Monday, July 27, 2009

The crush of summer

You may notice I haven't posted in a while. It's crush time for those of us in Barbecueville. Crunch time is right before we load out of a catering, but this time of year it feels like it will never end. Caterings are pretty much every day, often in multiples, and the weight of getting every piece of cornbread, enough pork, enough napkins, exactly on time, every time, sits there, on top of us, crushing down. OK, that was way too dramatic, but you get the drift.

What's more, my laptop was stolen, with the camera card reader, so I'm out of my rhythm, without my regular tools. Then there are staff on vacation, one injured, and my folks are out of town, which means we are short-handed on the babysitting end too. There. Those are my reasons.

Oh, one more. It's hot. Our house is hot. And messy. So I moved the whole family into my parent's basement to enjoy some cool nights and to trash their house for awhile. Today I ran back home to feed the cats, shower and change for work, and sneak in a blog post. I also got to clean the house in a whirl without my 3-yr old following me around "dumping", as he calls it. Dumping means undoing whatever I've just picked up to teach me that playing is much more important than a clean house. He's right, but today I looked at a floor without toys or unidentified sticky swaths of goo and took a deep breath. I feel guilty. I feel like I've secretly been to the spa.

It's back to it. I hear the phone and I'm late for work. Next year I'll have this all figured out. I'll schedule a host of guest bloggers during the June-August crush to help keep the blog going. This year I'll just have to be inconsistent and hope the eight to ten of you out there won't mind.

I will post soon about my demo next Sunday at Mrs. Cooks (s---! I'd better get ready for that!).


Friday, July 17, 2009

Talking Brisket on AM Northwest

I headed to Portland this week to appear on AM Northwest. It was my first TV experience and I found I was calmer for live TV than live radio interviews. I think it's because I was actually doing something with the hosts and didn't have time to be nervous. In case you missed it, see it here!

Eric was my head lackey, thank goodness, because loading two cooked briskets, one raw, and all the many little bowls of ingredients to make sauce was quite a haul. My friend Russ graciously babysat the kids at his place while we went to the show. He promised our son "Candy and TV!" so Xander barely gave us a wave as we headed out at 7:45am.

I set up everything on a set counter and stove, which they then moved offstage for the first part of the show. Then we went to the green room, which was remarkably lacking in coffee. I think of morning shows and great big mugs of coffee, no? It didn't matter.

The show hosts Helen and Dave came in and we all put on our make up in the same dressing room. Helen let me use her lipstick because I'd forgotten to bring some. I was struck how genuinely kind and jovial they both were. They put me immediately at ease.

I had two briskets and didn't know which one I was going to use until the last minute. One was smokier, had a better smoke ring, but the other was juicier. We had only a few minutes in between commercial breaks to do the final set. The counter was rolled in, I was miked, and Eric made the call which brisket to use. I didn't even know which one it was until I opened the oven!

The show went great. I was a little stiff at the beginning, but loosened up toward the end. (Dave gave me a few opportunities to crack some jokes, most of which I missed, but I had less than 6 minutes to get through two recipes!). After dry rubbing the brisket, we made my Texas All-Nighter Barbecue Sauce. I carved up the rest of the brisket while they taped the next segment of the show next to me (you couldn't see me), and we fed it to the crew. They were happy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

She-Smoke Contest Winners. Whoohoo!

The She-Smoke Virtual Barbecue contest ended on the 7th and I was lucky to announce the winners on KXL Radio's "Cooking with Mr. Barbecue". Before I tell you the winners, let me just say that the entries were amazing. Truly. I was so thrilled to view each entry and couldn't believe the quality.

It made my job difficult. If you didn't hear all my explanations and descriptions on the show, here are the winners, and why I picked them.

1) Most Humorous. OK, I changed the "Best Party" to this category. Many of the entries could have won best party, but the two gals, Sharon and Ellen put on quite a show, complete with tiaras and dancing cans. Check out their video here.

2) Most Unusual Smoker. I loved Brad's video. He really gets what barbecue is - the noun, the cooking method, and the event. He showed us his smoker made by students at the high school where he teaches.

3) Best Video: Andrew's video took the cake in this category. His video told his story in a documentary style - from interviews with his mom and dad, to the whole family cheering on the Lakers.

4) Most Appetizing 'Cue: I must say that the first video entry by my cousin Courtney, showed some delicious babybacks ribs coming out of my Uncle Steve's Big Green Egg. It helps that I've tasted those ribs before. The video from the Tennessee family is hilarious, and one I'll cherish. I'll send them a book, but in case any one has an issue with one of my family member's winner, I'd like to nominate Brad M. as theh official winner. His tasty plate of pulled pork (not to mentino the perfect slices of brisket at the opening) will win him a bottle of my Cocoa Bliss Rub.

