Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Confessions from a Raw Cookie Dough Eater - A Nestle and Egg Discussion

You know you do it. I do. I tried to get my son to bake chocolate chip cookies today, just so I could snitch at the raw dough. In the wake of the recent Nestle raw cookie dough recall, we need to remember that raw eggs can contain e. coli or salmonella. Though eggs are washed (most bacteria is on the shell) read the USDA site to learn all about eggs and how easily contamination can occur. Cooking eggs and meat to the proper temperature (usually 140 degrees or higher), ensures that any bacteria is eradicated. Raw cookie dough doesn't get this second pass of bacteria-busting.

I called Nestle about their cookie dough and a real person named Edie responded right back by phone and then by e-mail: pretty amazing when you consider how many calls they must be getting. I wanted to know if they used powdered or liquid eggs in their mix because these egg products are typically pasteurized. They do use powdered eggs, and the eggs are pasteurized. As much as I hate to admit it, when we are talking about salmonella and e.coli, Nestle processed cookie dough is safer than my made from scratch cookie dough made with unpasteurized eggs. When I jokingly admitted that I am a raw cookie dough snitcher, Edie wrote, "Please note that we strongly advise consumers that our cookie dough should not be eaten raw." They clearly did not find my admission humorous or cute.

That doesn't mean we should all stop buying eggs and stock our shelves with powdered egg product. Not all eggs are created equally. According to Mother Earth News, the differences in these oval wonders are vast. Their two recent independent studies were done to examine a difference between "true free range" eggs and commercial eggs.

I spoke with Mother Earth News in researching She-Smoke and asked why they did the study in the first place. They stated that the problem with past studies that showed very little difference between free-range and commercial eggs, was because true free range eggs were not used. Instead, eggs from chickens raised in the "minimum" requirement for free-range classification were tested. The minimum "access to outdoors" for the free-range label is different from eggs from "pastured" chickens, or chickens that spend a significant amount of time foraging outside.
In the 2007 study here, true free range eggs had across the board and significantly higher amounts of vitamin E, vitamin A, Beta Carotene, and Omega-3's, and lower amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat. Their most recent study shows true free range eggs contain 4 to six times more vitamin D.

Other studies out there say the only difference is in price. A reporter from the Vancouver Sun wrote a rather cantankerous article saying the whole free-range thing's a marketing ploy, nothing more. But a reason to buy locally and know where your eggs come from is that the environment in which a chicken is raised effects the health of the egg. Here is a study that tested free range eggs from chickens that live near known big polluters like nuclear waste sites and chlorine manufacturers. The eggs from those areas showed significant chemical markers of the pollutants. Who knows where the eggs are from in processed mixes? This includes things like pancake mix or cake mixes in which you "just add water". Definitely buy the ones where you get to add the eggs. Buy your eggs locally, (unless, of course, you live near a nuclear dump site. Then ship 'em in from elsewhere!)

As for e. coli and salmonella in free-range vs. commercial eggs, the percentage found is about the same, or even slightly higher in free-range eggs. This is in part because the true free-range chickens come in contact with one another. If one gets it, a bacteria can be passed more easily to the other chickens. So we go back to proper cooking temperatures, and that means no snitching at the dough, even if the eggs in your scratch dough are way more nutritious/less icky than in the commercial mix.
In response to that, I leave you with a recipe for my standard "Sweet Fix" when there are no sweets in the house. I rename this recipe today as: "Gawd-I'm-craving-raw-cookie-dough-but don't-wanna-get-e. coli-no-bake-cookies". Here it is:
2 heaping soup-spoon-sized spoonfuls of peanut butter
2 teaspoons honey
a handful of chocolate chips
a handful of cereal
optional: dried fruit

Mix it all evenly and eat. If you want you can roll the mixture into cookie balls so you feel more civilized about your sweet fix.

