Jan 272014

(NOTE: This is one of the things on here that would really benefit from a couple of explanatory photographs. Annoyingly, I didn’t take any when I made this because it was an off-the-cuff experiment and I didn’t expect to be able to write it up immediately. Who knew? I will update this with real photos in the next week or so. Until then, you just have to make do.)

If you have ever been to a restaurant that offers northern African cuisine you will have noticed that the way the aromas in the place are somehow more enticing than any place else. The scents are all things you have experienced before – warm and aromatic spices like cinnamon and cumin and coriander – but it’s not the combination that makes them so memorable, it’s they way they infuse the space and hit your nose. You don’t just smell them, you almost feel them.

There is, of course, a trick. People in the northwestern horn of Africa – Tunisia, Algeria, and especially Morocco – mix their spices into a warm paste with the hot drippings from seared meats and then slather the result onto the meat before roasting. The hot fat opens up the spices and enriches them, making them penetrate the meat more easily and giving them an incredibly pervasive aroma that will give you a serious case of hound-dog drooling while it cooks. In Africa this technique is usually used for lamb or goat, but I got to thinking about how it might work out for a nice cut of pork. Since the traditional lamb spices don’t pair overly well with pig, I lazily co-opted my go-to pork rub as the base. While the technique is Moroccan-inspired, the flavours are not. But fear not. The results are, quite frankly, spectacular.

I did it in the Big Green Egg, but it would work quite nicely (just not with the same depth of flavour) in a regular oven. You do need a big oven-proof skillet to make this work, and a meat thermometer is a must. So grab your gear and read on for the incredibly simple details.

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 Posted by on January 27, 2014
Jan 272014

Here’s the thing: When you make mashed potatoes, you almost never make them to go alongside a sandwich or a salad or anything else that is easy and quick to put together. Mashed potatoes are inevitably going to be part of a meal that takes some time and effort to make. So the last thing you want to be doing when you are trying to carve your turkey or make your gravy or get everything to the table is the whole draining and drying and mashing and whipping process that goes along with good mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes are great. Sweating over that pot with the beaters and the milk and the butter when you have ten other things to do at dinner time … not so great. And while you can make traditional mashed potatoes ahead of time and then warm them up, they just aren’t the same in either body or texture when they get to the table.

So take a gander at your new secret weapon – mashed potatoes you can (and should!) make the day before and just pop in the oven for amazingly creamy and fluffy smashers that are ready when you are. They are rich and delicious and work equally well topped with either gravy or butter. And the only tools you need are a big pot, a 2 liter shallow baking dish (a gratin dish works wonders here) and an electric mixer.

Sound good? Of course it does. Keep reading!

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 Posted by on January 27, 2014
Jul 292013

Reader question time!

“Do you have an opinion on grilled pizza? I want to try but I am not sure how the dough will cook and not burn. And also, I was looking at pizza stones.”

This is an excellent question. I’ve waxed poetic about stone-cooked wood-fired pizza in the past, so you would think that I’m going to come down firmly in that camp. You would, however, be wrong. In a nutshell, the average gas-grill-owning backyard cook is probably want to go with the grilled option. Really!

Here’s the deal: Unless you have a cooker that has a real indirect heat source – and by that I mean even and equal indirect heat in all areas, not just a gas grill with one side turned off and the food on the other – grilled pizza is going to give you better results than using a pizza stone. Bread likes even heat, period. And no matter how hard you try, an “indirect” cook on a gas grill always leaves you with uneven heat. Period.

Fortunately, grilled pizza – as long as you understand one rather important limitation – is actually easier than you think. The only caveat is that you can forget about thin crust. Just not going to happen. Otherwise this is as easy as, er, pie. If you want to give it a try, keep reading!