And now for the Grand Champion. To me it came down to a near tie between Andrew and Brad's entries. Both videos were rock solid. Both told the story of what barbecue meant to them. Both showed what they were cooking and that the cooking was part of the event of barbecue that brought family and people together. I connected with both of these videos and wanted to give them both a Traeger. Alas, we have only one. I was leaning toward Andrew because he brought us in more directly to his story. Brad, however, had the most passion for, and knowledge of barbecue in his video. What was I to do?

Then I noticed that Brad's video was over 3 minutes, the maximum time specified on the contest rules. Though I hate to have it come down to a technical disqualifier, them's the rules. It also helped me choose! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the entry that won the $400 Traeger Junion Pellet Grill. The Grand Champion entry. Take a bow, Andrew Perry, and then start smokin' your heart out!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Vote for your favorite She-Smoke contest video!

Help me pick the winners. The She-Smoke Virtual Barbecue contest ended Tuesday and we have 5 entries. The categories are....Best Video, Most Appetizing 'Cue, Most Interesting Smoker, Best Party, and Grand Champion. The Grand Champion will win a $400 Traeger. Other winners will win a signed copy of the book. Entrants may win more than one category.

The rules state that they must say what barbecue means to them and show us what they are cooking in a 1-3 minute video. Click here to view the contest entries. Vote for your favorite and tell me what you like about it!

I will announce the winners on Saturday at 2:30pm on the KXL radio show, Cooking Outdoors with Mr. Barbecue. Tune in or listen to it live on-line.

Stolen! Grilled Nan, Chicken Skewers, and Pork Chops

Well, not really. The grilled nan and chicken skewers were delicious and gobbled up. As were the thick cut pork chops with apple from a previous day. The pictures, however, that I uploaded to my laptop to post on the blog for a week of grilling recipes, were stolen along with my laptop and the picture card reader. Hence no posts this week. I was busy dealing with that theft, recovering from the 4th of July onslaught of orders, and gearing up for another busy weekend.

But we have good good things to write about. For one, Gourmet Girl wrote a wonderful review about She-Smoke here. Incidentally, Gourmet Girl is doing a Cupcake Crawl contest. You have to e-mail them first to get the rules. I'm hoping to enter. The deadline is July 15, so get to it!

The big news is that the She-Smoke contest ended on Tuesday, the 7th. Some last-day entries came in and I will announce the winners on the KXL Portland radio show, "Cooking Outdoors with Mr. Barbecue" at 2:30pm. The Grand Prize winner will win a $400 Traeger Grill! All of the entries are impressive. It will be a difficult decision. Perhaps you would like to give me your opinion? Right after this I will post a link to the entries. Feel free to vote for your favorite.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wild Huckleberry Sweet and Sorrow Tart Recipe

I promised a recipe for those huckleberries we picked last week. I wrote the story and recipe below a few years ago for a family cookbook (does your family do this? It's a lot of fun). I changed it to make sense to non-family members. The picture is of the tart Eric made on Friday. His recipe this time was a little different, but the recipe below is a good one.

Huckleberry Sweet and Sorrow Tart
Eric and I love picking wild huckleberries that grow on some property we own outside of a town called Index, WA. It’s away from phone lines, cell towers, running water and electricity. Some might call it the sticks, but we love the lush forest and the break from the city’s relentless noise.

One rainy June day we spent hours picking the red tart berries in a kind of zen silence. We each picked our own huckleberry bush, then moved on, filling our berry buckets. The rain rhythms playing on our hooded slickers added calm and renewal to the day. As a result we drove home with quite a huckleberry haul. When we got back, however, there was a message that my Aunt Bev had been in an accident, a bad one, and was in the hospital.

As family came in, there were a lot of meals to plan for and make. Eric made these amazing huckleberry tarts. He of course did not work from a recipe, but the recipe below is something like the tart he made to share with family coming in to be with Bev. Bev hung on for a week, but the injuries she suffered from being hit by a large truck were insurmountable. All of my dad’s siblings came to Seattle, except for big sister Aunt Sandra. She was too sick to travel. But she was there, on the phone, with all of us as we sang to Bev in the ICU. In her final hours, we sang in a circle around her hospital bed until she passed away. I know none of us there will ever forget that.

The following year and one day later our Aunt Sandra died. Hers had been a 20-year battle with cancer. The huckleberries weren’t that plentiful that year, or we got the timing wrong. At any rate, Xander and I were in Alabama at the funeral, and Eric was holding down the restaurant so we didn’t get up to Index.

The next year, we hit it spot on. We picked huckleberries with my brother David and his two girls, Bella and Sophia, visiting from Prague. Mom and Dad came too and we had a picnic in the woods. Sophie, Bella and Xander didn’t put many berries in the bucket, but they got plenty in their mouths. Xander looked as if he were wearing red war paint on his face and fingers.

