When the temp reaches around 150 degrees though, you have a decision to make. This is about the point where the temperature levels off for a long time, and it seems to take forever to start rising again. If you have the time, you can wait it out and this will help create a nice brown “bark” on the outside of the shoulder. OR…you can wrap the shoulder in heavy-duty foil to help cook it in its own juices and hurry up the rise to 190 degrees. I had a deadline, so I opted for the foil.

While the shoulder cooks, mix together the sauce ingredients while heating up in a pan on the stove. I like to just heat things long enough to help the ingredients combine, about 20 minutes-1/2 hour. Don’t boil, just heat below a simmer while stirring. then let the sauce cool to room temp.

When the shoulder is at 190 degrees, take it off the heat and let it rest for a 1/2 hour if you can (unless you have hungry guests ready to eat, like I did). If you didn’t already wrap it in foil, wrapping it now would be a good idea. When you’re ready for pulling, take two large sturdy forks and shred the pork up. Mix up the shredded pork with a little of the sauce to keep it moist, and leave the rest of the sauce on the side for people to add more as they like. Have some type of buns to serve the pulled pork on, sloppy-joe style. Enjoy!

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

Here’s my version of an old Italian classic. This is a quick version that uses mostly ingredients that are not too perishable and that you’re likely to have on hand (if you’re like us and have garlic available at all times) so if you have unexpected company for dinner this is an easy and impressive meal to throw together at a 1/2 hour or hour notice.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Boneless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 14 oz. Can Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine
  • 1/2 – 1 Bulb Garlic
  • 1 Can Quartered Artichokes
  • 1/2 Red Pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. Capers
  • 1 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 Large Lemon
  • Salt/Pepper to Taste
  • Shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • Pasta-Spaghetti
  • 2 Tbsp. Flour

For Breading:

  • 3 Tbsp. Flour
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Granulated Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. Pepper

Serves 4

For this meal I used some homemade chicken stock and simmered it down, but you can use canned chicken stock and simmer it to reduce by 1/2. This meal is all about intense flavors. Use low-sodium stock since you’re concentrating it. It’s a good idea to start simmering the stock first since it will take around 1/2 hour to reduce it.

Dice up the red peppers very thin (most Chicken Piccata recipes don’t use red pepper, but I added a little here for vitamins and color). Dice up the garlic very fine, or use a garlic press. I like garlic so I use nearly a whole bulb of garlic, but you might want to just use a few cloves.

Butterfly the chicken breasts so they are the same thickness throughout (that means cutting into the thick part of the breast from the center, so you can fold it open like a book). It’s also a good idea to pound the chicken thinner so it cooks through quickly. You can put the chicken between two pieces of clear wrap and roll or pound it thin with a soup can or just about anything handy. I just used my fist, caveman-style.

heat up some butter or smart balance, and olive oil in a pan, and while that’s heating up, mix the flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder together, spread it out on a plate and cover the chicken breasts.

Heat up a skillet with the butter and olive oil, and brown the chicken on both sides. When it’s nicely browned on the outside, take it out and put it in the oven at 350 degrees to finish cooking. Add the red pepper and garlic to the pan and cook until it’s softened up. Pour the white wine into the pan to deglaze it, scraping the browned stuff off the pan. Add the chicken stock, artichokes, and capers and simmer a little longer.

Mix the 2 tbsp. flour with a little water to make a paste and stir it into the chicken stock mixture to thicken up. Mix in lemon juice.

Take chicken out of oven and add to plate with cooked spaghetti. Cover all with sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Serves 4

Smoked Chicken Jalapeno Soup

Smoked Chicken Jalapeno Soup

Smoked Chicken Jalapeno Soup

This is a good one. I first came up with a variation of it looking for a way to get creative with some smoked fish on a camping trip. I usually use chicken now, because it’s more typical I’ll have some leftover smoked chicken on hand. It was perfect for this past Labor Day Weekend, because I had just happened to have some applewood-smoked chicken left over from a barbeque, and I have a ton of tomatoes and jalapeno peppers from the garden. The combination of spiciness, smokiness and citric flavors (from the lime juice) work together fantastically.