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 Posted by on July 29, 2013
Jul 082013

A perfect Margatita. Shaken, not blended.Yeah, yeah, I know. When you are eating barbeque, you should be drinking beer. It’s one of those Great Truths Of Life. And it’s definitely hard to argue with the pairing of a good cold beer (none of this Coors Light business) and smoky saucy juicy meat … as perfect pairings go, it’s right up there with Starsky and Hutch. It’s also true, however, that variety is the spice of life and you should definitely have a couple of go-to cocktails in your repertoire. You want something that is quick and easy to make, pairs well with barbeque, and works as a premium refresher in the summer heat.

Regular readers, of course, will already have the “Faux-ito” on standby. Today we will add to that by busting out the tequila (but not the blender) and lay down a perfect Margarita. There are no tricks here – just remember that the quality of your ingredients is key. In a properly balanced Margarita all four of the flavours are front and centre, and there is no place for second-rate hooch to hide. Start with good booze and everything else flows from there. Grab your shaker and keep reading!

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 Posted by on July 8, 2013
May 082013

So yeah. While these pages are here to celebrate and promote the delectable art of cooking barbeque, I have (as mentioned in the past) nothing against grilling. Grilling is not barbeque, but grilling is good. Grilling makes sense for a lot of everyday meals. And grilling is the only way to make fajitas.

I’ve made a lot of fajitas, and I have always used flank steak. It’s the fajita standard. But my butcher recently suggested using flatiron steak instead, and it was a revelation. Flatiron has the same general texture and shape as flank steak, but has a much more desirable marbling of fat. That means you get bigger and deeper beef taste that you ever can with the overly-lean flank. If you haven’t tried working with flatiron steak, now is the time.

There are a couple of things you do need to know. One, not every butcher knows what they are doing here, so ask around. The standard cut of a flatiron has a nasty piece of fascia or sinew running through the entirety of the plate. If you are going to use flatiron for fajitas, your butcher needs to separate the two chunks of muscle and take that “shingle” out of the centre. You end up with two slightly-but-not-much-thinner cuts than the traditional single flank steak. Two, you must cut across the grain when you serve this, but if you have ever made fajitas before you know how this works so there’s no real surprise there.

If you love fajitas, you need to give this a try. Slices of this would also be spectacular in a thai-inspired steak salad, or tossed in a bowl of fresh noodles. In the standard butcher’s beef roster it is listed as cut #1114D, with the official name “Top Blade Steak”. Ask your butcher next time you are shopping for beef and see if you can get yourself into a couple of slabs of this. A standard cut of flatiron is just about 1 kilgram, so after it trimmed of the fascia and split into two it will easily feed four in a regular fajita tortialls-n-fixin’s setup.


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 Posted by on May 8, 2013
Apr 222013

Once again our old friend spring has, well, sprung. You’ve probably already wandered out to the garage or shed and looked at your stock of cooking supplies and said to yourself “Damn, I’m going to need charcoal.” Before you head to the store, take a few minutes and revisit the reviews of some of my favourite charcoals from the last couple of seasons:

Wicked Good Weekend Warrior Blend – My favourite all-purpose lump

Charcos – A startlingly-good cocoanut charcoal brick

Basque’s Sugar Maple Lump – A sweet maple grilling charcoal

Nature’s Mesquite – The friendliest all-mesquite charcoal lump

Now get out there and get cooking!

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 Posted by on April 22, 2013
Sep 042012

There was a time when bacon jams and bacon marmalades were exceptionally rare things. A handful of people made them at home, you might have found a jar or two in the homemade preserves at a specialty food or craft fair, and that was it. Now it seems like bacon spreads of whatever description are the flavour du jour in the culinary world – hell, I’m pretty sure I saw it on the shelves at 7-11 the other day.

This is not a bad thing. The more the merrier, I always say. But leave the store-bought stuff for the plebes. I have tasted a lot of bacon marmalade and I have yet to taste one as good as this. Or, quite frankly, even close. You don’t need any special equipment, but it is easiest (and, I think best) if you have a slow cooker. Beyond that it is just some chopping, some stirring, and an afternoon of amazing smells in your kitchen.