I was supposed to take a picture, but I ate mine while writing this post. The next day, however, I just had to make some chocolate chip cookies with my son. Did I deny him licking the beater, and did I show restraint with my own snitches? I hang my head and tell you no. My warm fuzzy memories of baking cookies with mom and licking the spoon are deeply imbedded. I want to be blissfully ignorant. How about you? The confessional is open.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Coming this week: Eggs in Your Cookie Dough and Getting Ready for July 4th

You may notice I only posted once last week. In actuality, I have a backlog of posts waiting in the wings, but last week was slammed with weddings to cater, company picnics, kid fevers and trips to the doctor/ER (baby girl had a bad case of the croup), one minor traffic accident (minor in that no one was hurt, but not so minor damage-wise), and well, daunting quantities of meat poundage.

Subsequently, this week will be jam-packed. I will dedicate the first part of the week to the incredible egg and my confession as a raw cookie dough eater. The second half of the week will of course be focused on officially the biggest barbecue day of the year -July 4th. Tune in for hard-hitting news, recipes and fun!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pigs Run Wild and other barbecue news

I love "News of the Weird", and pigs running wild on the interstate this week in Arkansas caught my eye. I can just see those 800 pounders barrelling down the highway. Here is the link:

My cousin Gena shares this picture she took in Florida. This sign captures our national love of small business and a good joke. If you have ever perused competition barbecue team names, it's a hoot. Take a look at this site for a chuckle or to make sure your team name isn't already taken: BBQ Team Names.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Guest Blogger: Grill Gal Cyndi Allison, Part 2

Please welcome Part 2 of guest blogger, Cyndi Allison. Cyndi tells her story of how she first started grilling in Part 1. Today she talks about writing about barbecue, while giving us some of her favorite grill tips. Her website, Yes You Can Grill gives great information and recipes for grillers and would-be grillers. Her blog Barbeque Master goes deep into equipment, technique, latest trends and traditional recipes. I'd read Cyndi's blog and website before we sent her a copy of She-Smoke to review. She posted an amazing review of the book and I thought it would be great to have her on the blog as a girl grill expert. Welcome back, Cyndi!

Writing About Barbecue, by Cyndi Allison

I’ve written as far back as I can remember but never considered food and cooking writing. Then, I saw an ad for a good griller to write for a web site. I’m guessing they thought they’d get a guy, but they snagged me and christened me Barbeque Master. Since Barbecue Mistress sounds kind of kinky, I decided I’d just stick with that but generally use Grill Girl on my own web site – Yes You Can Grill.

Perks of Being a Grill and Barbecue Chick

The best part about being a grill girl is that I get to meet other folks who love outdoor cooking. Most find my blog or site and email. Then I get to gab about barbecue. My family says “thanks.” That takes some of the burden off them, since I do so love to talk about what’s going on the grill.

One of the most recent barbecue friends I’ve found is Julie Reinhardt. You know – she hosts this blog and wrote She-Smoke. I read her book (yes – I do actually read cookbooks), and it’s one of the best I’ve seen. A lot of the grill and barbecue books have misinformation or include recipes too complicated for the typical home griller. Julie knows her stuff and is down to earth. And, no, Julie had no idea I was going to say that. I’m an online reviewer as well as a barbecue writer, and I’m known for being really darn blunt.

Tips for Getting Your Own Grill On

I hear so many people say that they can’t grill. They’ve scorched an expensive steak or served up half raw chicken. And, they gave up.

Grilling is like learning to play the piano. You do not walk right up and bang out Bach. You don’t lumber out on the deck and throw on a pork shoulder without reading up and learning.

Things worth doing take time and practice. Grilling and smoking are no exceptions. The rewards are well worth it. You really can’t beat food cooked outdoors, and the fun is an added bonus.

Guest Blogger - Cyndi Allison from Yes You Can Grill!

