Perfectly Grilled Filet Mignon

Medium Rare Filet Mignon

Seared outside, perfectly pink inside

Yeah, that’s right, you read the title correctly. This is serious stuff, so there’s no room for false modesty here. I’m going to show you how to grill filet mignon cuts of steak perfectly, every time.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Filet Mignon cut steaks
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh coarse-ground pepper
  • Soaked Hickory Chips (optional)

Special Utensils:

  • Barbeque Grill
  • Meat thermometer

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Serves 4

Get the charcoal started if you’re using a charcoal grill. While the coals are getting ready, take the steaks out of the refrigerator and sprinkle with kosher salt and ground pepper. Filet mignon cuts of steak are so good I like to keep it real simple with the seasoning. The steaks should sit out at room temp for up to a half hour before they go on the grill (but meat shouldn’t be left at room temp for any more time than that).

Charcoal Grill

Coals on one side only!

If you want nice branded grill marks, make sure the grill has been well-heated over the coals. When the coals are ready spread them out in a one-coal deep layer one one side of the grill only- this is important. Using a gas grill? I highly recommend charcoal, but if you MUST use a gas grill you’ll just fire up and preheat the burners on one side then.

Filet Migons on the grill

Searing up nicely

Now put the steaks on directly over the coals (or the hot side if you’re using a gas grill). Cover but leave all the grill vents open. We want a lot of heat. Turn the steaks over after a few minutes. Turn twice each side on diagonals if you want that “steakhouse commercial” grill mark look.  We want to get a good sear on the outside of the steaks.  We don’t want to burn the outside, just give it a good dark-brown sear. Why is a good sear so important? It’s not to seal in the juices, as some people think. It creates flavor . . .

Science Alert: Searing the steaks causes a process called the “Maillard Reaction”, a chemical reaction between sugars and amino acids in the meat when exposed to high heat. This creates dozens, maybe hundreds of delicious flavor compounds. THAT’s why a good sear is so important.

Once the outside has a good sear, close the grill vents halfway. move the steaks to the cooler side of the grill, and cover up again. Cooking quickly on the hot side and letting the steak finish more slowly on the cooler side is what’s going to give you the perfect seared outside and pink medium-rare throughout inside. Insert a meat thermometer in one of the steaks. If these were thinner cuts we could just test the doneness by touch, but with thick filet cuts a meat thermometer will make sure they’re just right. And “just right” for me is medium rare. I used to say the rarer the better, but these days I think medium rare makes for the best flavor and texture. And as I said in the Steak Au Poivre post, anything more than medium rare is just a crime against the steak.  I like to throw a handful of hickory chips that I soaked in water for a half hour onto the coals at this point. Not necessary if you don’t want to, but it gives the steaks a nice added smoky flavor.

So when the meat thermometer is EXACTLY at 125 degrees (140-150 degrees for medium/medium well if you really have to) take the steaks off the heat and let them rest for 5-10 minutes. Resting the steak is important because it allows the meat juices to reabsorb back into the muscle fibers of the steak so it stays nice and juicy. If you start cutting the steak up too soon those juices will just run out onto your plate.

Serve with your favorite vegetable and side (I did grilled asparagus from the applewood smoked chicken post and simple baked potatoes). Enjoy your perfectly grilled steak!

 

Thai-Style Red Curry Stir-Fry

Thai Red Curry

Red Curry with Chicken and Shrimp

Thai food is Kristina’s favorite, and it’s right up there in my favorites as well. Unfortunately a few years ago we moved from an area that had great Thai restaurants on just about very corner to a place where the Thai places are few and far between. So I’ve tried to come up with a pretty good approximation, although I’m far from a real authentic Thai chef.

A couple ingredients that often go in an authentic Thai red curry, like kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass, you probably won’t find unless you visit an Asian grocery. So I use lime juice, which makes a good substitute for the citrus flavors of the lime leaf and lemongrass. If you have an Asian grocery nearby and want to get the special ingredients, great, but if that’s not an option, the ingredients I use here are all what can typically be found in your average grocery store.