Read on for the ingredients and details.

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 Posted by on September 4, 2012
Jul 182012

This is a super-fast and super-easy way to put potatoes on the plate without resorting to the same-old same-old boring ideas. It’s one part boiled potatoes, one part baked, one part mashed, one part “fully loaded” and all parts delicious. It is also versatile – while it is best when cooked in a Big Green Egg, it works just fine in the oven, on the no-heat side of a two burner grill, or even directly over the coals if you keep an eye on it.

Regardless of how you cook these, however, you must have a cast-iron skillet. That part is what the kids call non-negotiable. Otherwise, all you need are a handful of ingredients, a pot of water, and a heat source. And I’m pretty sure you have all of those. Ready? Go.

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 Posted by on July 18, 2012
Jun 132012

Let’s cut right to the chase: People are intimidated by brine. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Brining is simple, relatively foolproof if you remember one important rule, and makes a massive difference in the quality of your finished meat. So it’s time to cast aside the fear and uncertainty – brining is good, and it’s time you started doing it.

A few ground rules to start: One, brining is generally reserved for poultry and pork. Beef isn’t really going to benefit from this and it is going to be too rough on the texture of fish and seafood. Two, you should always brine your poultry or pork if your cooking method is dry. Three (and this is the super important rule you must remember), your brine needs to be ice cold before the meat is immersed. Cold brine is happy brine. And fourth (and finally), giant-sized Ziploc bags are your best friends.

With these basic thoughts firmly stuck in the back our our minds, let’s begin. The basic brine for both pork and poultry is dead simple. For every half chicken (or equivalent) or every two pork chops (or equivalent) you will need:

1 litre (4 cups) of boiling water
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of brown sugar
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of kosher salt

That’s it. That is the whole shebang. I told you this was simple.

So – dissolve your sugar and your salt into the boiling water in a large bowl. You are going to have to stir this pretty well to get it to completely dissolve, becuase it is right on the edge of how much sugar and salt the water can actually take on. When it is completely dissolved, put the bowl of brine in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a hurry, but see the note below for a caveat or two) and chill it completely.

Cold brine is happy brine.

Once the brine is nicely chilled, you can add your meat. Grab a Ziploc bag that is large enough to hold both your meat and all of the brine you made, carefully pour the brine into it, and then add the meat. Adding the meat last helps you avoid pouring disasters, trust me. Now pop it back into the fridge, with the following list of times in mind:

Chicken or any game hen – 1 hour
Pork chops or ribs – 2 hours
Pork loin – 4 hours
Pork shoulder – overnight
Turkey drums or breast – overnight
Full turkey – 24 hours

When your time is up remove the meat from the brine and pat it completely dry (inside and out!) before you start to season or cook it. For pork, be sure to let the meat rest at room temperature so it can warm up before you start to cook, but poultry can hit the roaster / grill / smoker / whatever right away.

A Note About The Freezer: If you are in a hurry and need to chill your brine in the freezer instead of the fridge, be sure to cover it with a sheet of waxed paper so you dont get a tiny blizzard of crystals in your ice box.

And that is pretty much it. Roast or grill or smoke your brined and dried meat excatly as you would have before. Your actual cooking technique will not change, but your results definitely will. Once you get going with this you can start to add some flavour to the brine – orange zest, sage and cloves for roast turkey; juniper berries, garlic and rosemary for grilled pork; lemon zest, garlic and tarragon for roast chicken and other small fowl; garlic, crushed peppercorns, and ginger for grilled bird. Play with it, the possibilites are endless. Just remember: Add these things after the brine has cooled, otherwise you risk getting a nasty bitter note in your food.

And did I mention that cold brine is happy brine? Yes? Good.

Play with it. Experiment. Have fun. But most of all, do this. Every time.

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 Posted by on June 13, 2012