Please welcome my first guest blogger, Cyndi Allison. Cyndi's website, Yes You Can Grill gives great tips and recipes for grillers and would-be grillers. Her blog Barbeque Master goes deep into equipment, technique, latest trends and traditional recipes. I'd read Cyndi's blog and website before we sent her a copy of She-Smoke to review. She posted an amazing review of the book and I thought it would be great to have her on the blog as a girl grill expert. This is part one of two posts she wrote about her journey into barbecue and grilling. Welcome Cyndi!

Yes – Girls Can Grill

I grew up grilling which was unusual for the time, place, and family. In the South, in the 1960s and 1970s, things were pretty traditional. My Dad worked and mowed the yard. My Mom took care of the kids and house and made Raggedy Ann dolls. I was the “wild child” and begged three years before my Dad would let me play Little League baseball (no girl teams back then). But, for some reason, I went on the grill at an early age. Perhaps, it was because I was the oldest of the four kids, or maybe Dad decided it was too hot outside one day and thought he’d turn over the tongs.

Oops – I Won’t Do That Again
Starting the fire was always the biggest challenge, and I quickly learned what not to do. When the fire was slow catching, I thought I’d keep hitting it with lighter fluid. For anyone who doesn’t know, fire will travel up the lighter fluid stream and burn your eyelashes and singe your curls. Throwing the can of lighter fluid down the driveway worked pretty well (that once), but that’s not recommended.

A couple of years later, I discovered that gas grills should be lit with the lid up. If you press the red button with the lid down, you get a sonic boom and the grill lid flies open. This will knock you down on your behind, and everyone will laugh once they figure out that only your feelings are hurt. Again, this is definitely not something to try at home or anywhere else for that matter.

Taking it Outside with Kids
Over the years, I continued to grill and even more after the boys were born. Cooking in the kitchen was work. Grilling was a party. I had much more cheerful helpers if I fired up the grill. Even now, we do the bulk of our meals outdoors. This even includes snow days.
Tomorrow read her Perks of Being a Barbecue Chick and her Tips for getting your grill on!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

BAArbecue: Smoked Lamb

I've been on a lamb kick ever since I was interviewed about lamb for the Tri-City Herald. That's that way it is with me and lamb - I go on a baa baa binge and then stop cold turkey for long periods. So we are in a lamb phase presently. Last night I smoked a small boneless leg of lamb. I picked one with a nice fat cap covering it. Lamb is pretty lean meat, with pockets of fat inside and on top that add moisture and flavor.

Lamb begs to be smoked, in my opinion. I prepared this one simply, as I always do lamb. The meat is so flavorful, I don't like a lot of ingredients to compete with it.

Rub it first with olive oil and kosher salt. Chop 4 cloves of garlic and rub into all the folds of the lamb. Pour a cup or so of red wine over it and let sit while you make your fire. Turn it once in the wine before putting on the grill.

Make a low fire; I like to keep it right at 200 degrees. Place meat indirectly from the fire. Smoke for about 3-4 hours. I used hickory because that's what I had. Fruit woods and grapevines are my preference for lamb. This leg was small, only about 2 pounds, so it took 3 hours. Most take 4.

Baste with wine every 45 minutes to an hour when you add your already-hot coals to the fire.

Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. Notice the nice smoke ring on this leg. The meat was perfectly tender.

A final note: Lamb is great for kids. Often beef and pork are too hard for them to eat, but lamb chews easily. My son loves lamb.

Barbecue Basket Contest

Here's an easy contest to enter for an insulated Mug Rootbeer carrier filled with all the ingredients to make their "secret barbecue sauce". Soda pop is often people's "secret ingredient" to their barbecue sauce (Shhhhh).

Cyndi Allison's blog, Barbecue Master, hosts the contest. Cyndi will be my guest barbecue blogger on Thursday and Friday. All you have to do to enter is go to her blog here, and write why your dad is one hot griller (or not). She has five of these goody bags to give away so odds are in your favor. She and her sons will be pulling entrant's names out of a hat. Get in the hat and enter!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Live on BBQ Central Radio!