I’m adding this one to the “Quick Meals” category, but with one caveat- this is a two-step process. The first step is making the coconut milk/chicken stock for the curry, which takes time, but can be frozen in portions for next time. When it’s next time and when you have some of that curry base, you can whip up a new batch of red curry fast.

Ingredients:

For Curry Base (step 1)

  • Chicken pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • Peanut oil
  • 2 Cans (about 28 oz.) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 can (14 oz.) Coconut milk
  • 1 can (14 oz.) Light coconut milk

Step 1 prep time: 5-10 minutes
Step 1 cook time: 2 hours

For Curry (step 2)

  • Cooked shredded chicken from step 1, or
  • Raw chicken cut into narrow strips
  • Shrimp (optional)
  • 1 Green and/or red pepper
  • 2-3 hot chiles, thai or jalapeno (optional)
  • 2 bunches Green onion
  • 1 Eggplant
  • 1 can bamboo shoots
  • 5-6 cloves garlic
  • Juice from 1-2 limes
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • Around 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Red chile powder (to taste)
  • Cilantro (optional)

Step 2 prep time: 15-20 minutes
Step 2 cook time: 10-15 minutes

Special Utensils:

  • Wok

Serves 4

Step 1

Here’s the part that eluded me when I first tried to make a red curry that tasted like what we’d get in our favorite Thai restaurant- the coconut milk flavor would be too obvious in the curry and drown the other flavors out, no matter how I adjusted the mix. The secret is to simmer the coconut/chicken stock mix for a long time. Take enough bone-in chicken pieces to cover the bottom of a large pot. Season with a little salt and pepper, leaving the skin on. Heat up a couple tablespoons of peanut oil in the pot and brown the chicken pieces on each side. Remove them when they’re nicely browned and pour off the leftover fat. Now add the chicken stock, a little at first, and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the chicken stock and coconut milk, mix it up good, and add the chicken pieces back in- they should be covered in the stock/coconut milk. Note: I use 1 can regular and 1 can light coconut milk because the regular is really high in saturated fat, but 2 cans of the light is too thin and doesn’t give the curry enough richness. One of each is a good compromise, I think. Simmer with the top on at low heat for about two hours. Take out the chicken pieces and separate the meat from the skin and bone- the meat should  fall right off the bone. Shred the chicken and save it for step 2. Reserve enough of the curry base- 1-2 cups worth- and freeze the rest into portions for next time after it cools.

Step 2

If you’re using frozen red curry base that you saved, cut raw chicken into strips. If you just did step one and you have shredded chicken, you just have the veggies to concern yourself with. Cut the green onion into 1/2 inch pieces. Dice up garlic and ginger. Cut pepper and eggplant into thin strips. We’re going to cook fast and hot, so we want the veggies to be very thin so the stir-fry only lasts a few minutes. Depending on how spicy you like your Thai food, add in some finely diced hot chile pepper too.

Now let’s get the red curry sauce ready. Take a cup or two of the chicken stock/coconut milk base we made in step one. Mix in the red curry paste, fish sauce, and lime juice. Add red chile powder, again depending on how spicy you like it.

Thai Red Curry Ingredients

Red Curry Ingredients Standing By

Now pour a tablespoon or two of peanut oil into the wok and let it heat up (peanut oil is best because it holds up well to high heat). Get the ingredients all ready by the wok, because things will happen fast now. When the wok is good and hot, throw the diced garlic and ginger into the oil and mix around just for a few seconds, long enough to flavor the oil but not long enough to brown the garlic/ginger. Throw the chicken in (if you don’t have cooked shredded chicken from step one) and constantly stir the chicken until it’s just browned on the outside. Throw in the peppers and eggplant and keep stirring.

Wok

Stirring, frying...stir-frying!