Ingredients:

  • Smoked or Barbecued Chicken
  • 30 oz. Chicken Stock
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes or several fresh tomatoes
  • 1 Green Pepper
  • 3-5 Jalapeno Peppers
  • 1 Large Onion
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic
  • 3-4 Celery Stalks
  • 2 Carrots (optional)
  • Juice of 1 Large or 2 Small Limes
  • Black Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 Tsp. Thyme
  • 1 Tsp. Oregano
  • 2-3 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil

I added carrots for a little extra color this time, but I usually don’t add carrots to this, so I consider them optional. What I DON’T consider optional is the lime juice and the jalapenos. If you don’t want it to be too spicy I’d recommend cutting out the seeds and the ribs that attach the seeds to the inside of the jalapeno peppers, instead of using fewer peppers or leaving them out altogether.

Dice up vegetables. Dice or shred chicken. Squeeze lime juice and set aside.

Cook diced peppers, onion celery and garlic in olive oil until they soften up. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, and the rest of the ingredients except for the chicken and lime juice.

Note: Even though I had some frozen home-made chicken stock on hand, I just used canned chicken stock for this soup. I like to save the good stock for recipes that benefit the most from the flavor and richness of the home-made stock, but this soup has so much going for it flavor-wise I decided to save the good stock. You may disagree, and decide to use good stock for this if you have it.

Simmer for about 1/2 hour, add the chicken and simmer for another 20 minutes to 1/2 hour (since the chicken is already cooked, I don’t add it right away but I like to let it simmer long enough to let the smoky flavor mix in). Add the lime juice at the end, after the soup is done cooking– if you add it at the beginning the lime flavor won’t be as “bright”.

Serve with pasta or rice. You could even dice up some potatoes and throw them in, same time as the chicken. I usually prefer rice, but I had some pasta left over from the day before, so I used that in the photo.

Enjoy!

 

 

Barbecued Ribs

Barbecued Ribs

Dinnertime

For a lot of people real barbecue means barbecued ribs. But the Holy Grail of tender, falling-off-the-bone ribs eluded me time after time… sure, they tasted great, but the meat didn’t fall off the bone the way I expect of a good rib. I cooked my ribs “low and slow”– several hours on low heat. What was I was doing wrong?  I did a little research online, and discovered the “3-2-1″ method (more about that below). Eureka! Tender, fallin’ off the bone ribs.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Rack Spare Ribs
  • Wood chunks for smoking- apple and hickory work well.

Dry Rub Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 Tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 Tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 Tsp. Thyme
  • 1/2 Tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/4 Tsp. ground celery seed
  • 1.4 Tsp. cayenne pepper

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tsp. salt
  • 1 Tsp. black pepper
  • 1-2 Tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • 1 Tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tsp. Worchestershire sauce

Special Utensils:

  • Smoker or charcoal grill

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite). If I was making ribs for 4 people, I’d make 2 racks of ribs.

Mix up dry rub ingredients and rub thoroughly into the ribs. Refrigerate and let the spices work their way into the meat for several hours, overnight ideally.

Fire up the smoker and soak the wood chunks in water . There’s more info and pictures on that in my Smoked Turkey post. If you don’t have a smoker, you can use a charcoal grill– just put the coals on one side of the grill, put a pan on the other side to catch the drippings, and cook the ribs over the pan for slower, indirect heat.  Close down the vents to lower the heat– the temp should be around 250 degrees for “low and slow” barbequing. Add coals every couple hours. Add new soaked wood chunks every hour or two, enough to keep the ribs constantly smoking.

So here’s the “3-2-1″ method: we cook the ribs over low heat for 6 hours. The first three hours, we cook the ribs uncovered so they soak up the smoke flavor. Then we seal the rack of ribs up in foil and cook for two hours. This causes the meat to steam in its own juices and tenderizes it. This is the secret to getting the meat to fall off the bone. Take the foil off and cook uncovered for the last hour to get the outside crispy.

Sometime during that 6 hours of cooking time, get the sauce ready– cook up the onions and garlic in olive oil until they’re just starting to carmelise and turn golden brown (but don’t burn). Add the tomato paste and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Stir on low heat, simmering the sauce for 1/2 hour to an hour, letting all the flavors mix. If the sauce is too thick add a little water, or pour a little of the beer you’re drinking in there.

Brush on the sauce around a half hour or so before the ribs are done. Take the ribs off the grill carefully, so they don’t fall apart too soon, and serve. Enjoy!