Charcoal Reviews Revisited

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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Bacon & Bourbon Marmalade

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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“Don’t Go Bacon My Heart” Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal cookies. With bacon. And bourbon. Really, there’s nothing else to say.

Let’s get to work.

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“Baby Got Smashed” Pan Roasted Potatoes

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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Brining 101

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.

Posted in Beef, Birds, General Drivel, Grilling, Pork | 2 Comments

“First Date” Poached Garlic Aioli

Here’s a fact: If you cook barbeque, you are going eat a lot of sandwiches at some point. This isn’t a bad thing, not at all. There is something almost magical about the combination of barbeque meat and really good bread.

But just because “meat and bread” is an awesome combo, that doesn’t mean you should stop there. The right condiments can take a great sandwich into the taste stratosphere. And I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill supermarket mayo here. I’m talking garlic, and lots of it. I’m talking flavour.

The simplicity of this garlic concoction means that it pairs perfectly with all of the mainline barbeque meats – beef, pork, or chicken – and it’s dead easy to make. Convenient and energy efficient, too … the next time you have your oven (or better yet, your Big Green Egg) already cooking something at the remarkably common temperature of 175 degrees (that’s about 350 Fahrenheit for you folks in the good ol’ USA) you can pop this in at the same time.

Ready to whip up some garlicky goodness? Keep reading!

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“Goes Both Ways” Citrus Custard Cream

I’m going to start the Big February Dessert Extravaganza Of Doom with something that’s not really a dessert in it’s own – although in one of its two incarnations is very well could be. The first salvo in our effort to battle the mid-winter blahs is in fact a dessert condiment.

That’s right. I said “dessert condiment”.

This particular recipe grew out of the idea that it might be nice to have something other than ice cream as the topping on a warm dessert once in a while. Specifically, something with more of a liquid texture for topping cobbler or dumpling sorts of desserts where it might be nice to have something to soak into the doughy vehicle that carries the fruit. Combine that thought with my recent jonesing for frozen custard – while you can get frozen custard all over the U.S. midwest, its generally unknown in the rest of North America – and you get this: A sweet and citrus-tanged custard cream that can be poured over warm desserts like a thick devon cream or can be popped into your ice cream maker to make a deliciously light frozen custard.

Like the title says, it goes both ways.

Interested? Keep reading and lets whip up a batch. Get this ready today and tomorrow I’ll give you something new to pour it onto. With bacon.

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A Big Green Egg Pro Tip

The Big Green Egg is famous for holding constant temperatures for long periods of time with minimal attention and fuss. This is a good thing. But what if you want to change the temperature in a hurry? If you need to cool things off, there isn’t a lot you can do but close the dampers and wait. But if you need to raise the temperature a couple of hundred degrees – or just want to get your Egg up to ludicrous levels of heat for a steakhouse style sear without waiting around – you need to get your hands on a secret weapon.

You need to buy a blow dryer.

Watch the sales and pick yourself up a compact blow dryer when you see one on the cheap. Shop smart and you can find a decent one for around ten bucks. You don’t care about the heat output, just how much air it can move. Compact dryers generally have a shorter, wider barrel that shoves a lot of volume down the pipe and they are easy to tuck away with the rest of your tools.

Now, whenever you need to build some big heat in a hurry just remove the daisy wheel from the top of the egg, open up the bottom damper all the way, and blast your hair dryer into the now-gaping bottom vent. It will only take a couple of minutes to go from “low and slow” to “flaming death”.

You have a month or two before the barbecue season starts again in earnest, so start combing the sale flyers each weekend and get yourself one of these little gems while you wait. It’s a pro tool that you need to have.

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The Depths Of February

There is no way of getting around this, so I will just throw it out there: February is a shit month for cooking barbeque in the Great White North.

So to change things up a bit and to help shake off the mid-winter blahs, I hereby declare this dessert week. Dessert is a crucial part of any great barbeque – the only thing better that rich saucy tender smoky meat is a big load of sweet and gooey dessert afterwards. Now is the time to try out some new after-dinner ideas and build up a repertoire of sweet finishers that you can tuck into your bag of tricks and pull out come spring and summer.

In my professional opinion, you should cook and eat a new dessert at least 14 times before serving it to guests. For, er, research purposes. Fill up your sugar bin and stay tuned – I’ll try and post three sweet ideas over the next three days.

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Cookin’ Comix, Episode 3

Warm vodka and sugar laced grapefruit

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