After a few minutes of cooking the first wave of veggies, throw in the green onions. They cook fast so you don’t want to add them the same time as the other veggies. Add the shrimp around the same time as the onion if you want to. I like a mix of shrimp and chicken in my Thai- it gives a nice mix of texture and flavor to the meal. toward the very end add the bamboo shoots (and the shredded cooked chicken from step one, if you’re going this route). Don’t overcook the vegetables– the peppers should still have a little crispiness.

Chop up some cilantro and garnish on top if you like.  Add onto cooked rice and enjoy!

Simple Turkey Soup

Turkey Soup

The Soup

Kristina pointed out that all my recipes so far took a long time to prepare, and people might want to see recipe ideas that were quick and simple to make. I thought this was a great idea, and so a new category for the site, “Quick Meals” is born. Here is a recipe that I put together quickly with what we had in the kitchen, and it’s quick, nutritious and delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 medium onion
  • 5 celery stalks
  • 4-5 garlic cloves
  • Couple handfuls of mini-carrots
  • 1-2 cups broccoli florets (the flower-looking ends)
  • 1 Tbs. Olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 28-32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Cup rice
  • 1/2 Tsp. Oregano
  • 1/2 Tsp. Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Serves 2-4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

First get 2 cups of water boiling in a small pot on the stove. Add the rice, reduce heat to low, and cover. White rice will take about 15-20 minutes to cook, brown rice about 30 minutes, so we want to start it now so it’ll be ready for the soup. Special soup tip: When I make soup I always make the rice or noodles separately and mix them only when serving the soup. The reason for this is if you have leftovers the rice or pasta will continue to absorb the liquid from the soup overnight like a sponge. The next day you won’t have soup, you’ll have slop.

Dice up the onions, garlic, and celery, and cut the mini-carrots in half or thirds. Add to a pan with the ground turkey and saute on medium to high heat, stirring, until the turkey is browned and the onions and celery are softened up. Use a spoon to remove the liquid fat in the pan from the turkey- it won’t be much.

Add the soup stock. Reduce to a simmer when it starts to boil and add oregano, thyme and pepper. Cut broccoli into bite-size florets and squeeze juice from one lemon.

When the soup’s been simmering for about 10 minutes, add the broccoli. After about 20 minutes see if soup is done by checking a carrot piece to see if it’s cooked through. When soup is done remove from heat, add the lemon juice and stir it in. Serve in bowls with rice added and enjoy!

Applewood-Smoked Spice Rub Chicken with Grilled Asparagus

Spice rubbed chicken on the grill

Spice rubbed chicken on the grill

Finally we got some summerlike weather here in Michigan! It was in the 80s this past Sunday, and so the barbequing season begins. Now, I’ll barbeque and grill outside all year long, but it’s definitely more fun to be standing around the grill in shorts and a t-shirt, cold beverage in hand, than freezing in the cold with snow blowing around.

We love to barbeque and grill, and I’ve done a lot of it. In the coming summer months I’ll be doing my best to impart the tricks and techniques I’ve learned about the fine art of grilling and barbeque over the years. Why do I keep saying grill AND barbeque? Grilling is cooking food directly over high heat, while barbequing is cooking food slowly with indirect heat. Then there’s smoking, which is similar to bbq, which can also involve smoke, and is also done on low heat, sometimes lower than bbq. Each method has its place-you’d grill a steak, you’d barbeque or smoke a larger cut of meat like a brisket or a roast.

In the future I will do posts on taking all day to slow-smoke a couple whole chickens, a pork shoulder or even a whole turkey. But I didn’t have a lot of time this particular Sunday, since we were doing chores outside all day, and boneless chicken breasts were what we had on hand. This blog is about using what you have in the time that you have, so I decided to do a spice rub using the boneless chicken, and do sort of a cross between grilling and bbq/smoking. This post can serve as a “BBQ 101″ course for inexperienced bbq’ers. The advanced courses will come later…

Ingredients:

  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • 8 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp. hot red pepper
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black pepper
  • 1/2 Tsp. Garlic powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4 Tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • 1/4 Tsp. Cumin
  • 1/4 Tsp. Coriander
  • 1/4 Tsp. Celery seed