I'm just about to go on live (6:15pm) with Greg Rampe's amazing show Barbecue Central. You can listen to it at http://www.bbq-4-u.com/, or catch the archives next week. Greg's show is one of my favorites for all things barbecue - from discussing competition barbecue to sauce and the overall worship of smoke. His interviews are in-depth and with real people doing what they love in barbecueville. Check out his show every Tuesday at 6pm, streaming live, write in the forums, and call in your questions.

Tomorrow I'll be posting a Smoked Leg of Lamb recipe, and then Thursday & Friday I will have guest blogger Cyndi Allison. Cyndi has a great website called Yes You Can Grill and she blogs as Barbecue Master (she said Barbecue Mistress sounded too kinky).

Cyndi posted an amazing review of She-Smoke here, and I thought it would be great to have this Barbecue Master on as a guest blogger.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Man Behind The Woman: A She-Cake from my He-Cake

This really should be my father's day post to my husband, but I couldn't wait. My friend Holly sent me this photo of Eric, holding up the cake he made me for the She-Smoke book launch. A picture says a thousand words, but there is so much you may not know about my shy and often silent man (unless it's about politics or religion). This picture is so him. Big on flavor, light on words. And layers. He knows I love chocolate, and sour cream frosting, and sprinkles, and not too much frosting, but a nice even layer all over and in the middle. He put all of that into the cake.

The night before the event, in my half-crazed, list-holding-it'll-never-work state that I get into, I hollered "And CAKE. We need CAKE!" The next day he just came in and started making cake. Instead of THANK YOU, I said, "Oh good. But will there be writing on it? Who will do that? No one can read your handwriting," and then ran off to finish some other project. You get that way, unfortunately, after almost 15 years. Sometimes you forget to say the nice things and give each other a pat on the back. But he just made me the cake. And because he knows that if he tried to put the whole book title on it, that it would have been crooked, or scrunched, or misspelled, he just went with "She".

I loved my She-Cake. And I love my husband who yes has been supportive and my go-to-guy for this whole book process, but also much more. He has been silent. He, who worked his tail off for 20 some years on the line, churning out 300 covers without a break, working for many, (though not all), assholes along the way. He, who just wasn't self-serving enough or self-advocating enough to be a celebrity chef. He, who has got to be bugged by my interviews and cooking demos and book talks, yet has not made hardly a peep about it. He, who manages to calmly smoke up and slice the godly stuff each day and night for the faithful, sometimes as if from thin air, even when the line goes out the door and we're running out of everything. He needs a He-Cake. German Chocolate, his, from scratch, with not too many pecans in the frosting, but plenty of the gooey stuff oozing out of the layers of cake.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Third Place Books Demo & Book Talk

Last night I butterflied a chicken and talked about the smoking process in the amazing test kitchen of Third Place Books. I first read from the chicken chapter, "Birds for Birds" and ended with some smoked chicken for all to taste. In attendance was an amazing photographer and friend, Brock Mason, who took some shots of the evening. Good thing, too, because though I brought my camera, I'd left the reader card in the computer. Here is one of those pictures. You can find the rest posted on my facebook page or his.

A shout out to my friend Kirby Larsen who came last night. Great to see her. If you haven't read her two latest books, Hattie Big Sky (won the Newbery Honor award) and The Tale of Two Bobbies (about a cat and dog that survived Katrina), you really should.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Martha Stewart Living Radio

Whew! I just got off the phone from a live radio interview on the Martha Stewart Morning Living show. Was I nervous? Hell, yes! But hosts Kim and Betsy were so conversational and fun to talk to that I soon forgot about my nerves. We discussed the difference between grilling and smoking, equipment, and what to start with for the first time (I suggested starting with chicken thighs because they are so forgiving and take the least amount of time). I even spoke to a caller from Nova Scotia who is the grill master of her house (you go girl!). The hosts asked the caller what the husband was doing while she grilled, and she answered, "Drinking beer in the Lazy Boy". We'll have to work on that, sister. If we are going to take the tongs, then they need to take something too - like the vacuum, or at least a rag. You get what I'm saying?