As I pick huckleberries each year, I think of my two beautiful aunts that passed away right around berry time. I will always think of them when I eat huckleberry tarts.
I think of family, too, and how we gather around food in the sweet times and in the times of sorrow.

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ stick butter
2 ½ cups sugar
4 egg yolks
1 pint milk
1 pint half & half
8 oz cream cheese
2 pints huckleberries + 1 cup fresh reserved for garnish
1 Tbls. cornstarch
½ cup red wine
1 cup Sorrow
1 pound of Sweet Memories. Add more to taste.

The Crust
Make a graham cracker crust. There are many recipes out there you can use.
½ stick butter, softened
Mix with 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
& ½ cup sugar
Press into pie tin

The Filling
Heat and whisk 4 egg yolks and 1 cup sugar in double boiler.
Stir constantly with whisk until sugar is dissolved.
Slowly add 1 pint milk & 1 pint half & half.
Heat and stir for 5 minutes.

Spoon in 1 package (8oz) cream cheese. Stir until dissolved.
Pour mixture into pie shell.
Bake in preheated oven (325˚F) until firm in center (approx. 45 minutes).

Pull from oven, let cool, then chill in refrigerator.

While this is chilling, make the huckleberry topping.

The Berry Topping
In a heavy gauge saucepan, heat on high 1 cup of sugar and 2 pints huckleberries
(if you want more berries in your tart, add the corresponding amount of sugar).

Bring to a boil, let reduce for 3 minutes.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch into ½ cup red wine. Pour this mixture into boiling berries.

Turn down to simmer, let the alcohol cook off and the berries thicken (approx. 5 minutes). Stir as you go.

Let cool slightly. Pour over chilled tart. Chill the tart again (at least 2 hours).

Sprinkle fresh berries on top for garnish.

* Any tart berries may be used such as currants, cranberries or your local favorite. I haven’t tried this with softer berries like raspberries, blackberries etc. If you want to use these, either include plenty of not-quite-ripe berries, or cut back the sugar.

Friday, July 3, 2009

July 4th: Prepping Ribs for the Grill

July 4th is the most popular day to barbecue in the US, so chances are you are either hosting one or bringing something to a barbecue. A perfect day for ribs, here are a few tips to make yours like the pros.

Remove the membrane. The membrane covering the rib bones are a barrier to the spice rub and is chewy. It's a lot like peeling off a sticker.

1) Find a spot at the corner of the ribs and lift up with your finger. A spoon or butter knife also works well.

2) Grab it with a paper towel and pull, or just use your fingers. Baby backs have a thick membrane that is easier to remove than the larger spare ribs.

Dry rub ribs. A dry rub is any mixture of dry spices. Make your own or use a commercial blend. Sprinkle rub generously on the ribs with your hand at least 6 inches above the ribs to get an even coating. Pat rub in place (remember, this isn't a massage). Flip the ribs and coat the other side. Let ribs set in the rub 20 minutes to a day ahead.

The pictures here are of baby backs. For a spare rib recipe from She-Smoke, check out this article from today's online PI. You are ready! Remember to keep that fire low, and get your smoke on with the wood of your choice. Have a great Fourth of July everyone!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Carpe Diem! Wild Huckleberries at Index, WA

Yesterday we escaped to the woods to search for wild huckleberries. The thing about running a restaurant and catering company, especially of barbecue, is that while everyone else is enjoying the summer, weekends, nights and holidays, we are working our tails off. Eric and I don't get many days off together, so when the chance presented itself to take the kids berry picking, we seized the moment. We have 2 acres and an uninhabitable shack in the woods just outside of Index, WA.

The heady scents of pine, ferns, and berries helped me stop and breath deeply. There is no cell service, no power, and the only running water is the rushing North Fork of the Skykomish River. Bliss.

Index is just off Highway 2, before Skykomish and Steven's Pass. Surrounded by the Wild Sky Wilderness and mountains, it is sandwiched between the river and the railroad, two reasons it was a boom town during the gay '90s. Read more about the town and history on the Index, WA website.
We picked off the early huckleberry bushes. Many have yet to produce or ripen. The tart red or blue berries make excellent tarts and sauces for desserts or pork. We picked just enough to make a small tart, after we'd eaten our fill. Tomorrow I hope to post a recipe. We have a zillion caterings to do or prep for today, but the afternoon is slated for tart-makin'. Enjoy some of the pictures of our day.
Not many of X's berries made it home.

Blue huckleberries especially like to grow on nurse logs.View of Jump Off Peak. Daisies growing in the small amount of sand between the river rocks.