For asparagus:

  • 1-2 Lbs. Asparagus
  • 1 Tbl. Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Coarse ground pepper

Special Utensils:

  • Barbeque Grill
  • Meat Thermometer

Serves 4

Spice Rub

Aye, there's the rub

I usually just wing it when I mix up a spice rub, but this time I decided to try the “classic” spice rub ratio of 8:3:1:1. That is, 8 parts brown sugar, 3 parts kosher salt, 1 part chile powder and 1 part every other herb and spice you want to add. Which in the ingredients list above translates to: 8 tablespoons brown sugar; 3 tablespoons salt; 1/2 tablespoon of some very spicy Indian chile powder I have plus 1/2 tablespoon less spicy Chipotle chile powder to make the first “1″ in the ratio; then for the second “1″ in that ratio there are fractions of teaspoons of the herbs and spices to make one tablespoon (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons). If that’s too much math, just remember:

8 parts sugar | 3 parts salt | 1 part chile powder | 1 part anything else

I was skeptical of the amount of sugar in the ratio, seemed like way too much sugar. It turned out good, but in the future I might cut down the salt a little. It’s easy to add too much salt to a dry spice rub, so try to use seasonings that don’t have salt added. Use garlic powder, not garlic salt…celery seed, not celery salt. That way you can control the salt you do add. Or cut back on the kosher salt a little if you do use seasonings with salt added. The Old Bay seasoning I used has salt in it, so that may be where I overdid it.

The herbs and spices are what I chose this particular time, but feel free to try your own mix of whatever you like, or whatever you have on hand. Use whole spices instead of powdered whenever you can and grind them when you need them- the spices stay fresh a lot longer in their whole form. I put whole cumin, coriander, celery seed, and whole black peppercorns in an old electric “spinning blade” type coffee grinder with the thyme and oregano, and ground it all up.

Spice-Rubbed Chicken

Rubbing it in

Put the rub on a plate and roll the chicken around until it’s nice and coated with the spices. Then put the rubbed chicken in the refrigerator and let the rub spices mingle for an hour or two, if possible.

Now we get the grill ready- clean up the grate and dump out any old charcoal ash from last time. I used my Weber kettle grill for this job. What’s that… can you use a gas grill, you ask? No, you can’t.

Okay, you can, but I’m not a big fan of gas grills, and I don’t think the results will be as good. When it comes to the smoking part, I’ve heard you can put wood chips in foil rolled up with the ends open to let smoke out, and put the foil-covered chips directly on the heating element. But I don’t know how well that works, never tried it. On some types of gas grills you might not be able to do it at all.

Charcoal

Firin' up the coals

Fire up the coals- I use that charcoal chimney thing you see in the pic- it works great and you don’t have to worry about getting any lighter fluid taste in your food this way. A note about charcoal: some bbq purists only use real solid-wood charcoal, instead of the pressed-and-formed “briquette” style charcoal I’m using here. I’ve used the real charcoal before, but it’s expensive and doesn’t stay hot too long in my opinion. A good quality briquette style charcoal seems to give a good long consistent heat, and I compensate for the lack of flavor you get from real charcoal by liberal use of wood chunks or wood chips mixed in with the coals.

Applewood Chunks

Soakin' the wood chips

Add water to wood chips. You can buy wood chips or chunks pretty much wherever barbeque supplies are sold, or you can use most types of seasoned hardwood if you happen to have it, like maple, oak, hickory, and fruit-bearing woods like cherry or apple. DO NOT use any pine or evergreen wood for smoking- the pine sap is toxic, or at least very bad tasting. I used some seasoned wood from an old apple tree that fell down on our property a couple years ago- I miss the tree, but I’m making sure it didn’t fall down in vain.