OK - so one goof - in my nervousness I said the thighs only would take about and hour and a half. This is true if you first hit them for about 4-5 minutes on both sides over direct flames first. It's called Combination cooking. First grill them, then move the thighs to the indirect side of your grill - the part with no flames - and cook them slowly over low heat (225-250 degrees). Because these don't smoke as long, just about any wood will work to "get your smoke on". I would use two decent sized wood chunks on my charcoal grill, or a cup of wood chips in a foil pouch for a gas grill.

*In case you haven't seen it, the picture shown is the cover of Porno for Women, a hilarious book by "The Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative", with photos of guys cleaning or holding flowers with captions like, "I don't have to have a reason to buy you flowers" or "I like to get to these things before being asked". Beautiful.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New Review of Smokin' Pete's BBQ on KIRO Radio!

I spoke with Dan Restione of KIRO radio about She-Smoke on Wednesday, but instead he sneaked barbecue behind my back (through an anonymous friend) and reviewed Smokin' Pete's both on the Friday morning radio news and on his blog Stick A Fork In It. I loved talking with someone who loves talking about 'cue, knows what it is and what it takes to make it in the restaurant biz. My only regret? We got so involved talking about barbecue, that we forgot to eat. I didn't offer the poor guy a single bone. Good thing he did sneak behind my back so he wouldn't starve. Thanks, Dan, for the awesome review! Next time, announce yourself, and I'll join you for some slow-smoked chow.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Smoke Ring on your Pork Butt

I was going to post a grilled pork chop recipe I cooked the other night, that was delicious, but something about the eerie storm brewing outside made me want to write about barbecue, true barbecue, and smoke rings. I love the phrase smoke ring. It makes be think of an Atoll, or a smouldering volcano..smoke ring, ring of fire, Pacific Rim, Lord of the Rings, fires of Beltane...

The smoke ring is that prized red or pink ring just inside the meat. It comes from cooking meat low and slow. Though perhaps too much emphasis is given to the smoke ring, it does give you a visual cue of a job well done, that appears almost magically, or secretly, just inside the meat. Actually, it is caused by a chemical reaction between the liquid in the meat and the smoke, but whenever I cut into slow-smoked meat and first see that smoke ring, I get a little thrill. Like I've just uncovered a secret.

Though we smoke cases upon cases at the restaurant, I still like to smoke pork shoulder at home. I usually smoke the upper part of the the shoulder, called the Boston Butt, or simply pork butt. It is almost fool-proof for pulled pork and one "butt" is a nice size for a small to medium gathering.

The pics here are of a Boston butt I smoked on a Weber grill, not a dedicated smoker. After getting a good coating of a spice rub (use your favorite), it slow-cooked for about 11 hours and was purrfect. I used a blend of apple and hickory wood chunks, and mopped it with apple cider vinegar, red pepper flakes and a little mango-peach juice. I usually mop with a spray bottle, but the red pepper flakes clog up my sprayer. Instead I just drizzled it over the meat about every hour.

Once I let it rest a bit - about 20 minutes - I "pulled" it. I actually chopped this one with a heavy duty cleaver, and then hand pulled the bigger chunks into smaller pieces. I mixed in some Lexington Sauce similar to the recipe in the book. Here is that recipe:

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup ketchup
3 T hot sauce (Any decent vinegar based hot sauce will do. I’m partial to Frank’s hot sauce.)
1 t salt
1 t black pepper
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 t Worcestershire sauce

What does the phrase "smoke ring" make you think about, or feel?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pictures from the Book Launch!

All I can say is...wow. My first book launch, my first book signing and reading. And thankfully surrounded by friends and family. So many people came with well wishes and smiles - it had that same outpouring of love you feel at a wedding. Here are just a few pictures from the big event. I think my signature changed in every book, and I need to get better at what to write in the books, but it was an experience I'll never forget. Thank you, thank you to everyone who came!