Charcoal and applewood

Charcoal and applewood

When the coals are ready, spread them out over half the grill, drain the water from the wood chips and spread them on the coals. Put the chicken on the side of the grill without coals, so it is indirect heat, as in BBQ, but the grill will be hot enough so the chicken won’t cook too slowly. Put the grill top on and adjust the air vents to about 2/3 open. Turn the chicken after 5 or 10 minutes, make sure it’s not cooking too fast. We want it a nice golden brown, not blackened. If it does seem to be scorching a little on one side, or if the wood is on fire, close the air vents more until things settle down a little. Put a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the biggest chicken piece. You don’t have to use the thermometer, but it’s really easy to overcook boneless chicken breasts- there’s no such thing as medium-rare chicken and we want to be safe, so people tend to err on the side of caution. The result is dry, rubbery chicken. The thermometer will let you take the chicken off the heat when the internal temperature is 165 degrees- safe enough to kill any bacteria, but leaving the chicken nice and tender and juicy inside.

While the chicken is cooking, get the asparagus ready. Wash and remove the tough inedible ends of the stalks. An easy tip for doing that instead of cutting the ends off is, grab a handful of asparagus and just snap off the ends-they’ll break off at the natural point where you’d want to cut them. Roll them up with some olive oil and add coarse-ground pepper and kosher salt.

Grilled Asparagus

Grillin' up Good

When the chicken’s almost done, put the asparagus on the grill directly over the heat. You can put it right on the grill, you’ll just have to be careful not to let too many fall through the grate (you’ll lose one or two, no matter how careful you are). I used a veggie-holder grill thing you can see in the pic that works nicely. Keep a close eye and roll the stalks around often so it doesn’t burn on one side. it’ll be done when it’s a little blackened and shriveled-up looking. Grilled asparagus ain’t the most attractive looking way to prepare it, but it sure is tasty this way.

Serve with a side like a simple baked potato and enjoy!

 

 

Seafood Pasta

Seafood Pasta

Seafood Pasta

Lobster claws

Lobster claws

Kristina found some lobster claws on sale, so I decided to make a seafood pasta, with a low-fat version of an Alfredo-style sauce. I added some tiger prawns we also had in the freezer, for variety. The following ingredients are just a guideline– use whatever seafood or vegetables you like (or whatever happens to be in your refrigerator). I almost went with asparagus tips instead of broccoli, but we had a lot of broccoli that needed using up.

 

Ingredients:

  • 4 Lobster claws
  • 20 Tiger prawns, with shells on
  • 1 Medium-sized onion
  • 6-10 Garlic cloves
  • 1/2-1 red pepper
  • About 1 cup broccoli
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2-1 tsp. Thyme
  • Juice from one lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. Flour
  • 1 cup Shredded or grated Parmesan Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Olive oil

Serves 4

Lobster and Prawn Shells

Lobster and Prawn Shells for Stock

First remove the shells from the lobster claws and prawns, and put the shells in a small pan with some ground pepper, half of the garlic cloves coarsely chopped, and the thyme. Fill with water until the ingredients are covered, and simmer on the stove for an hour or more to make a seafood stock for the sauce.

While the seafood stock is being created, dice up the remaining garlic and cut the onions and red pepper into thin, 1-2″ long pieces. Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces.

Add a little olive oil to a wide, shallow pan on medium to high heat. Add the onions and green pepper and saute for a few minutes. Follow with the garlic and broccoli. You want to get the onions and pepper started cooking for a few minutes before you add the garlic, because it’s chopped more finely, and the broccoli, because it cooks faster. Add ground pepper to taste.

Prawns Added

Prawns added

Now add the prawns and start cooking on one side. Strain the seafood stock from the shells and add about 1/2 to 1 cup of it to the pan– the prawns should not quite be covered. Turn the prawns after a few minutes to cook on the other side. Add lemon juice. Mix the flour with a little water to make a paste, and stir it into the sauce to thicken it slightly (don’t add dry flour directly or it will turn into lumpy blobs). Add grated cheese and lobster (the lobster meat is already cooked, so we just want to warm it up- if you’re using uncooked lobster you’d add it the same time as the shrimp).

Serve on your favorite pasta and enjoy!